The other day the word “strudel” came up in a conversation Laurel and I were having about nostalgia. Strudel is never really something I ate growing up, but for some reason this word hit me in a particular way. I immediately thought of my late Grandfather. “Strudel” conjured up images of the slightly stale, flaky, jammy pastries with melted, cracked icing that my grandpa always bought.
My nana and grandpa always had an abundance of old pastries and cookies in their pantry, along with plastic grocery store containers of day-old pastries stacked on top of their wooden breadbox. Every time I went to their house I would slide the slatted door up and open to reveal the goods inside. It’s kind of gross to think of mass-produced grocery store pastries in any other context, but inside the walls of their house it stirred up an unhinged excitement in me.
My Grandpa had a daily ritual of visiting at least one grocery store very early in the morning. He went all over—Stop & Shop, Shop Rite, Stew Leonard’s, A&P, wherever the deals were. He bent his thin, bowed legs, snuggled his Santa belly into the driver’s seat of his car, rolled down the window and placed his left elbow half-way out of the window and drove. The car stunk of his cigar smoke that had seeped into the cushions over the years.
I knew he was back when I heard the rustling of the bags outside the front door and the jingle of the keys moving into the lock. He barreled in with bags full of things my grandparents didn’t need. Their cabinets were always filled with random canned goods and boxes of pasta that would sit there for years. He also always came home with something sweet, some box of bargain pastries from the section of the grocery store I usually avoided: the forgotten pastries with the neon green or orange half-off stickers.
It was therapeutic for my Grandpa to take these trips to the grocery store, like an escape. He struggled to communicate his feelings with my nana, so he communicated through this act of service, by getting the groceries. Anytime someone in the family needed something from the store he was in the car any chance he got.
Now that he has been gone for six years, the cabinets are mostly empty. There are still some cans that he bought pushed to the back corners of the shelves, but my nana has made her way through most of it since she doesn’t shop much.
Now when I walk into the grocery store and spot the day-old pastries from the corner of my eye I stop and look at them for a moment, and I smile. I am back in my grandparents’ house watching my grandpa walk through the door with all his bags. I watch him put the remaining cookies from a half empty container on top of the loose Oreos that will always be there on the bottom of the cookie jar to make room for a new plastic container of bargain treats on top of the breadbox.
When I go over to visit my nana today I still habitually open all the cabinets and the breadbox, but now I only find small packs of Fig Newtons that she likely got from the casino and bread ends. I miss my Grandpa more than ever and the taste of those stale, sweet pastries that somehow tasted so good in the moment but that I’ll probably never eat ever again.