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On Saturday we didn't go shopping at the supermarket; that was something we did on Friday. On Saturday, we went to the butcher. Italians didn't buy pre-packaged meat at the supermarket, where the meat had been on the shelves for who knows how many days. 

 The butcher on the West Side, which was where most Italians who had recently come to America lived, was a paesano too; he was a fellow Italian.  He was a man who knew his stuff, known for the high quality of his fresh meat and for how clean his shop was. He knew his customers very well and he would call them by their first names; he used to welcome them with his white apron, which was always clean. He looked more like a surgeon than a butcher.  

His customers were all women; only they could choose what their family needed, keeping an eye on both their pockets and what they liked.

Being in his shop was not a disgusting experience.  

There weren't any dead animals hanging from hooks dripping blood onto the floor and covered in flies. And it didn't even smell that bad. The majority of the meat was stored in a refrigerated room. The meat that was on the counter was stored in a refrigerated glass cabinet. Prices, however, were higher than at the supermarket. Nevertheless, our housewives, who were experts in choosing what was best for the family, had already made their calculations at home and knew exactly what to buy and how much to spend. The women indicated which piece of meat that they wanted the butcher to slice for them. The butcher would take that piece of meat, show it to the women, turning it around to show them all sides; the housewives would look at it thoroughly and then would tell him how much they wanted. The butcher would put it on the counter and with a cleaver would cleanly cut exactly the amount they wanted, or he would expertly slice it.  

The scales and the cash register were visible to everybody; the housewives had already made their calculations and if the butcher dared to raise the price even just by a few cents, he would have been sorry.

These were women that had made it through the great depression and knew the value of money very well, even of 10 cents. Even the butcher knew it. If something came up to some dollars and a few cents, he would only ask for the dollars and not the cents. The women were happy and would go home talking about the good deal they had made. When my aunt came home, we had to gather around her and congratulate her.  Even I congratulated her, but it was nothing compared to the deals my grandmother used to make. Many times I had seen my grandmother negotiating, making deals and bargaining with everybody, from the butcher to the man who sold wood for the caricara. 


Hers was an art.



Delia Socci Skidmore