You may know that we are a combined family, originally Autumn living with my dad Eric, and me living with my mom Ali. Dad has been a cheese-kind-of-guy ever since I can remember, which is when I was five, when my Mom married my Dad.
From a very young age, cheese has been a part of my life, but for Autumn, my stepsister, she has been around it all her life. You would think being around it so much, you might get annoyed with it, and you guessed right.
I remember one time, Autumn and I were talking about how we wished we were normal. Now, mind you, we were around seven or eight, and normal doesn’t have a very good definition for little kids. Our idea of normal included: not eating healthy, not going organic, eating at McDonalds, and most of all, NOT EATING CHEESE. Now you can probably imagine how heart-breaking that must have been for my Dad. How could any kids of his not like cheese?
But it turns out, we at eight were the only ones who thought like that. My brother Terran loved and still loves cheese. I used to think that Terran only did that because he wanted to be like Dad, but now I realize that he genuinely likes cheese.
I once asked my Dad why cheese makes people so happy, I mean it smells! He responded by saying, “Cheese tastes great and it reminds people of their travels and trips. They have happy memories of cafes they went to in France, and restaurants they went to in Italy, so naturally, they want to remember.”
Now I can understand that to some degree. You see a cheese from France, you want to remember your honeymoon. (At least my parents do, having gone to Paris for theirs.) Or you see an Italian cheese, and you remember going there on a trip with your school. (Of course you want to remember that because you spent a lot of money to go!) But when I see people buying cheese, I don’t think everyone has been traveling before. Not everyone has the time.
I see people being engaged in conversations with my Dad, and they seem drawn to him. I don’t know what it is, and I am one of his daughters! But since people love talking to him, and he loves cheese, naturally people end up liking the cheese just because Dad does, and talks about it. He seems to draw people in with his own fascination with the cheese, and I think that is what makes people the most happy to see our cheese stand. Someone who is happy with their job is one big step towards happy customers. The next step is local, and then the third is the variety. All that alone seems to make people like cheese if it isn’t my Dad.
When I was younger, there was this book in our house called The Old Man Who Loved Cheese. Autumn would always ask my dad to read it to her, before I came into the picture, and boy did he hate it. In it, it talked about this guy who loved cheese, the stinkier the better, and everyone was overwhelmed by the smell. Eventually he gave up cheese altogether because it was pushing everyone away, which is not a great moral, because the man was giving up something that he really loved. Why my Dad hated that book, I can hazard a few guesses: because not all cheese is stinky, because the guy in the end gives up cheese, and because Autumn had him over-read it, but most likely because the cheese was ‘stinky.’ And although my Dad hated it, let me tell you, it is a well worn book in our house. That and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. The Stinky Cheese Man runs around the pages of the book like the Gingerbread Man, bragging about no one being able to catch him. In the end the fox tricks him and eats him up, which is very nice for the fox, and not so much for the Stinky Cheese Man. It’s pretty encouraging for the people who, like the fox, like to eat stinky cheese!
One day, after market, Dad asked Autumn and me which one was stinkier: Cheese or Fish. We both said FISH at the same time, automatically. You might think that because we live around cheese, we are immune to the smell and we should know better, having read all those stinky cheese books, but it seems that most people who come up to our booth are there originally because of the smell. Some people say they are just smelling all the cheese when I ask them if I can help them, and others say that they smelled it and wanted to see what it was. If cheese is so stinky, then why does the smell draw people over? It is not so much as stinky, as just a strong aroma. And even Autumn is not immune to the worst of the strong cheese. There are smelly cheeses. Just not all are.
Cheese is good, but my Dad selling it makes it even better. Autumn and I used to (and still do) like to brag about how our Dad started the cheese department at the Honest Weight Food Coop. People would look at us like we were all cute and little kid-ish, then turn to my Dad and ask, “Really?” It was almost as if they were praising him for how well it is going. Or it would be a ‘really’ as in ‘hmm, let me check out The Cheese Traveler. It must be good if this guy started it at the Coop.’ Those ones would and always will make my heart swell.
Ava Champion is a Junior at The Doane Stuart School and a novelist.