Did you ever have an event happen in your life, specifically during childhood, that stuck with you your entire life? I’m not talking about a life altering experience. Just something you did as a child that no one ever let you forget. As a matter of fact, each time the story gets told it seems to take on a life of its own. Like it’s being told for the very first time, by brothers and sisters and cousins. And the reaction is always the same. You get red in the face when you hear it and you have to fill in the left out parts because they never get it the same twice. I have such a story. It’s become an “urban legend” in my family and never gets old. It became known as “The Fruit Bowl Incident”.
For the record, this is what happened.
I must have been 3 or 4 years old at the time. It was 1957 or 58. I remember being very young. I was in the basement with my mother and remember she was ironing some cloths. We had the TV on. It was one of those giant 12″ TV’s, you know, the one that didn’t have a station changer that clicked , but you tuned in the TV programs like a radio. I always had an active imagination and like many children of the day, would utilize every day household items for play things. This was a time when all you needed to keep busy was a little pink ball and a stick. I used to love to play “soldier”. Running around the house and diving in and out of corners using the entire basement as my “battlefield”. Like any good soldier I had a cut off 2×4 as my rifle and for my helmet I would use an aluminum fruit bowl that my mother kept on the kitchen table, minus the fruit.
Let me give you a description of the culprit that etched this story into my family’s history books. This fruit bowl was made of a flat aluminum and had scalloped edges. It almost looked like a flower basket. And it had a handle attached to it. A very strong handle. When I put it on it looked like a pretty cool World War 1 helmet. Now, I had been playing with this equipment for some time and this particular day was no different than any other….so I thought.
As far as my mother knew, this was like any other day in the Bocchieri household. Or so she thought. My brother and sister were at school for the day, my father was at work, my Grandparents were busy working in the butcher shop and my mother was taking care of the usual household chores as I played and kept myself busy. At one point she felt a tug on her dress and when she looked down she saw that I was very upset. “What’s wrong?”, she asked. I told her ” I can’t take my helmet off”. She gave me a look of disbelief and quipped, “you always play with that silly fruit bowl, just slide it off”. I looked up at her with my panic in my eyes and told her that I couldn’t.
She put down the iron and knelled down beside me on one knee and in her calm maternal voice she said, “here sweetheart, let me try”.
I stood there with my head bobbing back and fourth as she tried to slip the handle in one direction, then the other from under my chin. It wasn’t coming off! At that point my mother became more animated. She sat me down in a chair and told me not to move as she ran in the kitchen for some olive oil. She came running back to me with a dish towel soaked in the oil and rubbed it all around the handle and my chin. After I was totally lubricated she made another attempt to remove the fruit bowl from my head. IT WASN’T COMING OFF!!!!!
Now, my mother has had a lot of experience dealing with emergencies between me and my brother and sister over the years. And you would think that a simple problem like taking a fruit bowl off your child’s head would have been a cake walk for her. But she panicked! She lifted me up into her arms and placed a coat over me and the fruit bowl, it was cold outside. As she held me in one arm she ran outside and started to bang on my neighbor’s door for help. My neighbor Julia opened the door, seeing me in my mother’s arms with a coat draped over my head with what looked like my mother’s fruit bowl under the cover. “Please, Julia, you have to help me”, my mother shouted, ” Peter has my fruit bowl stuck on his head. And I need someone to hold him in the car so he doesn’t choke to death on the way to the police station”. At this point I started crying. Julia was in tears as well…..with laughter. Unfortunately my mother did not see any humor in this situation.
The three of us climbed into my father’s 54 Mercury and Julia held me on her lap as my mother took off for help. All the while, Julia was trying to slip off the fruit bowl from my head and my mother kept yelling at her to “stop, you’ll choke him!!”
When we arrived at the police station my mother ran around the car and lifted me off of Julia’s lap and ran up to the desk Sargent inside the police station. As she whisked the coat off of my head, like a magician that just produced a bouquet of flowers out of thin air, she pleaded with him to ” please help help me get this fruit bowl off of my son’s head.” I think the desk Sargent needed a break like this today. I’m sure with all the crime and problems he’s seen come through that door over the years this was one of those moments that probably made him glad he graduated from the police academy.
As my mother sat me on the front desk of the police station the Sargent leaned over and and grabbed the fruit bowl from the top with one hand and with his other hand under my chin tried to slip the handle forward. He began pressing down on top of the bowl trying to get more space under my chin so the handle would slip off. IT WASN’T COMING OFF!!!
The Sargent kept struggling with this stubborn helmet but wasn’t making any progress. He was lifting and tugging and pulling and twisting but the darn thing would not come off. A well dressed detective was coming into the precinct and walked over to see what all the commotion was about. At this point the Sargent suggested we call the Daily News because he saw a photo opportunity in this moment. My mother would have nothing to do with that. The detective very calmly walked over to me and said, “if the damn thing went onto his head, it’s gotta come off!” Sound logic. I believe he pressed my ears against my head, first one side, then the other as he slowly slipped the handle past the center point of my head. He might have made a comment about who dumbed this salad bowl on my head because he felt a good load of oil around my face. Ever slowly and methodically he inched the handle around my ears and pulled the skin tight under my chin and before I knew it, it came off.
I think my mother started crying at that point, once the adrenalin left her body. She thanked the Sargent and the Detective and he handed her back the fruit bowl and we walked out the precinct with me in my mother’s arms and Julia carrying the fruit bowl.
After the “fruit bowl incident” we kept the fruit bowl on the kitchen table, filled with fruit. My mother went to Toy Town the next day and bought me an army helmet.
- 1/2 cantaloupe, cubed
- 1 quart of strawberries, hulled and quartered
- 1 peach, cut in 1/8, squeeze juice of 1/4 lemon over the peaches
- 4-5 mint leaves, roughly chopped
- 1/2 pound white seedless grapes
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons Sambuca or Anisette
In a large bowl place the quartered strawberries and sprinkle with the sugar. Cut the cantaloupe into bite sized pieces and place in the bowl with the strawberries. Add the peaches, grapes, mint and Anisette.
Mix well and garnish with some whole mint leaves. Cover and let cool in refridgerator 1 hour. Mix well before serving.