MANNY AND ROSE
It was a candy store like the dozens of others that populated the storefront strips of my Bronx neighborhood. My world in the early 1960s was as big as I could walk. Only later did it become as far away as I could ride my bike. But on this day, I was walking home from St. Lucy’s School on the corner of Mace and Bronxwood Avenues and I found myself popping into Manny’s on Allerton Avenue near Boston Post Road. It was a routine, of sorts. The tall, spinning wire rack near the back wall of the store always held the latest Superman comic books. Sometimes I had the ten cents, sometimes I didn’t. But I always would take a peek. Manny didn’t seem to mind; it came with the territory, I’m sure.
This was a small space. To the right of the front door was the main counter; a soda fountain with maybe three or four stools. Also, a candy and newspaper stand wrapped into one was near the cash register at the end of the counter closest to the door. On the back wall itself was a large display unit. I can’t quite remember what that unit was selling at its upper and middle sections, but I do remember well the bottom shelf. It seemed to be made to attract young boys. Boxes of yo-yo’s and replacement strings, pink spaldeen balls, sidewalk chalk, penny candy and whatever else was “in season;" jacks, tops, marbles, or Greenie Stik-M Caps. Even if I wasn’t buying any of those things on that day, it seemed to me that there was an inexhaustible supply at Manny’s. I never worried about being without.
Manny, like virtually every other storeowner I saw in my travels, was what I called an “old man.” He had an accent: Jewish, I presumed, as did his wife, Rose. Rose was his constant companion in the store and in life, too, I’m sure. I only knew their names because they constantly spoke to one another and prefaced each sentence with one name or the other. Married forever, the store was their life. For all I knew, they lived in back of the store or above it. But at age ten, I didn’t know or care. They were just old people.
On this particular day I was thumbing through the comic book rack and occasionally flashed the quarter I held in my hand to let Manny know I was a real potential customer, when another customer came into the store. This was an adult. Or at least he wasn’t a kid. And he asked for a hand-packed quart of vanilla ice cream. Manny’s, like every other soda fountain in every other candy store, sold ice cream cones and sundaes and malteds with ice cream scooped out of five gallon drums held in the fountain freezer behind the counter. Manny was his own soda jerk. But on this day, the voice I remember was Rose’s.
“No quarts today” she said. "I'm sorry. No."
Just like that. My ears perked up and tuned in. The customer was puzzled.
“All I want is a quart of vanilla,” the customer pleaded.
“No. I’m sorry. No quarts today. It’s too hard.”
It sounded quite final. Then Manny spoke up.
“Rose, I can do it,” he said.
“Manny, NO!” Rose was quite adamant.
“Let me try,” begged Manny. "Let me at least try!"
“Well… you go easy!” Rose relented.
Manny took the ice cream scoop and began to slowly fill the round quart container with the hard, frozen Breyer’s ice cream. I don’t know how many scoops it took, but it seemed like forever as he ever-so-slowly filled the quart. Rose was at his side watching his hands, watching his face, watching his feet. She had a chair pulled up nearby. Rose was constantly asking Manny if he was all right. If he was tired. If he needed to sit down. And all this over a quart of vanilla ice cream! I didn’t understand this at all!
I remember leaving the store and laughing. Laughing at the silliness of the two old people whom I had seen have an overreaction to a simple little task. Manny. Rose. Manny. Rose. Manny. I kept that image with me to this day. But of course now, with the advantage of a few decades, I see what really was there.
Manny and Rose were of one mind with two bodies. And Manny’s body must have had some recent trauma. A mild heart attack, perhaps, or something worse. In any event, Rose was his guardian, his protector. She was not about to lose her husband of more than half a century for anything. And now, decades older, I can finally see what was going on there. It was love. Rose loved Manny more than anything in the world and she would not entertain anything that might in any way jeopardize his life. Nothing. Especially not for something as simple and as meaningless as a quart of vanilla ice cream. One mind, two bodies. One love.