paindecampagne

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Archive for the tag “Kathy’s Deli”

30×30: Lesson 23: Just go back to France

 

Paris, 2014

Paris, 2014

It was 2008. I was a college graduate with a degree in creative writing who had just gotten back from my second extended period of time living in France — this time, spent teaching English to high school students. For the hundredth time I had taken back up the apron at Kathy’s Deli in Shippensburg, PA, where I was charged in particular with delivering food and staffing events at the local Volvo Construction Equipment plant.

This afternoon in particular, I was manning a daylong series of meetings that involved me keeping assorted cookies and canned sodas stocked from a tiny in-house kitchenette. I had brought a French novel to read in the moments when I wasn’t fanning out stacks of navy blue cocktail napkins. And I was sitting on top of an overturned milk crate, knees to my chin, whenever my friend Conrad Jackson appeared.

I don’t remember what we talked about. He most likely asked me, as a fair amount of people did, why I was back here, meaning in Shippensburg, working three minutes from where I grew up. (It was a question I hated; I was in Shippensburg because I wanted to be.) I would have answered with some bitterness — half because of his question, half because I didn’t have an idea about where I wanted my life to go — that I didn’t have anywhere else to be yet. I believe he then questioned whether or not I wanted to go back to France, and I sighed with deep, romantic sighs, and told him that it was impossible because I had obligations and life and family and college loans and a cat who would miss me.

And Conrad looked at me with a very funny gaze and said, “Just go back to France. Stop standing here and telling me all the reasons why you can’t.”

I opened my mouth and shut it. I firmly believed (and still do) in the validity of my family and college loans and cat. But I heard him more deeply than I knew at the time: sometimes the only thing standing between you and your life is you.

*

Sometimes choices don’t exist. Sometimes decisions are made for us — sometimes made long before us — and we have no option but to follow them. Sometimes we lack power and possibility for multiple reasons — money, situation, time. However, I am pretty sure that many of us have more power than we think.

I have never been one to say “I can’t,” but I have certainly believed myself to be incapable. I may want something deeply, but I am not always able to see a pathway. For the best of us, a solid life is hedged up by an enormous amount of structures — family expectations, financial constraints, solid logic, personal obligations, logic, conflicting dreams, the desire to not hurt feelings, and fear of speaking up — but most of these structures can bend if we are willing to lean into them.

The phrase “why not?” does not just convey careless indifference; it is a legitimate question that I sometimes have a good answer to and often don’t, a question that Jon Hoey asks me often. Why not spend extra on a good meal for the two of us? Why not take an extra day explaining that concept to my French 2 students, even though the syllabus doesn’t say so? Why not be honest when I actually don’t have time to do what people have asked me to do?

What really is standing between me and the rest of my life — even if it’s only my attitude — that is causing me to believe that the possible is impossible?

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

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

2008

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.

Friday Photo: ‘Curiosity of their eyes’ – thoughts on seeing

Palais des Papes, Avignon, Spring 2005 (Katrina Charysyn, All Rights Reserved)

Whenever I’d beat my friends at the Tourist Game that we played on the Rue de la République, it had only been because I knew the Regulars of Kathy’s Deli in Shippensburg. Having worked there for four years, I had the advantage of knowing the face of a Regular, and because of this, I could spot any tourist within a French crowd before my friends did by the way they held open their eyes—shameless, like French windows without shutters, trying to drink in the sight of the pastry shops and the roasting chestnuts on the square. Trying to notice people’s lack of familiarity with their surroundings—so that I could help them order a sandwich, taste the pasta salad, make life easier—had once been my job.

And so every afternoon, my American friends and I sat at the café on the Place de l’Horloge and watched the tourists, guessing the nationalities of the people who passed our table.  Tourists from the United States were the large, fleshy ones with white Nikes, crashing their laughter against the city walls.  Italians were always draped with neon-colored scarves, wearing their dark hair in a shaggy cut as they merged for photos by the Palais des Papes.  The Germans and Swiss always made me think of Rubbermaid containers, their bodies sturdy beneath plastic windbreakers and deep blue backpacks.  But then, there were the French—thin whips of people clothed in black who sliced through the crowds on the gusts of Avignon wind.  The French were always careful to freeze away their gazes from public intimacy, knowing that they already belonged to their country like a Regular belonged to my deli counter.  Whenever I played the Tourist Game, I remembered the Regulars of Kathy’s and distinguished the tourists by the curiosity of their eyes, for only a tourist would let their eyes give away the fact that they were not at home.

— “Making Change,” RiverCraft, Susquehanna University, 2005-06

*

I moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in late August. It’s the largest city I’ve ever lived in with a population of over 300,000 within the city limits, at least according to the 2011 U.S. Census. (Harrisburg, where I moved from, has 50,000.) The University of Pittsburgh, where I am now a graduate student, has 24,000 students, which is three times more individuals than has my hometown. I grew up on a road that sliced between my family’s house and our farmland, but now, when I look out my bedroom window, I see a low city skyline. When walking down Forbes Avenue to go to class or get a coffee, I pass a seemingly endless stream of people that I may never see again while in Shippensburg, I used to be stopped on the street to be told: “You must be a Grove. I knew your grandfather.” Living in a world different than that in which you grew up often shifts your perception of the normal actions that you take for granted, such as the way that people show their awareness of those around them.

The first city I in which I lived was Avignon, France (population 90,000) in 2005, where I was a study abroad student through the Institute for American Universities. Before I left the United States, we students had given a glossy brochure explaining what differences to expect between French culture and ours, including eating habits, TV watching, and electricity usage, but none of this could prepare me, a small-town girl, for the simple difference of being in a larger place than the one I’d left. I was shocked, for example, with the different way that people appeared to see.

When I walked down the street in Avignon, I wanted to look around. Reading Laura Ingalls Wilder as a kid had trained me to key in my senses, to “be eyes” for those who were not there, and I wanted to drink in all the details on France so I could write them all into emails for my family. Look at these cobblestones! How old’s this church? How many flower shops am I passing? Is that really an H&M? The trees were different: scaly sycamore, scraggly olive shrubs. The sky was different, unclouded blue.

But when I turned my eyes to the people, I noticed an acute difference: nobody else was looking at all of this except for me. On my morning bus ride into the city, the punk rocker next to me stared out the window or looked at the floor. The elegantly-dressed businesswoman leafed through a copy of La Provence. All riders chimed a pleasant “bonjour” to the bus driver when getting on our bus and finding their seat, but then, I watched their gazes shutter back, fall inward. Observing this made me feel miserable. If I was to “become French,” in a sense, while I was there, how was I supposed to “see”? I had been told that white sneakers and low-cut spaghetti strap shirts could target me as a “tourist” — that dreaded word that equated to self-centered ignorance — but how was I to know that I could also express my foreignness by my eyes?

*

Eye contact in a variety of cultures means different things. In Shippensburg, eye contact means recognition and acknowledgement. In New York City, extended eye contact — a staring contest — on the subway is rude at best. Occasionally, eye contact can be a flirtatious invitation. And in Russia — as I recently learned when talking to a perfect stranger on a Megabus — eye contact on the subway is a power struggle. When on a Russian metro, you look other riders up and down and analyze them, discovering them, questioning them wordlessly, as shamelessly as did the tourists of Avignon.

What, then, is our relationship with seeing? It’s easy to acknowledge that sometimes our eyes don’t take in everything around us; all of us have been so deep in thought that one time or another, for example, that we don’t notice a friend who passes us on the sidewalk. Being so open to seeing all the details, as I try to do in moderation when I’m a tourist anywhere, is tiring. I never take more naps than I do when I’m in a new culture or a new place. A sign of cultural acceptance, or simply in feeling safe, is the fact that we have the luxury of stopping to see the details, or that these details cease to demand our attention because they have become normal.

But in terms of people, this phenomenon has a specific name. The avoidance of eye contact in certain cultures — whether Pittsburgh, New York City, and even France — is known as “civil inattention,” which is described by Wikipedia as “a process whereby strangers who are in close proximity demonstrate that they are aware of one another, without imposing on each other.” In The Art of Self-Invention (2007), author Joanne Finkelstein explains that civil inattention is “a sign of recognition that others have claims to a shared space or environment” and a signal of “boundar[ies] and self-enclosure.” This notion explains that the lack of eye contact is not the same as ignoring someone; it’s a gesture of being polite or self-preservation. In a 2011 article in the New York Times entitled “Look at Me, I’m Crying,” Melissa Febos echoed the same sentiments — that, in more populated areas, we have “train-faces,” or exterior faces that we sometimes don to preserve our interior sense of privacy. If eyes are the window to the soul, we sometimes avert our gaze not just because we don’t want to see someone else; we’d prefer that they don’t see us.

The rules are much more complicated, however, than choosing to see or not to see. In Harrisburg, there were still few enough people on the street that I could look at each of them individually and, with a brief glance, nod to acknowledge their presence. Sometimes we’d say hi. Sometimes we would not. In Pittsburgh, I have yet to make eye contact with strangers on the street or on the bus, although within structured contexts — asking for recommendations on teas at the Té Café on Murray Avenue, for example — people are deliciously willing to talk. When Lynn Palermo and I were hiking in northern France and were clearly not locals, we were carefully watched and spoken to with hesitant humor. Choosing to truly see with open eyes as well as an open heart perhaps is something that not only differs between areas of more or less population; it seems to depend on how accustomed an area is to strangers, and whether or not those strangers have hurt them in the past.

In the moment of looking at someone else, we unconsciously size them up — well-dressed or not, aged or not, capable of stealing our wallet or not — whether the judgements we make are fair. Walking amid strangers in public can be vulnerable business, and looking at those around us helps us find our relationship within the current social hierarchy. But it’s more than this. In walking on a street with those of a city or town that we share, we must acknowledge within our lack of seeing that we are not disconnected entirely — that we are still willing to reach out a hand to someone who trips on the sidewalk, to spare some change for the homeless, to point out directions to a father with an unfolded map and a furrowed brow. It’s maybe an act of self-preservation to do this selectively, but the day that our eyes see only inward is the day we miss the point of the community in which we live.

Friday Photo: Strawberry pie returns to Kathy’s Deli, Shippensburg

Kathy's Deli, Spring 2009

Kathy’s Deli, Spring 2009

Luscious strawberries nestled in a buttery crust, swirled in a fruit glaze, and dabbed with real Cool Whip define this fresh strawberry pie, now back for the season at Kathy’s Deli, Shippensburg. As a former Kathy’s Deli employee, this was one of my favorite desserts to make—I loved to cut the strawberries carefully, crowd them into the crust, points up; and delicately edge the pie with cream. I still feel like there’s nothing better than a piece of this carefully-crafted fruit pie, enjoyed on a patio with a glass of lemonade.

Welcome back, spring.

Slice: $2.39
Pie: $10.99

Kathy’s Deli
891 West King Street
Shippensburg, PA 17257
(717) 477-8300
www.kathysdelionline.com

Monday-Friday, 6am-7pm
Saturday, 7am-4pm

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