My father had a dream, one he worked very hard at, but never fully realized. He wanted to have a successful pickle business. He worked for a number of pickle companies, and several times tried to start a business of his own. In Michigan from south of Bay City north to Tawas City, my father was known as “the Pickle Man.”
Dad produced a genuine dill pickle that today would be called “gourmet” quality. He developed the recipe for his genuine dills and other varieties of pickles—kosher dills, “bread n’ butter” pickles, etc.–over many years of trial and error.
In search of the perfect genuine dill pickle, he would grow his own dill weed and slowly cure the pickles in old whisky barrels. Dad not only knew the art of canning pickles, he was one of the last individuals able to cooper barrels. There is a display, a kind of diorama of a coopering shop, which contains his old coopering tools at Pioneer Florida Museum and Village. He gave demonstrations of coopering there from time to time before his passing at the ripe old age of ninety-seven.
I can remember weeding dad’s dill weed patch on my knees, or hoeing and picking pickles. My reward, other than reluctantly learning the dignity of hard work, was an occasional fifty cents or dollar to spend as I wished.
Once picked and cured in barrels, the pickles were “canned,” that is, put in glass jars before being sold. They might be pint, quart, or gallon jars. The gallon jars were sometimes “used” jars retrieved from restaurants that purchased dad’s pickles. My brothers and I would wash the jars by hand, and then pack them with pickles. A label was placed on each jar that proudly stated the pickles contained therein were from the “Waibel Pickle Company.” The jars were then packed into cardboard cases, also often “recycled.”
That was before the franchising of America and the creation of a throwaway society. Restaurants, dinners, drive-ins, bars, and other such enterprises were locally owned, often “mom n’ pop” affairs. Each had a reputation for the quality of its food, or the lack thereof. The arrival of “fast food” killed off the dinners and replaced them with miniature “feed lots” for herds of people. The great American hamburger with real French-fried potatoes was replaced with cheap food that requires more imagination than appetite, and comes with the promise of slow death by clogged arteries, diabetes, obesity, and chemical poisoning. My dad’s pickles, however, were “genuine.”
Once canned and boxed, the pickles were then delivered. My brothers and I sometimes accompanied dad when he made deliveries on his “pickle route.” A delivery to a drive-in restaurant sometimes resulted in a waitress bringing frosted mugs of root beer out to us, as we waited in the truck.
Occasionally, after the deliveries were made and we were on our way home, dad would stop at a beer garden, or bar, along the highway. We would sit at a table, since minors were not allowed to sit at the bar. Dad ordered bottles of soda for us, and a “shell of beer,” or a shot of whisky chased with a draught beer, often more than one.
While my brothers and I sat quietly sipping our Coke or root beer, dad would engage us in a one-way conversation. He talked; we listened. Depending upon his mood, which could change in the course of the conversation, he either spoke of the future, when our ship would come in and we would all have money to spare in our pockets, or he tried to explain why our ship was still out at sea. Actually, I think now that he was really talking to himself, verbalizing thoughts that he had gone over again and again in his mind. We were merely a passive audience.
Later in his life, when he was around ninety years old and had accepted the fact that his dreams would never be realized, I found it possible to sit down with him and actually have a conversation in which we both talked and both listened. Often those cherished times together took place over coffee at a local McDonalds, or over coffee and doughnuts at a Dunkin’ Donuts. On one such occasion, he told me that he was always “building castles in the air,” because he needed something to look forward to, a dream to realize.
I find wisdom in that, especially now that I am old enough to be a recipient of, as well as a contributor to, Social Security. An important part of maturing is being able to distinguish between our dreams and reality. We all start out with dreams, visions of things we want to do or become as our lives unfold. But, as we grow older, we begin to realize that many of those dreams will never be realized. Happy are those who can accept that fact, and continue on with life, always dreaming, always building castles in the air.
Until the next time, be good to all God’s creation, and always live under the mercy.