Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Little boxes

This package arrived via overnight express the other day. Wrapped inside the white and brown plastic bag were two very hefty, not to mention delicious, deli sandwiches. I was expecting the package's arrival because one of my oldest friends, a man that I have known and loved since kindergarden, had alerted me both to its contents and whereabouts.

"Enjoy, my brother," Louis had texted from Manhattan's Lower East Side. "Nobody does pastrami the way Katz's does.

"Wish you were HERE!"

Like many wonderful people in my life Louis knows about and takes enormous pleasure in good food. Eating is an important part of the pleasure, but it isn't the biggest part. Sharing is. It's everything, actually.

Lou's carefully packed two-pound box of deli meats (half pastrami, half corned beef) was one old friend's way of showing another how fond of him he is. Katz's Delicatessen holds a special place in Lou's life. Always has. Eating there makes him enormously happy, joyous even. Being 300 miles away from each other on the afternoon he'd gone in for lunch, Lou decided that the next best thing to breaking (rye) bread together was to rush representative samples of his midday meal to my door.

And his plan worked. Splendidly. From the moment I accepted the FedEx package until my very last bite of thickly cut Katz's pastrami late that evening Lou was right there beside me.

He still is. And it's been days.

Boxes like this one are not entirely new to me, as the family and friends that surround me are of a similarly generous mind.

Cousin Josephine, a woman as close to me as any sister would be, has brightened many of my days with surprise packages of her extraordinary baked goods and confections. (Jo's homemade torrone immediately comes to mind. Awesome!)

Only recently a parcel meant to bring me back to my youth turned up in the mailbox. It was a package of Brooklyn chewing gum sent by my very dear cousin John and I still smile—widely—whenever I recall it.

Some 20 years ago now, only weeks after moving from my hometown New York to Maine, a package arrived early one Saturday morning. The box had been shipped from Alleva, a cheese shop in Little Italy that I know well. It was lined with thick hard foam, lots of dry ice—and around ten pounds of fresh mozzarella!

My friend Joe had arranged for the delivery after hearing me bitterly complain of the lack of decent food in my new home. It had been less than a month and already I was heartsick. What had I done? Could I liberate myself from the job I'd accepted and return home to New York where I belonged?

"I don't know how people can live this way," I told my friend when he called to check in on me one afternoon. "If I stay here I'll just wither and die."

Joe's package that Saturday—like Lou's and Josephine's and John's and so many others through the years—lifted me. High. Two decades later and just thinking about it still does.

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