As a child, I thought my father's job as a pickle man was the worst job in the whole world. I would lie in bed and hear him warm up his car while it was still dark, in the dead of the winter and the heat of the summer.
He would drive 30 minutes to where he kept his truck, then be on the icy or steamy streets of Chicago delivering pickles to restaurants until it was dark again and time to return home. He never took a vacation unless there was a federal holiday, lest someone steal his customers.
It hurt to see my father work so hard. I knew he had really wanted to be a lawyer. But growing up in Oklahoma when the Dust Bowl hit made college out of the question. He might have taken advantage of the G.I. Bill when he got out of the Navy, but he decided he was too old. Besides, I was on the way, and he felt he had to get right to work.
I must confess, there was something else that bothered me about my father being a pickle man: I was embarrassed by it. It wasn't as if my friends' fathers had professional jobs, it was that pickles seemed, well, frivolous. They weren't part of the food pyramid. People didn't have to eat them; they were just an accessory on a plate. Even their name sounded funny. It took years for me to learn a pickle wasn't just a pickle.
I slowly realized it was a symbol of my father's pride in being independent and responsible for his reputation. Schlepping and lifting those barrels also kept him in great shape. I could say with certainty no one was stronger than my father. And his customers would say they "set their clocks by the time Art Goldsmith walked in their door."
Those pickles put a roof over my head, brought food to my table and sent me to college, where I dormed with the likes of Diana Suskind (daughter of David) and Pam Goodman (daughter of Bergdorf Goodman). The pickle man's daughter learned to look beyond a simple item and see its true value.
Others apparently found special value, too. Recently, I found an article about the Four Big Moments in Pickle History. In it Aristotle praised their healing effects, Julius Caesar fed them to his troops for physical and spiritual strength, Cleopatra ate them to enhance her beauty and Christopher Columbus brought them on his 15th-century voyage.
A well-known play hit even closer to home: "Crossing Delancey" tells about a pickle man who tries to win the hand of a young lady. She looks down on him and his profession until he brings her a new hat, which gave her a new perspective on all sorts of things, him included.
Ultimately, my father, along with two partners, was able to buy the pickle company. Doing so allowed him freedom to travel, but it never gave him the satisfaction he had being out on his route.
My mother joked it was harder for him to sell his route than to marry off his two daughters. I am not sure being a lawyer would have served him as well; all that physical exertion led to a long and healthy life.
I am no longer ashamed of my father having been a pickle man. In fact, now I shout it from the highest hill. I am proud of the work ethic it represented and proud to know he pulled far more out of the jar than a pickle.
Whenever I'm in a pickle, I head over the Ravenel Bridge to Skoogies in Mount Pleasant, where my father's pickles can be found. They are still so fresh they bite you back, as he used to say. No rose by any other name smells as sweet as their brine. Perhaps there is something or someone from your past you dismissed. It just might be time to take another look.
Archie Burkel of James Island is president and founder of The Hat Ladies, creator of the workshop Memoirs Done Write and a motivational speaker.
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