My mother used to frequent street fairs in Bay Ridge holding a pickle in each hand. They were thirty cents and kept in large jars at the front of small booths. Pickles were beautiful things to my mother. She held pickles more often than she held me. In fact, my father swears that when she was pregnant with me, she slid pickles down her throat faster than the men who swallow hot dogs at Nathan’s on the Fourth of July.
Even though I practically lived in their juice, I never cared much for pickles. But I did like hot dogs, and so my mother would take me to the contest each year, assuring me that soon enough, I, too, would be up there with the men—shoving hot dogs down my throat like they were pickles, getting my face on TV, making her proud.
My hot dog man, she would say. My little man and his dogs.
Despite this, my favorite hot dog wasn’t the one at Nathan’s. My favorite hot dog was sold just outside of Ebbets Field, where I’d sneak into the bleachers with a dog in each hand hoping to catch a glimpse of Jackie Robinson. Sometimes, I’d whistle at Duke Snider when he looked bored in center field, and once, he turned and waved to me.
I threw a hot dog at him.
But no sooner did the Dodgers leave Brooklyn and did Ebbets close than did my mother stop carrying pickles. Vendors at street fairs with their jars of swimming pickles didn’t seem to interest her. She led me to the jars of swimming fish instead, feeding me dollars so I could try to win one. Even when we went out to eat and spears were put on our plates with sandwiches and hamburgers, she would eat hers quietly, look away from the table, and refuse mine.
I remember the last time I saw my mother holding pickles. It’s clearer to me than my last pitch at Ebbets Field. I was with my father on the Wonder Wheel, still terrified of the moving cars. We climbed Brooklyn’s graying sky and I held the rail tight, looking down at the beach below. As the first roar of thunder came, tops of umbrellas and floating blankets flooded towards subways and parking lots. When thunder rolled off the water a second time, there were screams—the people moving even faster than they had been before.
Not us. We were still at the top of the ride—seven cars needing to be emptied before we could get off. But none of this concerned my father. He was busy watching a small woman at the far end of the boardwalk. Even though I could only see her from behind, I knew it was my mother. She talked to a man that was clearing out at a long wooden table, leaned her body forward, and turned in our direction.
She was holding two pickles.
“Your mother and her pickles,” my father sighed.
When the ride was over she was still there waiting.