Bottle Girl

Maybe it can be explained this way. Blue collar. Blue being my favorite color. I was born into a family of shopkeepers. My grandparents, first-generation Italian and Lithuanian immigrants, came to the big city and opened up shop. And the shop they opened? A liquor store. Mainly, spirits. Part sundries. It would be passed along to the next generation, with enough “back in the day” intrigue to fill tomes. Then in one fell swoop it was swallowed by Big Business and the mom and pop never made it fully into my generation. I was 21 when we lost the liquor store. The irony is not lost on me. What ensued wasn’t pretty. Generations of toil and joy ending in bankruptcy, just ending with no fanfare, so anticlimactic. Physical objects (which I forever attach too much sentiment) remind: the beer mirrors given free by salesmen–people are always trying to sell these, which cracks us up, because we know stores get them free when making orders of said product. There’s the wooden boxes I love best–faded and sturdy and useful. Maybe a leftover vintage still vinting. But what I remember the most has no tangible artifiact: Being The Bottle Girl.

Saturdays, 12-year-old me (couldn’t serve behind the counter till age 18) standing to the side, holding on to grocery cart, where customers dropped off their empties. Always telltale of the debauchery or festivity. When the cart was full, you had to take it in the backroom and sort all the aluminum and glass into rectangle, clearly marked cardboard boxes. When that box became full, you had to tie up the plastic bag and throw it ceiling high into the pile. You had to be a sorter, had to know which brand owned which, who bought out who so the distributor could pick up the goods. I was the proud Bottle Girl for six years. Then I started carding customers older than me. But I was all grown up by then in so many different ways.

What I remember is belonging, standing there among family working. Standing observing the comings and goings and gettings. I remember the delicious stench, the dripping beer and random bee inside the can. And I loved it, belonging among stench. There’s a line. To this day the smell of old beer makes me wax nostalgic. That and the very distinct chilled mustiness coming from the giant walk-in cooler.

And so funnily enough, as much as I glamorized the shopkeeper’s sign, in business as in life, it’s not always a choice whether to leave or stay. I guess our sign said: Back Never.

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