The scents and sounds of my 1960s childhood summers at my grandmothers beach club would sizzle together creating the perfect summer cocktail.
Along with the rhythmic sounds of the ocean waves breaking on the beach, and the staccato click, clack, click of the Bakelite mah jongg tiles, was the constant swatting sound coming from the pink plastic fly swatter that, like Hopalong Cassidy’s six shooter, never left my grandmothers side.
Nana was the fastest swatter in the west, knocking down a formation of enemy flies with one shot.
Any fly zeroing in for a landing anywhere near a peach or plum wouldn’t stand a chance. “Who knew where that fly had been?” was a constant refrain heard all summer.
Shoo Fly Don’t Bother Me
From the time she was a little girl, no insect put the fear of God in Nana like the house fly.
It was no wonder people of a certain age had a fear of insects and flies.
These deadly pests, they were told, were carriers of deadly diseases. All insects were bad but houseflies were by far the worst since it was thought you could get polio through an insect bite.
Which helped explain why even “nice people” who lived in careful and sanitary homes could still get polio and other diseases.
A Cornucopia of Fruit
While we waited for the cabana boys to deliver our lunch, Nana rummaged through her bags for something for us to nosh on.
She never traveled anywhere without a menagerie of shopping bags and bundles, whether it was a three-week vacation or a three-hour visit.
Out of Nana’s huge summer straw tote, the one with floral appliqués and exotic bamboo bracelet handles that she got in Haiti, would emerge all sorts of goodies to nosh on.
But the best summertime treats were the cornucopia of fresh fruit from her neighborhood Italian greengrocer.
The fruit stand on Columbus Avenue with its open air grandstands of vibrant fruits and vegetables added a vivid blaze of color to the otherwise drab city block.
Unlike the chaste fruit found in our own supermarkets that were tucked into styrophone trays, hermetically sealed in sanitary Saran wrap, the seductive sprawl of luscious fruit may have been protected from the baking sun by an awning, but it lay defenseless to the random touching, squeezing even tasting, by perfect strangers.
Lunchtime By the Cabana
It wasn’t long before the accommodating cabana boys delivered our lunches to satisfy our ravenous sea-air appetites.
As Nana nibbled on her cool-la-la fancy cottage cheese salad, the pineapple slices curled and twisted decoratively dusted with a shower of paprika, Mom mindlessly picked at her Seafarers Surprise plate, tuna salad festooned with fancy stuffed olives and a creative use of pimento strips worthy of a Picasso.
Suddenly Mom let out an audible gasp, nearly dropping the bottle of Sucaryl lo cal sweetener she was pouring into her iced tea.
Just as I was innocently about to sink my teeth into a downy yellow peach plucked from a brown paper bag in Nana’s straw tote, Mom swiftly snatched the fruit away from me before I ever got a chance to bite into the juicy flesh.
Sternly I was admonished to make sure it was washed or else I would get a tummy ache.
Perils of Unwashed Fruit
But it was Nana’s look of panic at the sight of that unclean flesh entering my pristine mouth, that told me some greater tragedy would befall me if I bit into an unwashed peach, maybe the very piece of fruit that God Forbid-a fly had rested on for a mille second before being squashed to its demise.
The fly this most feared and dangerous beast that frolicked and feasted greedily in uncovered garbage cans, the gutter, rotting food, or a dead horse even, could have landed on your nice ripe peach wiping his poisonous feet on the food.
Diarrhea would be the least of your problems. For in the dirt and dust on the fruit, I was warned by Nana, were many little seeds of disease.
Since the polio epidemics had occurred in hot summer months when flies were so prevalent, a popular theory circulated that in the hot sun, the skin of fruits nurtured the infantile paralysis germs which had been left there by, who else –the dastardly fly.
Which is why, in my family, unwashed fruit seemed to elicit the same terror as flies.
Protecting the home front especially the food supply against the dangerous fly became a cardinal rule for three generations of mothers in my family.
Copyright (©) 20015 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved -Excerpt From Defrosting The Cold War:Fallout From My Nuclear Family