The other day, I was sitting at my kitchen table eating pistachios. The small pile of shells that formed as I ate them triggered a memory of my mother, something I hadn’t thought about in a long time: When I was two or three years old, before my younger sister was born, I used to go with my mother to buy pistachios at the department store candy counter. Unlike today, you couldn’t just walk into a grocery store and buy them. Pistachios were a luxury. You had to make a special trip to get them.
The woman who worked at the candy counter was an older lady. She wore her gray hair pulled back into a bun and sometimes had a Band-Aid stuck to the side of her nose. I never knew what the Band-Aid was for, but I always found it fascinating. A Band-Aid on your nose!
The woman would ask my mother if she wanted the red pistachios or the natural ones. They had both kinds on display, piled up into mounds behind the glass. My mother always chose the natural ones, just one pound because of their price. The lady would scoop the nuts into a white paper bag with red stripes on it. Then she would place the bag on a scale to weigh it, and would either add more nuts or remove a few until the amount was just right.
The candy counter also sold balloons. These were not filled with helium, just regular air. Because they couldn’t float on their own, the balloons were attached to long wooden sticks so that you could carry one around and it would look like it was floating. Sometimes when my mother bought pistachios she would offer to get me something, too. I never wanted candy. Always, I chose a balloon, preferably a red one.
When we got home, my mother would sit in the living room and eat her pistachios while she watched her favorite television shows. These were mostly soap operas, nothing I found that interesting. After making sure my balloon was stored in a safe place, I used to sit on the floor and play with my toys or look at a book while a small pile of pistachio shells formed on the coffee table.
At the time, my mother was the same age that my daughter is now.
My mother died of lung cancer in September 2020. She was a lifelong smoker. She never quit, even after she was diagnosed with cancer. Up until recently, I’ve mostly been angry with her about it. But sometimes an old memory comes back to me unexpectedly, and the anger disappears.