from previous page)
guys in the back talked incessantly about the usual subjects: sports,
women, the meaning of life, sports, women.
Joe almost never participated in these meaningful debates. If he
had a contribution, it was far removed from popular culture or gossip of
the day -- stuff like business ethics or moral decline in western
civilization. It was always a conversation stopper. We went back to our
work. It wasn’t that Joe was unfriendly or didn’t enjoy the company
of others, even us high school guys. You could always be certain of a
big smile and warm greeting when you came in the door. He just had a
self-imposed isolation when the rough, gruff real world came into the
shop, as exemplified by his brother.
Joe was slight, gray, formal, and fussy, Julian was rotund, slicked-back
black, expansive, and down to earth. If Joe was marketing and customer
relations, Julian was production, single-handedly manufacturing homemade
kielbasa, smoked shoulders, bacon (regular and jowl), veal loaf, and
other sausage kinds of things. Julian’s world was the rear room and
its mixing vats, smoke cabinets, grinders, and carts.
It was a place of varied music or Boston Celtics radio –
“Havlichek steals the ball!” -- and apprentices sticking their heads
in the doorway to cheer. Julian was a willing participant and instigator
in all topics of earnest discussion, always as an adult, an experienced
authority. Never as a vicarious teenage wannabe.
the conversation going the right way with Julian, and you might get an
unexpected tidbit of information. Case in point: Just up the road from
our home in Hadlyme lived “Aunt” Flossie in a two-room shack. Well
advanced in age, she fed pet raccoons and other forest creatures, and
hauled water for washing and cooking in buckets from the brook down the
steep hill. Her shack’s interior design was male beefcake calendars on
ancient peeling wallpaper, illuminated by one naked hanging bulb. After
she passed on, Julian revealed in a totally unrelated conversation how
Flossie, back in the day, could drink the young men of the town under
the table and keep on going. I had to know more and it led me to
reassess the life and identify of my grizzled but bright-eyed former
neighbor. Julian waxed large on big bands, politics, and phonies. His
grumbling and facial expressions, when next-door relatives made their
demands known, or when his and Joe’s worlds collided, were always a
source of stifled amusement for the apprentices.
weekly cycle of production always came to a climax on Friday nights and
Saturday afternoons. The entire complex was full of the cooking and
smoking smells of Julian’s creations. The end of the week was also
top-to-bottom cleanup time, when apprentice energies were turned loose
on all the vats, pans, butcher block, floors, and sundry other items
that needed a good scrubbing. The music got louder, the repartee got
boisterous. By this time, it was usually dark outside, and Joe was
preoccupied with late customers.
the cleaning half done, Julian would invariably slip inside the back
refrigerator room where one or two six packs were tucked behind the
pickles. With understated camaraderie and a knowing raised eyebrow, he
would slip a cold one to each of the apprentices. If the night was warm
and the mood was good, a second round usually followed. Intentional or
not, cleaning crew productivity would soar, accompanied by intense
discussions about the deeply meaningful issue of the moment. We knew
Julian was exercising a certain measure of corporate risk in celebrating
the end of the week with us underage types. We would not have betrayed
his trust even under torture.
last days at Bury’s were just before heading out to orientation at an
Ivy League university and, ostensibly, a different sort of life. As
cleanup ended and some task would take me outside, I would pause and
stare across the valley in summer twilight. Some far-off dog would be
barking amidst the cool stillness, and I’d ponder the moment, with
regret and contentment. Regret at knowing that this rare experience and
its moments would soon end; contentment at the existential poetry of it
all, however fleeting.
may be hard to understand how working in a meat market can rise to that
level of meaning, emotion, or introspection. But when you take into
account how severely judgmental adolescents can be, how conscious they
can be of what’s cool and what’s not, it must be understood that
humble Bury’s market engendered pride among its lowly teenage workers.
If some village lovely made her way into the shop with her mother and I
was manning the counter, my blood-splattered apron and chicken-entrailed
hands became badges of honor.
was proud of the institution and my role in it. It produced products
with a quality and authenticity available nowhere else, as far as I
knew. The Bury brothers were artisans in a time when artisans were the
stuff of history books. One summer night near closing, the parking lot
was full and a man’s head appeared suddenly at the screen window of
the backroom where we worked filling orders. From the darkness, a
disembodied voice asked some questions of us in a tone of wonderment and
then said, “Wow, this place would do a hell of a business in New
Jersey.” Well, precisely. But New Jersey can’t have it. It’s ours.
Or it was.
was 1966, and neither the market nor the brothers still survive. Always
having been a packrat of bits of personal and family history, at about
that time I resolved that when I reached some doddering old age, I would
put all the bits together while rocking on some front porch. Actually,
not “some” front porch. For decade after decade, as the bits of
history accumulated, the porch image that informed my resolve to write
it down in retirement was the porch on the house in front of Bury’s
Meat Market. So wherever you are now, Bury boys: Here’s to you,
Julian, and thank you very much indeed, Joseph.