Sunday, January 19, 2014

Fruit Stands, Cheese Steaks, and Snow Crystals

When I was a child, my Daddy C owned a fruit stand on one of the busier, main roads in South Philly.  It was just steps away from where the famous shots of Rocky Balboa would run through the streets… inspiring bystanders by his perseverance and dedication to become a machine.  A machine that would train so hard he could knock almost any man off of his ostensibly righteous feet; fighting for the one big title that would set him apart from all of the rest. 
Daddy C didn’t like to fight and he surely didn’t look kindly upon us arguing or making a big fuss as kids.  And what parent does, right?  To keep a close eye out on us, he would bring my sister and me to work with him.  I remember working at his fruit stand, right off of Broadway and across from my Uncle Nikki’s cheese steak shop and restaurant.  As a ten year old girl, I’d much rather had been sitting on one of those circular, metal stools, spinning round and round, listening to my Uncle Nikki’s seemingly interesting and entertaining whales of stories than working the fruit stand.  As much as I loved my Daddy C, I’d take the smell of cheese steaks and meatball parmesan sandwiches over the fragrances of old ladies and men who took their time looking over the fruit at my father’s stand. 
I remember how exceedingly long it would take Dad’s customers to pick out their own fruit; how each person would grab an apple or pick up a pear and make sure there were no signs of rotting or unnecessary scratches on them.  I would just stand there, staring off into the places beyond the fruit stand, trying to imagine a life or a story beyond the streets of Philadelphia.  As my mind would begin to wonder off, the smells of the city folk, smoke and loud unforgettable shouts between my father and the construction workers or pizza shop owners and police would quickly remind me where I was.  At that time, I didn’t care much at all for the fruit stand.  My, how your heart changes with the delicacy and fondness of your memories as they grow and transform with you. 

During the winter time, it was a bit too harsh outside for us to be working all day with my dad.  Since my mother was divorced from him at the time and living with my step-father in Jersey, Daddy C would have to watch us on his own while we visited.  My Uncle Nikki’s cheese steak and sub shop was located right across the street from the fruit stand.  I recall some of my most kindred memories as a child there was being watched and cared for by my Aunt Roe.  Her real name was Aunt Rose but Aunt Roe suited her personality and loud and wild character.   
My Aunt Roe had an alluring way about her with her charming but vicious personality and hard yet strikingly beautiful face.  She had struggled with drugs and alcohol since she was a teenager but those demons never separated her from the love she was capable of giving to us and her own children.   My Aunt Roe never have much, money wise, and had lots of mouths to feed.  She was the mother of four at the time and three more would come later, after my days with Daddy C would soon end. 

My father was her little brother and favorite at that.  When he died, I can’t tell you how much his death affected her.  She was never the same without him in her life and to this day, she still isn’t.  My sister and I were always Aunt Roe’s pride and joy because her brother was irreplaceable to her.  It’s almost as if we still resemble the remains of him which she would never get back because of his death.
On days where the cold was just too severe for us to be outside with Daddy C, Aunt Roe would bring one of her many jugs of change over to Uncle Nikki’s restaurant.  The three of us would sit there on the cold, silver restaurant stools and count my Aunt Roe’s change on the long counter located in front of his sub shop.  There was no television by the counter or stereo so this was the perfect excuse for my Uncle Nikki to go on about the history of the world or the legacy built behind the stars in the sky. 

I remember thinking how smart my Uncle Nikki was… like he should have been a history professor or some museum tour guide instead of an Italian cheese steak and sub shop owner.  He always had this laugh and jolliness about him.  And he told his stories with his hands like many Italians do.  I can still see him, standing behind the counter in his white t-shirt and jeans, shaking his hands around, helping out the other customers sitting at the counter while telling his nieces these epic tales of discovery and history; taking us back in time and to far off places other than the cold, winter streets of Philadelphia.

As my Uncle Nikki would tell us his tales, we would count the change my Aunt Roe carried around with her in her jug.  My Aunt Roe may have been a struggling addict but she respected her brother enough to pay for our meals whenever she would babysit us.  So there we were, sitting up on the restaurant stools, counting change to pay for our cheese steaks or meatball subs, and listening to Uncle Nikki go on about how snow crystals form or how General Sir William Howe was successful in driving General George Washington out of New York City throughout the winter months of 1777 during the American Revolutionary War.

Aloft in the clouds, water vapor chills enough that its molecules cling together in tight order to form crystals.  Differences in humidity and temperature cause crystals to diversify into fantastically branched stars, divided prisms, needles and other forms.  At just below freezing, the sides of a crystal expand faster than the top and bottom, promoting flat plate shapes. At lower temperatures, between 14 and 27 degrees, crystals tend to stretch into needles or solid prism shapes. Increasing humidity leads to more branching. The growth mode can switch back and forth as temperature and humidity change, shifting the shape at every step… quite magnificent, no?

Just like these intricately woven snow crystals, we as human beings, are elaborately pieced together by the biological bonds and formulas in science from the inside and out.  Not only do our bodies change or conform to what we choose to put inside of them but our growth, both intellectually and spiritually, is affected by either a learned homeostasis or an eruption in the our behavioral pattern caused by bad choices such as the wrong diet, excess drinking, not exercising, too much tanning, overmedicating, etc.  We have the choices and capabilities to take what God has created, just like the snow crystals, and allow them to branch out toward things like our health, dreams and goals or falter like withering flowers and the melting snow.

A few months ago, I told you how my mother’s new liver would eventually fail on her due to complications in the flow of blood from the ducts in the liver to the rest of her organs.  These ducts would continuously get clogged, forming abscesses on the new liver.  She knew this and even though this news was handed down to her, her will to get better and persevere presented new conditions surrounding her blood flow and body.  This past Friday, when she left the doctor’s office for a routine exam, she called me to deliver some incredible and what had once seemed to be, impossible news.  Her liver had formed brand new ducts on its own so the blood flow could create a level of homeostasis in her body.  We had again, witnessed another miracle. 
The body, like those same snow crystals my Uncle Nikki once told us about, can either melt or fade away because of the affects of outside changes… or it can branch out and flourish by the surroundings and positive attitudes we choose to create for ourselves.  Our bodies are accompanied by all of the organs and millions of tiny, immaculate parts; therefore creating these snow crystals of feelings, emotions, memories, good and bad health, sense of being and belonging…everything.  We are all of this and more, and the mind and heart are capable of making endless changes.  The only limits we have are the ones we set for ourselves. 

So please… never give up on anything without a positive mindset and willingness to fight for what is rightfully yours:  good heath, happiness, understanding and knowledge, and most importantly, the gift of forming your own masterfully constructed snow crystals.