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My earliest memories [1950's] as a child are of moments on Columbia Road, where my grandparents, Laudina and Regino Martins, both worked and lived. The ground floor housed the gift shop run by grandfather; above was my grandmother’s dress shop, and a small apartment; above that were two more floors with apartments, the one with the bay window occupied by my parents, my sister Elaine, and myself until I was about five years old when we moved across the river to Virginia.
The gift shop held rows of greeting cards and gift items. There was a large glass display case set out a few feet from the back right wall. There was a real cash register that chimed a bell and one of my greatest delights as a youngster was when my grandfather let me put a customer’s cards in gift sacks. Behind the gift shop was an office with an old wooden desk. When business was slow, my grandfather used to play game after game of solitaire.
Sometimes Papa (that’s what I called my grandfather) would give me a nickel or a dime to buy a candy bar and let me walk by myself just a few buildings down to the Italian deli owned by a couple of men they called “the boys” yet who were in reality grown up men. I recall that one had a baldhead; it always seemed strange to me that my grandparents called them boys! These men behind the counter were always friendly and seemed glad to see us when we arrived to buy a crusty-on-the outside, soft on the inside Italian bread, salami, proscuitti, port salute or blue cheese. My favorite lunch was when my grandmother put a sizzling hamburger on one of their hard rolls, touched with butter and just a tiny bit of mustard! To this day, nothing comes close to tickling my mid-day taste buds!
My grandmother’s dress shop was too much fun for a little girl! As you walked through the door there was a half moon table that looked like a huge seashell, and two small boudoir chairs. All around the main room were built-ins, with curtains on rings that made a noise when pulled just like the tug of a shower curtain. Under the teal blue curtains were all the then current styles of beautiful dresses on see through hangers of different colors. It was such fun to help my grandmother change the three window mannequins each week or to sit in her tiny closet like sewing room that overlooked the street. She would show me how to put the fabric under the presser-foot of the machine. It seemed to me way back then (the 1950’s and 1960’s) that her hands would fly through the hem of a dress. When a customer purchased a dress she carefully wrote out a receipt and then placed the garment in one her lovely blue bags or boxes that had “Laudina Martins” imprinted in swirly silver script. My sister Elaine and I had fun playing with all the petticoats that were the rage back then. My grandmother would sometimes let us have a receipt book and we’d play dress shop, giggling as we changed into them in the tiny one-person dressing room, just like the for-real customers!
During the slow part of the business day besides shopping at the “boy’s” deli, we might go to Safeway, or best of all, cross at the light and go down the street to the French Bakery next to the bank, the Avignon Freres, filled with mouthwatering smells, bright white doilies, and eye catching desserts. My favorite was always the Sacher Torte with its layer of hard dark chocolate frosting over layers of luscious rum cake with a raspberry chocolate mouse filling! However, my own father, Billy, and my grandparents would have probably told you their favorite was the almond crusted mocha cake! The ladies in the bakery wore crisp white aprons and frilly caps. Once you made your selection, they placed your goodies in a white cardboard box they corded and tied in a bow of string that always had to be snipped.
When my mind or heart reflects on Columbia Road, it is always with a nostalgic feeling of food for the soul, little girl make-believe-moments, and time well spent with my grandparents!
Lisa Martins Halloran-Glenn
January 27, 2003
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