Jami Attenberg Phones Home

A Chat With Her Dad Shed Light on 'The Middlesteins'

Deli Magic: Jami Attenberg asked her father about the magic of the delicatessen, and wound up finding out some things about his past, and her’s.
Michael Sharkey
Deli Magic: Jami Attenberg asked her father about the magic of the delicatessen, and wound up finding out some things about his past, and her’s.

By Jami Attenberg

Published October 23, 2012, issue of October 26, 2012.
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Do you remember what you were eating in those days?

I remember my mother cooked a lot. We ate a lot at home. I remember on Sunday afternoons my father liked to listen to classical music on the stereo. And my mother would be cooking a steak. And all you’d hear was George Gershwin coming through the house. That’s probably where I developed my love of music, knowing there was going to be a good dinner on Sunday night.

Did you eat deli when you were growing up?

There was a deli in Highland Park called Leo’s. Actually, Highland Park had two delis at that time, but Leo’s was the one we went to. You know, I’ll tell you when deli became important. Deli became important at a lifecycle event. For instance, somebody died, and there was a shiva house, and what did you do? You ordered deli trays. If there was a bar mitzvah or a bat mitzvah or someone came to visit, what did we do? We ordered a deli tray. So you can always tie a deli tray into some sort of lifecycle event. And, pretty much, that’s when I had corned beef and bagels and lox and stuff like that. Well, bagels and lox were hard to get once we moved to Buffalo Grove. We had to drive to Skokie.

That’s my memory of it. If we were having some sort of event, you were going to get in the car and you were going to drive for a while. Like, you were going to be gone all morning.

Yep, exactly. You had to drive to Skokie. And it really wasn’t a deli we were dealing with. We were dealing with bagel stores that added in deli products. It wasn’t like a New York-style deli. I remember one of those delis, I think it was Kaufman’s, opened up a deli in Northbrook, so now we had a deli that was ten miles closer to us.

And now you don’t eat that much deli anymore, because of your health.

It’s interesting, because the other night we were at Susan and Eric’s house to break the fast, and it was the first bagels and lox that I’ve seen in such a long time. Literally, someone has to die, have a wedding, whatever, for me to see it. First of all, the only place in town that really carries deli products is the bagel place, New York Bagel & Bialy. And it does a pretty good job — it even has a little sit-down area as an afterthought. But it’s still not the good old-fashioned deli that you’re used to seeing.

Right.

Hey, do you remember when we went on our camping trips, we would always have a salami in the front of the vehicle hanging there. Do you remember that?

No, I don’t remember that. That’s funny though.

We always had a salami. You could always get yourself a good kosher salami. First of all, you didn’t have to refrigerate it. You just hung it. Well, it never lasted very long. We always had roadside sandwiches with it. That’s another kind of deli, no question.

Well, you’ve made me really hungry, Dad.

I made you really hungry? (Laughs.)

I think I might have to have a bagel for lunch.

I will probably have a salad for lunch, so there you go.


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