This Is The Sound a Vinegar Van Makes

My father’s father owned a vinegar factory in South Africa. Born and grown in Lithuania, my gentle grandfather migrated south to the bottom of Africa via Israel as a very young adult. There he married my grandmother, raised three sons, and made vinegar.

One of the first sounds I ever heard in my life was my father blowing a very loud, put-put-puttering noise through his nose and mouth. “This is what my father’s vinegar van sounded like,” he would say. And do it again.

I don’t know how he creates that sound, with his nose, tongue and palette. But if I don’t have my eyes firmly turned to his at the time, I would swear there is an old, rusty, white van spluttering down the street outside, delivering vinegar.

He made that sound when we were crying. He made it when we were bored. He made it to distract us, to entice a laugh, when we asked him to do it and especially when we didn’t. And always it had the same effect: wide-eyed astonishment and giggles!

The scraped knee stopped hurting. The whiny baby forgot she was hungry. The kid brother ceased annoying me, and even the grown-ups would laugh. Misery, pain, attention diverted by the funny imitation of the vinegar van.

My dad is a mostly cheery, good-natured, laidback kinda guy who is most comfortable amidst jokes and laughter. Sometimes witty, usually corny, he cracks jokes almost all the time and shares funny stories whenever he can. Most of them we’ve heard many times over, and while they get old they never get tired. Not to me, anyway!

“What’s yellow and points north?”

“Um… dunno. What?”

“A magnetic banana!” Ba-dum-bum.

His humor is pure. He is funny because he wants to be. Because he wants to make the people around him laugh. Because funny is often more satisfying than sadness, anger, worry, or even hunger. And if it’s possible to smooth the frown, laugh through the tears, lighten the moment, why not tell a corny joke or make a weird and wonderful sound?

Sadly, I did not inherit my dad’s natural aptitude for making people laugh. I don’t have innate comedic timing, my brain is not quick-witted, and my jokes are usually dry and sarcastic, sometimes funny, often obscure and never the type that leave giggles and “Tell that one again.”

But the magical effect of the spluttering vinegar van has taught me the power of laughter, the power of brightening the mood and blowing away the gray, if only for a few silly minutes so that when the hurt knee is remembered, when the difficult conversation resumes, somehow it doesn’t sting as much as it did before.

“What’s yellow and very dangerous?”

“Um, a spray painted vinegar van?”

“No! Shark-infested custard! But have you ever heard what my dad’s old vinegar sounded like?”



This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, inspired by the prompt, “The best advice my father ever gave me was…” Hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee and Stephanie from Mommy, for Real, and guest hosts Michelle from Crumpets and Bullocks and Ruchira from Abracabadra.


“Jinx! Double jinx! Triple jinx! Personal jinx!”

They scream this out every time two or more of them say something at the same time. I used to play that game as a kid. There was something thrilling about being in sync with my friend or sibling. Like: how cool that we’re thinking about the same thing AT THE SAME TIME! No. Way.

It’s still cool.

I don’t like to feel alone (I wonder if anyone does really…?). I feel scared and sad, forgotten and neglected, when I feel alone. Like I have to face the big wide whole world by myself and it overwhelms me. Feels impossible. I am much warmer, calmer, happier when I know that someone is thinking of me, someone has me in mind, someone is empathetic toward me. And it’s even better if they’re thinking of me at the same time as I’m thinking of them. But that doesn’t happen often. No. Way.

Sometimes it does. It does happen. And when it does I am that eight-year-old kid again – thrilled and happy with a great big grin on my face because how cool! And also because I’m reassured that I’m really not alone.

The song a faraway friend mentions to me that is suddenly playing on the radio. The adorable muppet-like video saying hi I love you you’re awesome I’m so glad you’re my friend that shows up in my inbox on a morning that seems impossible – Toronto now feels like it’s round the corner, and suddenly the morning is not so impossible.

“So weird, was just thinking of you and wishing you were down the road and I could see you…”

She is my best friend from life. We’ve known each other since first grade, which is my whole life – I remember very little before then. We’ve been silly together, cried together, confided in each other, been mad with each other, and laughed and laughed and laughed together.


When I received this text from her, my heart filled with warm and happy. She had been on my mind, so I sent her a message. Asking how she was, when could we talk? And she had been thinking of me, at that exact moment. She was not alone. And I was not alone. Jinx personal jinx!

Our phone conversations are long and deeply satisfying. I wish we were lying on the carpet listening to Depeche Mode together but this is a close second. The time zones and miles between here and there fall away, and if I close my eyes and just talk, she is right here with me.

“Nick, remember when we sent Mr B a…” “Valentine’s Card!” I finish for her.

We are both shrieking with laughter, our words falling over each other’s. We giggle together for many minutes, remembering that gigantic card we sent our English teacher in high school. We took a proud photograph of ourselves with it, and somehow that photograph ended up in his hands. Busted!

She remembers a 16th birthday party we had together – the social event of the year, she said – and I remember a Saturday night hitchhiking in Johannesburg (I know, so not okay). Sometimes our memories overlap, and sometimes they don’t, but always they are special, binding us together above the broadband that connects us.

Thinking of you. Sending love. You ok? Had a feeling, just wanted to check in… Messages like these join hands and hold me close. Whether it’s a day of smiles and sunshine, or one that is dark and difficult, these missives to and from those I love and who love me feel all kinds of wonderful. As if I stretched out my hand, and felt those warm fingers interlace with mine – from across the Bay, from down the road, to the North and down South, and over the ocean.


Jinx by OPI

Jinx by OPI

This post was written as part of the April A to Z Challenge. To read more of my A to Z posts click here.