Column: Touring the market with Uncle Marty

Editor’s note: Ms. Lombardi, a former Suffolk Times staff member, rejoins the paper as a contributor this week. Her column will appear twice a month.

My husband came home and told me about it. In just an hour, at 9:30 a.m., King Kullen in Cutchogue would host 70 kindergartners from Cutchogue East Elementary School. I had time enough for a quick cup of tea before I, too, would head for King Kullen to find out what was going on.

I recall those long-ago years when I took my three kids with me when I went food shopping. I wondered how anyone could handle 70 ever-moving youngsters.

With ease, it seems, and with careful planning by King Kullen staff, Cut­chogue East teachers and a handful of parents. When the big yellow school bus turned into Cutchogue Plaza (fancy for King Kullen shopping center), there was parent Christina Altman standing at the supermarket door. Her camera was ready for pictures of all the kids, but especially for Christina’s daughter Piper.

Once inside the store, the kindergartners, all 70 of them, met with Marty Gallo, store manager. Marty has four children of his own, all under 14, so he’s a pro with kids. He asked the children to call him Uncle Marty. Perfect. There’s respect and affection in that.

Uncle Marty divided the kids into two groups. He’d lead one group around the store, starting in dairy, and checker Pat would lead the other, starting in produce.

I went with Uncle Marty and, oh, what fun. But back up for a minute. Cutchogue East teacher Mary Baldwin told me the youngsters were doing a unit on healthy eating. And listen to this. At the end of the tour, the kids would purchase the ingredients, mostly vegetables, to be used in a soup they’d make in school. Parents would be invited to that soup lunch. Delicious!

Back to dairy. Little Jonathan Yousik of Mattituck spotted the puddings. He told me his favorite was chocolate. I can imagine no more pleasant a time than sitting down with little Jonathan, the both of us digging into great bowls of chocolate pudding.

Across from puddings are the peanut butter and jelly shelves. You should have seen all the hands that shot up when Uncle Marty asked who liked peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And then another hand went up with a bit of information. When we passed by the King Kullen pharmacy, one kid volunteered, “We get our medicine at Walmart.” Uncle Marty smiled gamely while all the parents and teachers laughed out loud. Me, too.

Continuing our tour, Uncle Marty explained to the kids that the cash machine “doesn’t keep on giving.” He told them the courtesy counter is where to go “if you’re lost” or want to know “where stuff is.” That word courtesy — still a part of North Fork life, thankfully.

Going back to where the butchers do their work was exciting. Uncle Marty said each kid could tap the little bell on the meat counter just once — and then they should keep their hands still. Dangerous equipment: big saws and knives.

The kids observed how chopped meat is made and packaged and priced. Butchers Tony and Dennis sliced big, thick steaks. What a cookout we could all have.

By the way, the children even met a guy who delivers to King Kullen. Bill Ciccotto works for Pepperidge Farm and left us with some seasonal advice: “Don’t forget the stuffing.”

Occasionally Uncle Marty clapped his hands to get the kids to quiet down. Goodness knows, they were excited enough in the deli department, where Riverhead’s Cathy Brawley, King Kullen’s “cheese lady,” distributed samples to the children.

More good eating was around the corner in the bakery department. A “cupcake station” was set up where kids could decorate cupcakes and then, of course, eat them. Dan, the bakery man, even boxed cupcakes for the kids to take back to Cutchogue East.
As for Uncle Marty? Boy, did he do a fine job. Teachers, parents and I all learned, as well as the kindergartners. Before the tour began Uncle Marty told me he “prayed the visit would turn out OK.”

It did, Uncle Marty, it did.

Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.