Saturday was shopping day in East L. A.
Shopping day for our Okie family. I can vividly remember pressing my six-year-old Okie nose and curious fingers up against the cold display glass. Glass in front of the butcher counter shielding cuts of meat away from others and including myself. Keeping cold in the display case and prohibiting busy little fingers from ever reaching in. But why would I want to reach in at that messy stuff? But anyway large chunks of meat and fish lay lifeless upon crushed ice. Ice sitting inside borders of green lettuce looking plastic dividers. All orderly and smartly on display by the butchering staff. Round steak, pork chops, T-bone, New York strip, ground round, and my least favorite, cow’s liver. Yes, liver. How awful it was.
As I stood there with my mom white coated butchers with blood stains on their white aprons were jitterbugging hurriedly around each other shuttling from slicing machines then back to the customer. At least a dozen or more shoppers would be waiting patiently after taking a number to take turns choosing their meat or cheese preferences. Butchers taking plastic numbers from customers then hurriedly grabbing or slicing and wrapping customer’s meat orders. The butcher shop was inside one of East Los Angeles’ first supermarkets on Whittier Boulevard next door to the See’s Candy shop. This was probably about 1950 and during one of our weekly weekend market outings. And it was either go inside with my mom and dad or stay in the car along with my bossy older brother and sister. Eventually we kids would yell at each other and saying over and over again, “I’m telling mom on you!” Not sure which was worse? Staying in the car or slowly and methodically forever buying groceries with my mom. To a six-year old boy it seemed interminable. Thought it would never end before sundown.
But anyway back in the grocery store at the butcher counter and lying out atop a bed of crushed ice were various cuts of beef, pork, chicken, and fish. My most favorites to look at were cow’s tongue. No wonder cows chewed so much. It took them forever to pass food past such a huge chunk of tongue. My next favorite was observing pig’s feet. I can’t imagine eating such a dreadful looking thing. Although, it would possibly be better than eating elephant’s feet. Wouldn’t you think possibly? Makes sense to me. And there were cow brains, pig innards, chicken gizzards, and more less delectable eatings. However, the one thing on ice I thought a bit scary was, whole fish laying on their side with eyes wide open and staring straight up at me. I’m pretty sure they were dead but staring as if to say, it’ freezing here. Please rescue me. Take me back to the L a river and toss me back in. But wait, there was seldom if ever any water in the concrete L A River.
None the less, my mom would order up two pounds of sliced bologna, a one pound chunk of American cheese that the butchers would slice. Slice from a big long tube of baloney and from a long square of cheese. Then order a couple of whole chicken fryers. All neatly wrapped up in white butcher paper and ready to take home for the coming week’s dinners and lunches. And the whole shopping experience was designed so we California Okies wouldn’t have to butcher up our own chickens back home in the backyard. Our neighbors frankly didn’t like our processing of our own backyard chickens back by the white picket fence bobbing headless chickens in a tub of boiling water. Not a pretty sight. Not to mention the horrific smell.
But as time passed all of this butchery and shopping was pre-wrapped and put in a convenient frozen food display cabinet or freezer section. All pre-cut and wrapped in a paper tray and wrapped in cellophane. No bothering with a blood stained butcher. Just grab your pig’s feet and go.