A co-worker and I recently talked about the DHEC requirements for restaurants to receive an A rating. A certain restaurant in town is under fire because of a disgruntled employee’s photos on social media. His attempt to bring the place down via DHEC violations and clientele repulsion. In their defense, and surprise to the public, it is pretty surprising what they do allow. Nonetheless, it got me thinking of how working in restaurants so long has made me germathetic.
Now I’m not nasty. I promise if you came to my house I’d likely have spent the afternoon tidying it up before you got there. While I do not literally sweep it under the rug, I do hide it in the second bedroom. Or cover it with a curtain. Like the curtain that covers the opening where a door should be to the second bedroom. More importantly, I strike a match and saturate the air with body spray until it smells like a day spa. Or a tweenage girl.
If I’m cleaning the kitchen, I use sanitizer and frequently wipe the dust that settles on the oven range. I tidy as I cook, just like Mama taught me. Rag within hands reach at all times.
I’m not funny about how careful one must be with raw meat though. As a kid I’d find the tightest package of ground beef in the grocery store and poke a hole in it with my finger. The sensation of cold meat that could now breathe, thanks to me, was so satisfying. I’d do it every time we went to the Red & White.
I’d wait until Mama crawled the buggy toward the poultry before I’d make my move. She’d be studying the price of thin cut chicken breasts, presumably to be piled with Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce served with a side of canned corn, while I’m perk my little head up to look down at the beef packages. Standing on my tiptoes, I’d make sure no one was looking – especially the butcher- and I’d jam my thin pointer finger directly in the center of the meat. I wonder how many pounds of meat the Red & White lost because of my early onset obsessive compulsive disorder.
Once, I got to go to the meat market with my dad. When I think of this memory I really have to dig deep in my hippocampus. Because it seems so surreal that perhaps it was a dream. What man would take his elementary aged daughter inside the coolers of a meat market? My dad. That’s who. The same guy who gave me a Marlboro backpack on the first day of fourth grade because he had smoked enough packs to turn in the tickets on them for prizes. The same man who kept my Polly Pocket toys and money from my grandparents in Crown bags.
Perhaps this is the reason I’m not a great gift giver but am incredibly resourceful.
We went to the Saluda Meat Market, when it was still open and just outside of Main Street headed toward Georgia. It still sits there to this day. On a slight hill, the memories of slaughtered cattle ominously manifests itself through the creeping vine and kudzu that covers the building.
The man who helped us had a typical, Saluda drawl. He wore jeans, a button down, a hat, and had a mustache. At least that is how my mind wants him to look. He walked us into a giant freezer. It was cold, steel, and made me feel small. Even smaller than I already felt beside my father, whom I always believed to be seven feet tall. Perhaps it was also because my breath in front of me seemed to suddenly be taking up quite a bit of room.
Hanging from the ceiling were raw, exposed carcasses. I remember the man slapping one of them with a gloved hand. It did not move but it made a popping sound. It was solid. Thick and muscular.
It was a little unnerving to see these animals hanging dead, upside down from a hook pierced through their neck, knowing that I’d likely be eating one of them for dinner that week. But it did not scare me. I do not remember crying or feeling the need to escape. I remember listening to men’s voices behind me.
I remember staying by my father’s side while I took it all in.
In his way, he introduced me to courage.