Lies My Father Told Me  

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Lies My Father Told Me.can be bought, click here
a novelization by Norman Allanor read below


My grandfather stood over six feet high
As big as a mountain that fills the sky

And he sang me a song as grandfathers do
A song I feel I must sing to you.

Only love is the truth and the truth is love:
Everything else is a lie.


Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

Chapter XI

Chapter XII

Chapter XIII

Chapter XIV

Chapter XV

Chapter XVI

Chapter XVII

Chapter XVIII

Chapter XIX

Chapter I

   There was a time when the back lanes of my city were unpaved, and so when it rained they became rivers of mud, and when we had long, hot spells they became deserts of dust. At that time I was six years old. If you woke up early enough on a Sunday morning, or if you happened to live in a house whose back faced one of the dirt lanes, you'd have seen my grandfather driving his horse and wagon. And if you didn't see him, you certainly would have heard him, because that wagon made a lot of noise.
    The horse pulling the wagon was called Ferdeleh. He was my pet. His belly hung very low, and his head moved back and forth in a jerky motion. He moved slowly, realizing he was capable of only one speed. As I look back, I realize he was not everything a horse might have been, but I loved him and my grandfather the best, with the possible exception of God or my mother, when she bought me candy. On Sundays when it didn't rain, my grandfather and I went riding through the back lanes of our city.

   It begins with a dream. I am running through vacant lanes calling, "Grandpa!" I hear Ferdeleh's hooves upon unseen cobbles and Grandpa's wagon creaking. No other sound. I run and run, and turn the corner. Empty streets. Mist-filled. Hoof and wagon fading. In a panic I run down a narrow lane. Empty galleries. Blank windows. Me calling. The plodding hooves, complaining wheels approach, but never arrive, are never seen. I run, desperate, in pursuit down an empty ghost street The noise of the wagon fades, and I chase on and on.
   I wake in panic sweat, to Grandpa gently calling, "David…"
   "You left without telling me!" I accuse.
   "I would never leave without telling you."
   Grandpa, dressed and smiling, stands in the doorway. His being fills the whole frame like the sun.
    "You overslept Ferdeleh is waiting."
   Grandpa, my zaideh, as large as the mountain at the center of Montreal's city. Mount Royal, haven of green nature's life and love, rising like a beacon
of God's fuller, greener time above the grim gray huddle of streets. Who has herded us into the absurdity of our urban sties? Necessity? And a moron's greed. Grandpa fills the open doorway, like the mountain, rising above the grim gray confines of my childhood, a beacon of love and life.
   Did this small old man really stand six-feet-three in his stocking feet, with his long gray beard streaked with white, and streamed with chicken soup? No! Where does that come from? Grandpa was immaculate in his dignity! From where comes this infecting streak of chicken soup to pollute my reverence? It must dribble from the stupid wit of my father.
   I dress quickly. Harry, my father, is standing in his underwear before the kitchen sink to shave, staring at himself in the mirror, satisfied with his handsome features. He's in a cheerful, whistling mood this morning, and he calls to Annie, my mother, with the vaguest threat.
   "You're going to ask him today, right, darling?"
   My mother, distracted, answers, happy to be of service, "Yes."
   Grandpa walks through the kitchen on his way back to his bedroom, and Harry greets him cheerfully. Grandpa replies politely, but without much warmth. We do not trust my father, my grandfather and I.
   My mother, now five months full with child, announces, "I'm making extra sandwiches. He got hungry last time."
   Grandpa nods and disappears into his room. I run through the hall toward the kitchen, where I meet, enmesh, entangle with my father in the doorway.
   "Don't you say good morning to your father?"
   Impatiently I grace him with a perfunctory "Good morning," my toll for passage to the kitchen. Though my disrespect distresses him. Harry is in too good a mood today to press for higher change.
   I run through the kitchen to the screen door and out. I hurry along the balcony, three stories above the cobbled courtyard: three stories and a romance above Ferdeleh's stable there. A dozen dwellings, tenements of poverty, boxed and stacked: thirteen dwellings, counting Ferdeleh's, share the hemmed-in courtyard, their awkward wooden stairways sculpturing the skeletons of grotesque fairy castles. The gingerbread's all been taken away, leaving only a matchstick grandeur, down which I run, past Mrs. Bondy waving from her second-story kitchen window, and I wave back, and hurry down to the courtyard.

illustration celebrating "Lies My Father Told Me" by Elena Gurovich

























































 At the bottom of the stairs, Mrs. Champlain's three-
year-old daughter, Cleo, is playing with her silent, pas-
sive dog, Nellie. They live on the bottom floor. The
husband, the father, is invisible.
   Cleo greets me with a serious face. "My father rides
a bicycle!"
   But I run past.
   Mr. Baumgarten is watering his carefully tended
garden. Flowers, cucumbers, radishes, dill. A sign
reads: "A. Baumgarten, Tailor." I trust he expects no
passing trade through our courtyard. He waves to me
his eyes smiling below the shade of his bushy eye-
brows. For Mr. Baumgarten I have time, just, to wave
   I open the stable doors. Cleo has followed, but I've
no time for my friend this morning.
   "I'm late, Cleo," I explain with importance, and she
drifts off in a dream, back to her passive dog.
   Ferdeleh is a very old horse. White, he is, with a
very low stomach and xylophone ribs. He whinnies
with pleasure when he sees me, and I rush over to
hug him. Little five-year-old David embracing, hugging
Ferdeleh's warm, wise, loving head, and then prepar-
ing his breakfast, filling the pail with water, the bag
with oats.
   If my household was constantly stoking my confu-
sion, the stable was my calm, my island. How quiet the
light. How reassuring the smell of the hay. And how
each article of junk that littered my domain seemed to
sit or hang in just the spot ordained. I fit the nose bag
onto Ferdeleh
    "Don't gulp your food down too fast. Chew it well.
And don't pay any attention to what my father says.
Zaideh says to pay no attention. You smell real nice."
    I nuzzle my face to his flesh. "Real nice."
    How I loved the living scent of him, and the feel,
the texture of his coat.
    In those days of my childhood, Ferdeleh was the
only creature with whom I made a real and relaxed
sensuous exchange. I would sit on Grandpa's lap, and
rest my head on his chest, and he was the bosom of
Abraham. But his dignity held me still, and I did not
even fiddle with his clothing, touching tenderly, as
children are wont to do, but passively received the
love of the mighty. I would cuddle Mamma too, and
often, but here too something came between, paralyzed
my response. The too great intimacy of her sensuous-
ness, her body, enveloped me, and held me in check.
A feeling of drowning.
    And my father? His touch was menacing, withering.
Though he had his high moments.
    In the bedroom that morning he is in a cheerful
mood, confident, yet nervous at the same time, hap-
pily manic and convinced he's on the way to fantastic
triumphs. Annie's cheered by his mood, but slightly
suspicious, as she carefully makes the bed. Harry tick-
les her under her arm playfully, making her giggle,
and she tells him to stop it. Harry gloats.
    "You didn't think I'd do it, did you? Did you?"
And he tickles her again. "Did you?"
    Annie shrieks, "Stop that. Harry! Harry!"
    "Wanna mink coat? An Oldsmobile? Trip to Flor-
ida? Whatayawant?"
    "I want you to stop tickling me." She pushes him
away gently and moves to the other side of the bed.
    "A house in Westmount, in the country. ..." A
house, for that matter, anywhere. Harry desperately
wants a house of his own, where he could be master,
where he would not be beholden to his father-in-law,
Mr. Elias, an eccentric religious fanatic, rag and bone
merchant, landlord, property owner.
    "... a maid, swimming pool, a yacht, a charge ac-
count at Morgan's...."
    Annie is bending over the bed, tucking the sheet
beneath the mattress.
    "You really checked this time?" she asks.
    Harry moves around to her, takes her from her bed-
making duties, and orates as ornately as he's able.
    "With the patent office. With every big clothing
manufacturer in Canada; and the States; and England;
and France! Checked and triple-checked. And then
double-checked my triple-check! Nobody! Nobody
has thought of this one before. It can't miss! You just
handle your father right, and I'm away!"
    Papa was an inventor.
    Now he holds her, hugs her, and she's confused, for
he really dazzles her sometimes.
    "Mmm, I love you!" he says.
    They walk into the kitchen. Harry's face tight from
tension as he nods to Annie to speak to her father.
Grandpa sits at the table in silent prayer, and Annie
shakes her head no-this is not the time.
    Grandpa opens one eye to the silent gesturing. He
closes his eye and continues his davening, as Annie
goes to the door to call me, as Harry sits down and
begins to eat, as Grandpa's food sits in front of him,
waiting for him, as he waits for me.
    Mamma's voice flies out, "David! Breakfast!"-
reaching out to me in the stable, where Ferdeleh's
snout is buried in his nose bag, nuzzling oats; where
I'm still nuzzling Ferdeleh's head, and noticing some
removable blemish near his ear, reaching into my back
pocket for my handkerchief to polish my faithful stal-
lion, before I can answer breakfast's summons.
    Now I run from the stable into the eye-blinking
light. I look up to see the enemy, Mrs. Tannenbaum,
glowering down and sniffing angrily at my domain. She
takes the wash from her clothesline. I stick my tongue
out at her.
    Someday I'll sling some small word at that philis-
tine, and she'll tumble from her vulture's perch, to lie,
a heap of feathers, at my feet. We'll bury her, without
undue pomp, in some manure pile. Today Mrs. Tan-
nenbaum is concentrating so intently on her laundry,
and the smell, that she does not see my gesture, the
protruding tongue. David's promise to Goliath. Some-
    Cleo is playing with her lazy, pregnant dog.
    "Nellie is going to marry Ferdeleh and have pup-
    I run past
    "Dogs don't marry horses! Dogs marry dogs!"
    Cleo pulls on her dog's front legs.
    "Girls marry boys!"
    I let Cleo's comment pass. One doesn't really argue
with Cleo. Her dog just lies there.
    And I climb the stairs to breakfast.

    Grandpa sits silently at the breakfast table. His eyes
are closed. Harry is gesturing to Annie to start talking,
to sell him yet again, and Annie is gesturing to Harry
that this is still not the time. I run over to my chair.
Annie points to the sink.
   Ah, such delays, and on a precious sunny Sunday.
Now all the family is at the table. Only my profane
father has already finished eating, before Grandpa
starts the prayer. Zaideh reaches out to put his hand
on my head, covering my head. For papa will not let
me wear a yarmulke.
   "Boruch atoh..."
   And I join: "Adonai eleheynoo melech. . . ."

   The prayer finished, we can start to eat the oat-
meal, the white challah, and the jam. It is hard to con-
centrate, to chew well, and not to gulp it down. Only
minutes before, I was thus admonishing Ferdeleh. It
is Sunday. It is Sunday, and we must hurry, while
strange undercurrents flicker above the table. Harry is
giving Annie impatient looks; something's afoot, but
Grandpa pretends not to see.
   At last Annie steels herself to speak. "Pa..."
   Grandpa lifts his head slowly, holds us all imperi-
ously through a slight pause, while he considers the
universe, its creatures, and their strange but endearing
   "How much?" he asks.
   Annie laughs, but feels helpless. She gestures im-
   "Pa... listen."
   He is listening.
   "Men's trousers have a crease."
   Grandpa tries to take this .information in as if he's
just heard something profound.
    "The crease gets baggy. They have to keep pressing
their pants."
   Harry is trying to control his impatience. Me, I'm
just getting interested.
   "Mr. Baumgarten presses pants."
   Now Mamma can vent her nervousness. "You eat
and don't interrupt."
   She continues her exposition of daddy's revolution.
"Clothing manufacturers have been dreaming of a
way to make a pair of trousers that don't lose their
   Grandpa is removing the last remains of food from
his plate. "So how much?"
   "Harry has invented something that nobody has in-
vented before. A creaseless trouser! You don't have to
press it!"
   Annie, fidgety now, waits to see what effect her
speech will have as Grandpa carefully wipes his mouth
with his napkin.
   "I'm still asking... how much does he want?"
   Harry leaps excitedly into words, to intercede for
his fate and destiny.
   "Five hundred dollars! That's all I need to get it
off the ground. Pa!"
   I have finished eating, and have no more time for
Harry's trivia. Important things are waiting. I go over
to the kitchen counter, onto my toes to reach the
large straw basket, Our picnic,
   "We better go. Grandpa. It's late."
   Annie gestures me to be quiet. Harry throws me a
quick, stern, nervous glance.
   Grandpa, studying Harry's face, folds his napkin
neatly and places it next to his plate. "It takes me a
year to save up five hundred dollars."
    "In a year I can make a hundred thousand dollars
    Annie solicitously interjects, "He'll pay it back to
you in three months."
   "In one month! I've already got orders!"
   Grandpa is a generous man, but he is no fool, and
he had no faith in anything my father said or did. He
tried not to show it, but we all knew it. Still, where
my mother was involved he always strove to be as
gentle as possible. He loved his daughter deeply, and
she, a woman, played upon this, while Harry played
on her.
   "This won't be like the last time. Pa. He checked to
make sure nobody else invented it. Isn't that true,
   Her fawning voice exasperates us all. Harry, taut
with suspense, can barely bury his sneer. "You al-
ready told him that, Annie."
   I'm still holding the lunch basket, my impatience
mounting. Sunday's vanishing, and the tension, the
tension. To run from the tension. "Ferdeleh's getting
sick waiting."
   I certainly am.
   My father's temper tightens with each interruption,
but again it is Annie who machine-guns the demand
for my silence.
   Zaideh pushes back his chair. "I have saved a little
for a rainy day, not-for inventions which the world
may or may not be waiting for."
   A plaint washes through my father's voice. "Pa! A
creaseless trouser! I don't think you understand what,
I've come up with!"
   "Gee whiz, Grandpa! The whole day's goin!"
   Harry is furious with me, but constrained by Zaideh.
He manages to keep his hands controlled. They don't
even flicker.
   "Shut up!" he shouts.
   "Sounds like just what the world is waiting for. Har-
ry," says Grandpa, rising and starting for the door,
me in tow. Harry, forgetting himself, retorts, "For you
the world is still waiting for the Messiah, Mr. Elias!"
Even as he finishes speaking, Harry feels remorse. To
have slandered a patron! He hurries after us onto the
balcony in hope of amends.
   "Forget I said that. Pa! God, I'm so close to making
it now. I need your help, not just for my sake, but for
all our sakes. You've worked hard all your life. You
deserve to relax and enjoy your old age. Pa. This can
put us all on easy street. I know you can't enjoy drag-
ging around that old horse that's due to collapse any
   This I cannot let pass. "He's not going to col-
lapse any minute!"
   Automatically my father raises his hand to me. I
flinch. But Grandpa is my sanctuary. Still, such is
Harry's frustrated wrath that I cannot go unlashed, if
only by words.
   "You shut up, you!"
   Papa's sales pitch is a debacle.
   Annie, trying to save the situation, calls from the
kitchen, "Why don't you show it to my father? Show
it to him!"
   Harry turns toward the kitchen with impatient irri-
tation tightening his lips. "It's not ready to be shown
yet." He turns back to Grasndpa. He is feeling besieged.
"I'll pay it back in a month! With interest!"
   "It isn't ready yet, you said."
   "It'll be ready in a few days."
   I had already started down the stairs. Grandpa follows.
   "When it's ready, show it to me."
   My father turns and enters the kitchen, frustrated
and dejected, moving close to Annie to complain,
"Why did you tell him three months, when I said a
   "You might not be able to pay it back in a month.
Harry. You might need three months."
   Harry angry, stalks from the kitchen. "Show it to
him! And what will he know when I show it to him?
You were a great help. Thanks a lot."
   Poor Mamma. Confused and abused, she stands
there. As an animal in conflict, say, a goose, will turn
to ritualized pulling out of grass, so Annie now runs
out onto the balcony to sing what Grandpa calls "the
woman's ritual Sunday song." Clutching the railings
she leans over to shout, "Be sure to come back if it
starts to rain. Don't let him hold the reins crossing
streets. Be sure to come back if it starts raining!"
   Our Sunday departure is like a circus. The children
have gathered to watch us back Ferdeleh between the
shafts and hitch him to the wagon. We mount the
wagon and sit, the center of this small universe
   And Mamma's voice seagulls on. "Put on a sweater
if it starts to rain, David, and come right back! You
   But even she is no match for Mrs. Tannenbaum,
who now appears on her balcony to renew her guer-
rilla warfare with her raucous voice that penetrates for
miles. "When are you going to move that stinking
stable, Mr. Elias?"
   Annie, counter-pointing behind: "Don't let him
hold the reins crossing streets."
   In front, the Tannenbaum theme: "All day and
night I keep smelling horse shit."
   Mr. Baumgarten, the tailor, approaches, casting a
glance in the direction of the Tannenbaum harpy,
whose voice fills and curdles the courtyard. He's on
our side. "Drop in this evening, Mr. Elias. I just fin-
ished a book I'd like to discuss with you."
   "Yes, Mr. Baumgarten."
   Grandpa starts the wagon. The children gather clos-
er to watch, and fall in behind. I'm waving proudly.
   Annie's waving, and still shouting from her bal-
cony, "If it rains ..."
   Grandpa looks to the balcony where she's standing
"Yes. Yes."
   Yes, like a circus we leave, our ears filled with the
Tannenbaum complaint whipping through the air,
hounding after us: "My children are ashamed to bring
their friends to the house because of the smell. My
husband doesn't want to come home because of the
horse shit! It's a disgrace and a shame!"
   We turn the corner into Panet Street. The game
of games will soon begin. There's young Edna, full
of life, cleaning her window. She waves to me, and
I wave back.
   Nothing can hold down my spirits now, even the
pursuing voice of Mrs. Tannenbaum: "A disgrace
and a shame, a stable next door to a kitchen. Stink-
ing horse shit! I'm ashamed to live here! You gotta
move that stinking stable, Mr. Elias!"
   Grimly Grandpa sighs. "When the Lord said,
'Love thy neighbor,' He didn't know Mrs. Tannen-

Chapter II