Monday, January 23, 2012

Miami Memories: Bob Hill Grocery

Taste and aroma elicit amazing sensory memories for me.  The other day we drove across Broadway street in Newton, KS and passed a tiny store called Gillespie's Meat Market.  I've only been there once, and that was to purchase a "ham loaf" for Thanksgiving.  Now to be honest I'd never heard of a ham loaf fixed like meat loaf, but I became an instant fan of the meal after serving it oozing with juices that soaked up the dipping bread and blended with the new potatoes and green beans.

Another memory, I thought lost until we passed that store, sits in my heart.  Simply put, as a child I lived on fresh ground "ham spread" sandwiches from Bob Hill's Grocery on the corner of 3rd  and H st. N.E. in Miami, Oklahoma.  I was eight years old when we moved to 209 H. NE and a responsible 4th grader, or so my mother convinced me.  I could walk to the store less than a block away with money in an envelope and buy groceries.  The list was never more than I could carry.  The first step into the store released a sense of fresh air and a wetness in the air when I turned to the left and walked by the fresh fruit and vegetables.  There was just something about the citrus smell of the orange and banana crates that  filled my mind with pictures of palm trees in sunny California or perhaps Brazil. I'd walk by the fruits just to smell them even if they weren't on the list.

My favorite trips were when I carried a dime and a nickel and walked to the back of the store and asked Lon, the butcher, for 15 cents worth of ham spread.  I stood nearly eye level with the butcher case of meats.  Everyday he ground up fresh ham and added relish, mayonnaise, celery, and other spices to the ground ham.  Then he neatly packed it into a long row lined with green paper trimmings to separate  it from the other meats.  Lon towered over the butcher case and peered down at me and asked, "What can I get for you today, little girl?"  I would look up and say, "My name is Letty.  I'm not a little girl."  Then he'd grin really big and laugh and say, "Oh, how could I forget, you've been here before."  It was a game we played and he always made me smile.  I'd look up at his ruddy wrinkled skin, fading blue eyes, curly sandy blond hair and big teeth and say, "I'd like 15 cents worth of ham spread today, please."  Then my grin would spread across my face in anticipation of running home to make my sandwich on white Wonder Bread with heaps of  lettuce.  I would stand and watch with fascination as Lon scooped up the meat, weighed it to the penny, then pulled the  butcher paper off the rack and placed the meat on the slick side of the paper.  Very meticulously (a word I later learned to describe him) he'd fold the paper across the top, roll it, fold one side in, roll it, fold the other side in and roll one last time before he taped it and then in handwritten letters wrote out $.15.

I'd run home, grab the bread and plop the ham spread onto the white bread, tear off a lettuce leaf, the greenest I could find, set it on my sandwich then smash the sides together.  That way I could lick the oozing ham as it drop off the sandwich.  With my glass of milk I could then set up a T.V. tray and walk into the living room to watch T.V. while I ate my sandwich.  Black and white T.V. and sandwiches on white gluey bread, life was good as an eight year old.

My mother used to call those cravings a stage I was going through, and she rested assured thanks to Dr. Spock that I would out grow my desire for ham spread sandwiches and learn to eat other healthier foods.  Of course, my mother and Spock were correct.  I outgrew the ham spread sandwiches, and later the canned spaghetti, and for a few years I outgrew the memories.  Now, I think I'll make a trip to the meat market and buy some ham.  Along the years of growing up I bought an antique meat grinder and secretly learned to make my own ham spread.  It's time to make some more for lunch and perhaps a toast to Lon and all those people at Bob Hill Grocery who made time to smile and recognize a little girl by name.


  1. Love this post- different scents evoke such vivid memories for me too.

  2. Keep writing. Each story you write is better than the last. You are really finding your voice. pw

  3. Thanks Frosty Teddy for reminding me that the lovely lady who always greeted us at the door and helped us with everything was named "Birdie." No wonder she was such a delightful woman with a name like that.

  4. Love all the stories. I remember the neighborhood bully very well and the summer
    nights in the neighborhood. Remember catching lots of lightning bugs. Those were
    the best of days. Miss our parents and our old neighborhood. Memories are such a
    treasured part of our lives. Thanks for all the great memories, Letty.