Thursday, October 06, 2005

I Hadn’t Planned to Tell This Story – But :

Sometimes you have to speak out and be heard – even when you’re a Certified Old Fogey .

Long ago , but not too far away , I lived in a little country town, in upstate New York. Most of the people who lived there were small farmers, tradesmen, mechanics, or factory workers : “blue collar with pretensions” , I guess you’d call us.

The town was mostly what my Dad used to call “ Narrowback Protestants “ ( You’d have to show a girl your Sunday School pins before she’d neck in a parked car with you ) with a scattering of Roman Catholics (regarded with deep suspicion) and one or two Jews (routinely mocked and despised.)

One of the town Jews- an old grouch named Meyer- owned a United Cigar store : candy, newspapers,cigarettes, tobacco, pipes, magazines, and sundries.

On the 4th of July – if you were old enough , and hadn’t been kicked out of the store too many times , you might be allowed to buy (illegal, immoral, delightful) firecrackers.

When World War II ended , one of the soldiers who came home was a fellow named Sid. We’d always heard Jews got “ the soft spots” in the Army : places where they would never be in danger, and could probably turn a few bucks on the side ; so we didn’t quite know what to make of Sid – who had been a Ranger, and who had taken 6 machine gun bullets in the hedgerows of France.

Sid married Meyer’s very pretty daughter, and took over the store –
As much as Meyer would let him, anyway; and, in the fullness of time,became the man to see if you wanted to buy cigarettes ( for your Dad,of course ), condoms ( to carry in your wallet –forever unused ) or those illegal, immoral ,delightful 4th of July firecrackers.

Our part-time Town Constable – as narrowback as they come – regarded the Cigar store as a den of iniquity , and kept a very close eye on it : the same way he kept a close eye on “the girls” who worked in the town’s little factory. He was the foreman there – and universally hated for his ability to sneak up behind workers and catch them if they paused to chat.

He sneaked up on me as I prepared to light the second firecracker from a pack I had just talked Sid into selling me . “I’ll take those firecrackers ,”he purred. “ You’re in big trouble !”

The Constable wasted no time in making his offer: I would not be prosecuted for possession of fireworks , but would have to identify the person who sold them to me…in front of a Jury.

When you are 12 years old and trying (well:sort of) to do the right thing, a Subpoena can make you feel pretty tense.

For one thing, I liked and respected Sid and his wife. I used to hang out in the store when I could , and talk about life , and values, and the turbulent world we lived in. They never “talked down” to me , and I had gotten to be on a first name basis with them.

On the other hand , Dad was part of the Town Board that paid the Constable’s salary , and I was expected to be reasonably upright and law-abiding. I knew – when summoned to testify in a case – one is supposed to tell the truth , the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

I agonized for weeks over what to do in the matter of The State of New York - by Grace of God Free and Independent vs Sid : wounded war veteran , small town merchant ,and friend. Everyone I talked to had different advice – even Sid , who said : “ Whether it helps me or harms me - do what your conscience says is right.”

Suddenly it was time to appear in court. The Constable came to the house , and we began driving to the County seat.

We rode in silence for a while, and then he said : “ Don’t be nervous. All you have to do is tell the truth. “ He glanced over at me. “ Do you think you can do that ?”

“Yes sir”, I responded glumly.

“Good !”, he beamed. “ I’ve been trying to get something on that damn kike for a long time !”

Would it surprise you to learn I had a sudden loss of memory on the stand ? That Sid and his attorney sat there trying not to look surprised as the memory loss persisted ? That cross-examination by the prosecution and further direct questioning by an irate judge failed to restore my faculties ?

I hadn’t planned to tell this story –ever ; but today I ran across another anti-Semite on the Internet --- and I guess you could say it restored my memory !

Just a couple of footnotes: One Halloween night, the Constable found himself the "disgruntled"- I guess you could say - possessor of a 300 lb.,not-very-happy pig,which had somehow gotten tied to the bumper of his patrol car. (That was back when cars actually had bumpers !)

You could ask me who was responsible,but I'd probably have trouble remembering the guilty party's name !

The other thing is less flattering: Often,of a sleepless night, I find myself wishing I had grown up to be half the man I was at the age of 12...


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