NEW JERSEY - For two decades, 94-year-old Dolores Santucci has grilled, dressed, wrapped, and served hot dogs from the cart outside her son's butcher shop.
"Mom's a piece of work," Mike Santucci said.
Mike first put his mom to work when he purchased Ehmer Quality Meats in Hillsdale, New Jersey, 25 years ago, carrying on a family butchering tradition started in the Bronx in 1929.
"Been hanging out in the butcher shop all my life," he said.
"I come and go as I please," Dolores said. "Nobody tells me what to do."
That apparently includes Dolores' customers, many of whom defer to the woman holding the tongs when deciding what to order for lunch.
"What would you like on it, hun?" she asks a customer.
"I've been coming here for years and years," another customer said.
"She's the best," said another.
"They buy anything I tell them," she said.
And then, Mike hopes, they come inside and buy more of whatever his mom's serving on the street.
"A tailgate party practically every day," he said.
"I like to see people," Dolores said. "What am I going to do, stay home and look at that stupid television?"
But for eight weeks this spring, that's exactly what Dolores had to do.
"Terrible," she said. "I was in jail."
Coronavirus forced her to stay inside and wait for New Jersey, and her son, to allow her to return to work.
Dolores now dons a face visor for her three-hour shift, but otherwise, her routine remains the same: The same Frank Sinatra plays over a speaker, and the same customers she's served dogs for decades wait to place their orders for the same meat this Hillsdale shop's sold since the 1930s.
"I sell weisswurst, a knackwurst, a bratwurst, andouille, a pork sausage, Italian sausage," she said.
"It keeps her going," Mike said, "and she's not complaining and I don't have to hear every day when I call her up 'when am I coming back?'"
"Really makes you feel like living," Dolores said.