Between the eleven of us in our family, we have made, perhaps, billions of chesesteaks with “everything” on them. We have crammed 4 of us, at a time, in the kitchen, as a sandwiches came back because a cranky customer didn’t want that sandwich, after all.
I remember when Dad was still getting things ready to go for the deli that would soon open. I remember him tiling the entire deli floor. Sometimes, as an adult, I think to myself, “Hey, I should tile something.” But that is better left to the pros or dad.
When the deli opened, we had Birch Beer on tap. Courtney and I would pull down the big aluminum keg that could hold (if I remember right) 5 one-gallon containers of Pennsylvania Dutch Birch Beer, which came 4 in a box. It was delicious and only dad saw fit to ship it for a post consumption, break-even cost. It was a draw and he kept it for years until it was too expensive to serve.
I have many good memories in the deli. Friends and family coming over to eat, hang out, or pick up a car. The deli that dad built on 9th and Wall became Grand Central for the Nelsons. All of the girls that I dated in Chico knew that the deli was a hub. We could all be found there at one point or another.
The deli is where I learned to work. Dad worked us hard, but after the deli, all of us knew how to work. Everything after the deli seemed easy for me. I put in my best work for dad (Ok, ok- I played, too) and took pride in hearing dad say something about the dishes I washed or the floor that I’d cleaned. I don’t recall anywhere that I worked, other than the deli where someone complained about something that I’d cleaned. Like I said, after the deli, we knew how to clean.
It was easy to tell who Dad was by walking into the deli. Walking in the front door, oftentimes you were greeted by the echoes of AM 1060 (KPAY), with Rush Limbaugh or Hannity, or whomever. You could hear conversations at the Big Table, where family and friends sat and joked or read or did homework. Walking further toward the back, you’d pass Dad’s Table and the table next to it, which contained…well, everything. Old newspapers with articles that Dad had been meaning to share with a friend that hadn’t come into the deli yet. It might have been on running. On the table were also notebooks, books, and cookbooks. Notepads with numbers, and of course, Tabasco Sauce, Tennessee Sunshine, pepper and salt, and a napkin holder which needs to be washed and stocked.
The office in the back was the closet thing in the deli that represented him. Hats hung up, running calendars with stats and race times that were to be beaten or left unbeaten. The big black chair that sat on pink carpet that and made all kids feel like executives, pens that were missing, more hats, jackets, running shoes, another pair of running shoes, a desk drawer that wouldn’t open unless the other drawer was open, stuff that had come from the canyon that was on its way to the house, and maybe a merit badge that had been awarded to a kid who’s parent had earned it.
Under all of the mess on Dad’s desk was a plexiglass sheet meant to protect the stuff that could be slid underneath- like business cards. But what I remember the most about the contents under that plexiglass, was that there was a picture of Dad’s mother- my grandma, as she smiled at the camera. It was there as long as I remember. She would have been proud of the deli.