We could joke that it’s nice when a baby boomer even remembers his or her childhood. But it’s true: for all of us, that was a long time ago, with too many newer memories in-between. Which is why we like this piece by Bronx writer and retired teacher Deborah Sanchez Eiseman. She remembers the past pretty vividly, especially Jimmy’s Luncheonette.
My father, Jimmy Sanchez bought the luncheonette on the corner of West 259th Street and Riverdale Avenue. I don’t remember what year it was — more than sixty years have passed. I was a toddler when I moved to the Riverdale neighborhood of The Bronx … and now I’m a grandmother. Behind the store there were only woods and rocks to climb.
I’ve forgotten many things from my childhood but the memory of my dad’s luncheonette is as sharp as crystal. Dad was slender with thick eyeglasses and a dimpled smile, strong and energetic. He must have walked twenty miles a day behind that long counter — probably why he lived to the age of 96. I see him behind the counter with his apron double-tied around his waist and a white short-sleeved shirt. Customers would come in and sit at the counter just to schmooze with him. Everyone loved my father, especially me. His store was open seven days a week and he worked into the night. The door always opened for just one more last-minute customer, even if the closed sign was on display.
Dad sold everything: toys, paperbacks, comics, cigarettes, ice cream and candy. He was a great chef; his burgers were large and juicy (costing only a half-dollar). Besides the griddle, he served generous deli sandwiches of pastrami, roast beef, and tongue, plates filled with beef stew or meat loaf with all the fixings. His menu was diverse, offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Candy, cigarettes, and ice cream by the pint were sold in the front of the store. Opposite the counter, glass cases were filled with toys, spinning racks held paperback novels, and wooden shelves were full of the latest comics. Classics Illustrated, Archie, and Justice League of America were my favorites. I believe my love of reading was due to all the books available in my father’s store.
The back of the store had a jukebox. Five songs for a quarter. There were eight tables with a wall of mirrors on each side. I was fascinated by the infinity of my reflection when I looked into the mirror. The Mount St. Vincent College girls in their poodle skirts used to sit at those tables, eating burgers and fries and playing songs on the jukebox. My father delivered food to the nuns at the Mount and I would accompany him. The nuns always fussed over me.
I was about twelve when he sold the luncheonette. Luncheonettes like his no longer exist in the city, at least not to my knowledge. There are not many places where the owner of the store greets you by your first name, knows the names of your kids and where they go to school.
Jimmy’s Luncheonette was a meeting place for the neighborhood. Luncheonettes and corner candy stores have gone the way of five and ten’s, and drug stores no longer have soda fountains. Impersonal chain stores have replaced them. When I think of my father’s luncheonette, I always smile.
Deborah Eiseman’s newest book is PORTRAIT IN DESPERATION.