It was fresh fruit and vegetables they sold, but it was love, happiness and the thrill of old-fashioned marketing they brought with the produce to Highlands every Thursday for many years.
It started out as father and son, Mr. Solomon and his son, Harold. Once a week, their open-backed truck with the colorful awning covering the baskets and boxes of everything from apricots and watermelon to asparagus and zucchini depending on the time of year would come down every street in Highlands.
Summers when there was no school, they really didn’t even need the bells that alerted the neighborhood that the vegetable truck was there. The kids in every neighborhood always saw it coming and immediately ran home to tell their moms that Mr. Solomon was there.
The weekly visits continued for years as the senior Mr. Solomon, who was elderly when he first started, was continually growing older and less able to help Harold with the actual deliveries. But he managed to ride along anyway just to see all the people who were so eager to see both of them and exchange friendly greetings.
We only had two daughters those last years of the 1950s when we lived on Huddy Avenue across from the Highlands Marina. Both girls had their own favorite people in the neighborhood. Both loved Aunt Pauline and Uncle Andy, the Homiaks who lived close enough the girls learned to visit them on their own, bringing their dog Chicken with them, Mr. Eickel, the friendly Dutch gentleman from down the street and around the corner who walked past our house every day, always bringing a piece of chocolate or a lollipop for each of them, in spite of my occasional objections.
Then there was Mr. Solomon whom they adored. Somehow, they knew he loved them, too, even before he gave them each a fresh peach or a banana. When our son was born, the girls introduced him to the Solomons and Jimbo then became their favorite, the handsome little baby with the big smile.
When we moved to Highland Avenue, all three youngsters were delighted that Mr. Solomon even went up the hill with his fruits and vegetables and they would still see him every week.
They all knew the truck as soon as it made the turn at Miller St. to come down Highland Ave, always sure to stop in front of our house, then a little way down by the Ryans where Francis Monahan would come from her house across the street as well. They stopped again down by the Perez and McCalls, before stopping in front of the McGraths and Dempseys, by this time followed by any number of kids all eager to help if they could, but simply happy to be near both Mr. Solomon in the back of his truck and his father often sitting in the passenger seat up front.
The kids would worry if Mr. Solomon wasn’t there by a specific time, thinking he wasn’t coming that day. But he always did. And they always got a piece of fruit or a carrot or tomato. And that big smile and deep voice calling out a special hello to each, knowing every one of their names.
When our youngest was born, like her sisters and brother, she was still in a carriage when first introduced to Mr. Solomon. Once again, it was love at first sight. By this time, the senior Mr. Solomon had stopped making the trip, so Tracie never got to know him. But when she was baptized a few weeks after her January birth, Harold and his wife were there for the baptism and celebration and continued to shower Tracie and the older three with more of their magic and friendship.
Jimbo especially would be sad if he thought he missed Mr. Solomon because of Pop Warner practice or some other activity. But he would smile broadly and be happy again when he heard he had not yet come…but would be there, for sure. And he always was. Jimbo always remembered the scales hanging on the back of the truck, and was fascinated how Mr. Solomon could put the balances on one side, the produce on the other, putting in the right weight to get the price, then always throwing in an extra whatever was being ordered. A Baker’s Dozen has nothing on a Solomon Scale.
Solomon was there for all the family celebrations, truly a part of the family with his wife for every birthday party for the youngsters, there to cheer them and praise them for gold stars they would show him from tests in school, or badges from girl scouts for activities they had completed. Even the family dogs went out to greet Solomon, and he abided the little one like Freckles, but was a bit intimidated by the stature of the St. Bernard, Cosma. And when we had a family of ducks living in the back yard, Solomon always had some greens or pieces of fruit for them as well.
I don’t know exactly when Solomon made his last visit, saying he was retiring from the hard and strenuous work of getting his produce, loading it on to his truck, always in the same, precise way, then making his trip from his home in Asbury Park to Highlands to share so much more than fresh produce with an entire neighborhood. But it was a day for sad goodbyes and for the kids, by then some in high school, it was the end of special times to remember.
For us adults, he was simply Solomon. But to the youngsters, he and his dad were always Mr. Solomon. First friends as babies, fast friends as they grew, and memories they will hold for a lifetime.
I sometimes think that’s why each of my children, even as adults, loves fresh fruits and vegetables so much.