Friday, October 30, 2020

Me and Alva, o Tal Vez Elva

 One of the things I like the most about living in Los Altos is being able to shop at DeMartini’s Orchard; a small, locally owned and managed produce stand and food market that has been in business since 1932.  I think it’s still in the same spot where it began, on the main road into town just on the outskirts of our small downtown area.

It has a somewhat tumbledown aspect, as it has grown sort of haphazardly from a small produce stand into what is now a full service, albeit small, grocery store.  DeMartini’s stocks a large variety of produce, but only a limited variety of other groceries. 


But the smallness is definitely a huge part of the charm.  The groceries they do carry are high quality and artisanal.  For instance, you can make chocolate chip cookies from ingredients purchased at De Martini’s, but you will be using locally milled flour and breaking up a bar of bulk baking chocolate.  They have cornmeal, but not Jiffy muffin mix.  But you can buy about ten types of olives.  You get the idea.


My pre-pandemic approach to grocery shopping in Los Altos was to hit up the Safeway for basic grocery items and just go to DeMartini’s for produce and fun condiments and gourmet items.  However, during the early pandemic months when we were all encouraged to go out shopping less, I started making massive DeMartini’s runs and trying to get everything there.


I discovered that DeMartini’s carries gourmet versions of just about everything that I used to get at Safeway.  So that was kind of a fun discovery, courtesy of pandemic shopping.  No Ritz crackers, but look at these Rosemary Panzanella crackers!  No Tostitos, but how about these corn chips handmade in Gilroy?  No Frosted Mini-Wheats, but four kinds of muesli!


The staff at DeMartini’s has been consistently kind and helpful during the twenty years I’ve been shopping there, and they have been extra helpful during the virus times.  It’s a small shop, so it’s been challenging for them to accommodate all the health regulations, but they’ve done a great job.


Over the years, many of the staff have turned over, but I have always been aware of one Hispanic woman about my age who it seems has always been there.  She’s not a smiler or a talker.  She is brisk and efficient.  I can respect that, and I never tried to pal around with her.


But! One day a few months ago, as she rang me up, she said, completely in monotone, “I like your mask.  It is cool.” This was high praise, indeed!  I was too stunned to reply for a moment, and then I gathered myself and said “Thank you!  I made it myself.”  She said, “Will you make one for me?”  Again, I was thrown for a moment by the directness of the question, but then I said, “Of course I will”.


I made up a handful of colorful masks and gave them to her the next time I saw her at DeMartini’s.  She said, “Thank you.  Will you make me a, how do you call this?” and held up her pinafore.  I was startled but also pleased by her forthrightness.  “Sure, I’ll try,” I told her.  I found a pattern and made her a sunflower-patterned pinafore and matching mask.


Amy modeling my attempt at a pinafore

I gave them to her, and she seemed pleased, within the bounds of her taciturn nature.  The next time I saw her, she said “My sisters like the sunflowers very much.  Will you make them masks?”  Everyone likes to be needed, so I told that of course I would. Then I started my Spanish class and kind of forgot about the masks.


Today when I stopped in at De Martini’s to buy sweet potatoes and Lacinato kale, she rang me up.  “Where have you been?” she said, “I haven’t seen you.”  I said, “I’ve been in a few times, but you weren’t here.  And actually, I don’t cook as much now that none of my girls are at home.”


She asked how many girls I had, and I said three, and she told me that she had four, and we agreed that girls are the best kind of children.  This was the most conversation we have ever had in twenty years.


“I forgot about those masks you wanted – next time!” I said.  And she said “Don’t worry about it.  Gracias, Katherine.”


And I thought, how does she know my name?  And then realized that I have handed her my credit card hundreds of times over the years.  But this is the very first time she has used my name.  And then I realized that I had no idea what HER name was.  So, I asked.


“Alva,” she said.  Or possibly “Elva”.  Either way, this is huge progress in our relationship.  On my way out I spoke some very bad Spanish to her, but she didn’t seem to mind.  Finally, something interesting has happened, and I can’t wait to see where this leads.

1 comment:

  1. Loved it! When I moved to Tahoe some years back, I came to view my new neighbors as "onions": slowly revealing themselves layer by layer. I enjoyed the slow development of relationships vs. the urge for immediate gratification. Thanks for another good column!