30×30: Lesson 21: The face behind the apron

Kathy’s Deli, 2008

On-and-off for seven years, I was one of the faces behind the aprons of Kathy’s Deli in Shippensburg. When I first began working at Kathy’s in 2002, I was the quiet one who made your hoagies on a wheat roll with just a tad too little mayonnaise; during college breaks I mixed your cole slaw and sliced your house-roasted turkey and learned to smile a little more. After college, you may have seen me busing tables at any number of local weddings. Perhaps you passed me delivering hot lunches in Carlisle. Morning danishes and coffee in Chambersburg.

Kathy’s Deli framed my life before and after college as well as before and after two trips to France. In doing so, it taught me not only my present-day knife work, the secrets behind efficiently prepping a large meal, and the laughter that can come when working in a kitchen so crowded that you only have a few square inches for your cutting board and cabbage.

For a few summers, I worked almost exclusively with women double my age, who told me that I might as well wear a bikini with confidence while my body still looked okay, offered boy advice while stirring kettles of simmering soup, and remarked on the fact that even in 2005 a strong man is considered confident whereas a strong woman is considered bossy. We nibbled on broken cookies that were unfit to sell, took breaks that were too short in relationship to the length of the days, ran to the grocery store for missing ingredients, organized crates of dairy deliveries, took phone orders, assembled paninis, ran more than stood, finished slicing where someone else had stopped, garnished platters, told stories about our families, went home exhausted, and returned the next day.

I never played organized sports, but Kathy’s Deli was my strongest team.


But beyond the deli, I was just a delivery girl with a slightly-frizzled ponytail who smelt vaguely of cooked ham. The job required that I carry platters of assorted wraps, Kay & Lays Chips, and gallon jugs of raspberry lemonade up flights of stairs into your office, that I silently smooth a plastic tablecloth outside the conference room, that I speak in hushed tones to your lunch coordinator, smile, and hand her the bill, folded in thirds. I didn’t mind this part of the job, but I always wondered if you noticed me — you who were making the more impactful decisions than the amount of mayonnaise in the chicken salad, you whose white sleeves could always stay air conditioned and clean. Did my apron lesson me to you? What about the ache in my arms?

As my life moved away from Shippensburg, I also left the deli. But I still sense Kathy’s in the way I thank the workmen in the Cathedral of Learning, the way I talk to the guy who empties the trash on the 13th floor, and the way I greet Liz who makes my tea at Hillman Library almost daily. Everybody matters.

This is a perspective that I cannot dare to lose.

Find an introduction on this series here.  Dig into other life lessons here.


6 thoughts on “30×30: Lesson 21: The face behind the apron

  1. Everybody matters. What a great life lesson!!

    As one of your catering companions, I loved our many conversations… we had that “you grew up on a farm, too” thing in common. I was so happy to see that you have gotten to grad school, one of your goals from when we worked, talked and laughed together at the deli. I have always loved your “laugh”!

    Best wishes on the next 30 years of this great adventure of life. You’ve accomplished so much more in your first 30, than I have in my 50+. I am blessed to have you as a friend.

    1. Pat, what an awesome message to read! I miss seeing you and hearing YOUR laugh! I’d really love to catering with you sometime soon…..er….. catch up like normal people over coffee.

      1. We will have to do coffee! I’m getting too old to cater!! And, it will be more relaxing.

  2. I’m not back in town with any normal schedule for a bunch of months, but I’d love to make it happen. Perhaps next summer!

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