POST #39: WHAT WE DO. WHO WE ARE.

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 Lazar, Detroit, 1920

Really, no one could figure out how he did it. He was the marvel of the neighborhood. Quick and confident and proud, he never made a mistake.

He was a tiny, compact little man, wrapped in an apron. Standing tall behind the counter of his grocery store. He added every figure in his head. Every account, every transaction was there, etched clearly in his precise and ordered mind.

A very smart man. A grocery man.

A man who selflessly extended credit to his neighbors so they could bring food home to their families when times were hard.

A kind person.

***

David, Oswiecim, Poland, 1939

There he is, his chin jutting out proudly, his arm draped casually around the shoulders of his childhood friends, a bold, almost insolent grin on his face. A yellow star is crudely stitched onto his breast pocket.

Famous for his jokes (who else would have shoved the goat through the door when it opened for Elijah?) he knew the prayer book so thoroughly his hands made grip marks on the leather.

He will run away soon. They will catch him. They will hold him for five long years. The horrors were unspeakable. So he never spoke of them.

A new country and a new start.   Bent now from his suffering, but still powerfully strong, he works first as a bellhop. Then he stands for decades at a machine in a factory.

We knew he was never the same but we never knew who he’d been.

He was so very tired. But let a small child catch his eye? Radiance would spread over him that could warm the sun itself.

A kind person.

***

Erv, Chicago, 1960

No question about it, he is the coolest guy in the room. Hair brushed back, perfectly dressed. No double creases ever.

Nothing handed to him on a silver platter either. No silver spoons touch his lips. He’s been working since forever. Proud of it.

This guy truly knows how to be a friend. He’s got your back. Wait, Better than that. He’s figured out how to help everyone avoid making mistakes. He is beloved.

Don’t be fooled by the posing though. He knows how to turn a phrase. He can write poetry too.

Falsely accused, he refuses to capitulate to a bullying professor. He is denied graduation for a year. But he stands firm. He is right.

He is vindicated.

An eye doctor: he goes on to become one of the finest and most caring healthcare practitioners anywhere. Now he’s got everyone’s back.

A kind person.

***

Me, Bloomfield Hills, 1975

“She’s the smartest girl I’ve ever met. “

It wasn’t true. It couldn’t be true. The person who made this declaration really was smart—brilliant even. What on earth could I have said that afternoon?

I really don’t remember.

I do remember sitting and talking to him though. I didn’t know enough to make pronouncements about anything at all. If I had, I’m certain I wouldn’t have been right.

I remember talking to him. I remember listening to him. I remember a gentle and generous conversation. He was nice.

That’s all. It wasn’t hard to be kind.

And at that time, for that boy, that might have been just enough.

I’m glad.

 

Above photo by Croze, Blessing and others: from The Saarinen Door,  published by Cranbrook Academy of Art and Printed by the Cranbrook Press c 1963.

 

 

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Post #38: The Tower of Nickels and Dimes

IMG_1046POCKET CHANGE: 1961

My Grandpa Lou would walk in the door. A kiss and then his hand would reach into his pocket. From his fingers would come a waterfall of coins clattering and clinking and plunking! I was too small to touch them. Too small to even know what they were for. All those pennies and nickels and dimes and quarters were shiny and rattley and meant for me. Spare change scooped from his pocket every night with the nonchalant precision of a soda jerk digging out a double scoop of Fudge Ripple. Once in a while a real Indian Head nickel or a steel penny, still in circulation then, would be blended into the handful, a curious and alluring whisper from his past.

What was he doing? Building, of course. Little by little, my Grandpa was building a Tower of Nickels and Dimes for me, his tiny F. W. Woolworth. Coins for my bank. Coins for my future.

ONE THIN DIME: 1966

Morning Kindergarten or afternoon, it didn’t matter. The rule was the same. You came to school with a nickel and that nickel was for one thing only. Put your nickel in the slot, twist the dial and a perfect little pint would tumble into your hand. The Milk Machine. No one ever drank white milk when there was chocolate available. Everyone drank straight from the carton.

But on the days where my mother was out of nickels and only had a dime to give me? Well there really was no choice.

I would buy a ten-cent Eskimo Pie from the Good Humor Man at the corner instead and eat it on the way to school.

I’m sure no one ever knew.

ALLOWANCE: 1967

We worked all week. Toys in the toy box. Books on the shelf. All the paper napkins folded into triangles. Back and forth from the table to the sink, plate after plate after plate. Don’t forget: use two hands!

We worked all week. We waited all week.

And on Fridays we each earned a dime.

I saved them all. Collect ten for a trade with Dad for a real grown up dollar bill.

Work and save and work and save. All my dimes together bought my own Incredible Edible set. Now that I earned my own money I could even make my own food. Life was good.

HALF DOLLARS: 1972

Full of a good dinner, surrounded by those he loved best, my nattily dressed Grandpa Nate would lean back in his chair and smile.

We knew what was coming. So did he. With a sign to my grandmother a bag was procured from who knows where and it’s contents spilled out on the tablecloth.

A king’s ransom! A pirate’s bounty! A rich man’s loot!

All for us! All for us! All for us! The coins were heavy and impressive and our heads swam with the possibilities of it all! Piles of Franklin half-dollars all there for the taking. So much money. We could buy anything in the world!

But alas! Euphoria is short lived. The coins were to be treasured and to be saved, but never to be spent.

We sadly concluded that being rich has its burdens.

2-DOLLAR BILLS: 1981

If you go there, you’d better know how to order. Get in line; grab a tray and pay attention! Hey you! Do you want French fries, onion rings or fried broccoli? For your burger, double, triple, quad or quint? Your bun? Kaiser, onion, plain or WHAT? Want mushrooms, grilled onion, pickles or peppers? Order it now or forever hold your peace! And if you decide on condiments only say what you want, not what you don’t want. DO NOT MESS THIS UP!

If you follow the above rules exactly, Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger will give you the best burger on the planet. And in keeping with their Krazy ways they will often fork over a $2 bill for your change. You’d better know what to do with it! Cherish it.

PENNIES ON STREET: Always

I seem to spot them everywhere.

On the sidewalks and the side streets. Dug out of the corners of car and of the couch. They gleam at me. Heads up or heads down. I scoop them up and I save them. I squint for the dates and wonder about how many fingers have touched them, how they were lost, how much further will they travel? Little silver and copper time capsules! And they jingle in my pockets.

Is it lucky to find a penny or a coin? You tell me.

Perhaps it’s just as lucky to spot a dandelion about to curl open to the sun, lucky to notice a person who took the time to hold the door, lucky to discern meaning from the lines of a poem.

But it’s so much harder to hold those things in your hands, to jingle them in your pockets.

So I save all the coins I find, knotted into handkerchiefs in my drawers, zipped tight into a special pocket in my jacket, sometimes clutched in my fists.

I save them because I have a plan. Someday for someone I’ll dig deep into my pockets and scoop out a handful of coins. . From my fingers will come a waterfall of coins clattering and clinking and plunking. I’ll be building someone their own little Tower of Nickels and Dimes.