Lies My Father Told Me  

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Chapter XVI

   Winter in Montreal is a long season. The first snow
flurries come to tease before Thanksgiving, and some-
times for a freak, even before Halloween. In Novem-
ber we may get ice rains, and all the trees turn to
glass and sparkle in the sun and tinkle in the wind.
By December, the winter has set in hard, and it's time
to convert the wagon, for even in the mildest year
we will probably not see the ground again until some-
time after Passover. Grandpa and I fix runners to the
wagon, and abracadabra, we have a sled! Grandpa
decks Ferdeleh's harness with bells, and we wrap up
warmly, and every Sunday is Christmas. Hanukkah.

   The evenings come early, so our outings are short-
ened. But that's all right, because we do get quite
cold. After we've seen Ferdeleh comfortably rein-
stalled in the stable, the Quebec heater blazing to
keep him warm, we hurry upstairs to the kitchen,
stamping the snow off our boots at the door. I
stand in front of the coal stove, in front of the open
oven. Grandpa warms his hands over the opened
plates. Annie has heard our return to the courtyard,
and a cup of warm chocolate is waiting. The kitchen
is warm and cozy, with Mamma, Grandpa, and me.
   Winter days. It never rains. So I can ride nearly
every Sunday with Ferdeleh and Zaida on the sled. Un-
less there is a snowstorm, which is still far too often.
   The dark and white contrasts lend the streets some
solemnity. The thick vapor trail of our breathing con-
spires, paradoxically, to bring everything close and
farther away. But our trade is the same, and so is
our chant. Though sometimes we juggle it, just for
   Grandpa and I sing, "Rags . . . Clothes . . . Bot-
tles." Then I sing "Rags . . ." but Grandpa sings
"Clothes..." and I correct myself, following Grand-
pa, grinning. "Clothes... Bottles... Rags..."
   Where I fail to follow, his face betrays a mild con-
sternation, along with the grin. I'm delighted with
this game, myself initiate changes, and giggle when
Grandpa fails to follow these.
   "Clothes . . . Rags .. ." and I sing "Bottles," but
Grandpa sings "Iron." And we laugh.
   The light is failing. Evening is falling. And we are
returning home.
   I jump down from the sled, run to open the gate to
the courtyard, and Grandpa "gee-up's" Ferdeleh to
   But something is happening. There's some commo-
tion in the yard. A crowd of the neighbors and chil-
dren is gathered in front of Mr. Baumgarten's shop.
Edna breaks from the crowd and runs excitedly to-
ward us. "Go back ... go back! The police are
here, looking for you!"
   I am frightened, but Grandpa gives me a reassur-
ing gesture and rides on into the lion's den.
   The tailor's shop has been transformed into a
court house. No physical alterations. And no deco-
rum. Anarchy.
    The city council and the police department, in the
shape of a small, plump French-Canadian civic of-
ficial and a big French-Canadian cop, have come to
investigate Mrs. Tannenbaum's complaint against
Ferdeleh's stable. Mr. Baumgarten has offered them
the use of his shop to conduct their inquiries.
   In the tailor's shop are, for the defense, the at-
tractive, youthful Mrs. Murphy and Mr. Baumgarten
   And in the right-hand comer, weighing a hundred
and eighty-seven pounds and a half, wearing a blue
dress, the Indomitable, Mrs. Tannenbaum! Flanked
by her husband, Lou.
   "Only one neighbor is complaining. We can prove
it," says Mr. Baumgarten.
   "The law is the law," says the little official. He
aspires to an orderly interview, but everyone is talk-
ing at once, and he and the cop are confused.
   "She smells worse than the stable!" says Mrs.
   "We know about you, Mrs. Bondy! You better
keep your mouth shut!"
   "You know what, you dirty-mouthed English
   "Just a minute. Just a minute!" the cop intervenes.
   Edna pushes open the door and shouts into the
melee. "Why don't you ask me? I'm a neighbor!"
   Lou Tannenbaum nervously complains to the cop,
"She doesn't live in the courtyard."
   The cop pushes Edna out and closes the door on
   "She's an interested citizen," complains Mr. Baum-
    "She's a whore!" Mrs. Tannenbaum screams.
   "That's right! She has nothing to say here," adds
   This infuriates Edna. She dashes to the window and
bangs on it, shouting, "That dirty hypocrite! He's one
of my regular customers!" And louder still, for all to
hear, "Lou Tannenbaum is one of my regular cus-
   Lou Tannenbaum is frightened. "A lie. A dirty lie!
She's lying!"
   Wave after wave of this washes over the drowning
official, and he cries, "Just a minute! Just a minute!
We're trying to hold an investigation!"
   Grandpa and I walk in. Nobody pays any atten-
tion. Edna is behind us, and stands shouting in the
doorway. "It's not a lie! She hasn't slept with him in
nine years! She says it's dirty."
   Mrs. Tannenbaum is shivering. "May your insides
rot... may your tongue shrivel..."
   And the official says, "The issue is the stable."
   And Grandpa asks, "What about the stable?"
   And Mrs. Tannenbaum rants, "May cancer eat
your flesh."
   And the official looks at Grandpa and asks, "Who
are you?" And Grandpa answers, "The criminal."
   The official takes another look. Addressing Grand-
pa politely, he-explains that there has been a com-
plaint against the stable, and that the law requires a
stable to be situated at least a hundred yards away
from human habitations. The stable will have to be
   Mr. Baumgarten asks, "What politician does he
have to pay off to get out of this?"
Grandpa says, "I'm not moving the stable."
   The policeman says, "If that stable isn't moved in
thirty days, you'll be in court."
   "The stable has been here for twenty years. No-
body's making me move it."
   And Mrs. Tannenbaum asks, "Am I to be covered
with horse shit for the rest of my life?"
   "Was it you who dumped that stuff on our stairs?"
Lou Tannenbaum asks Grandpa menacingly.
   "Whoever did. I already apologized. Now, I have
to get my horse out of the cold. . . . Good-bye."
Grandpa nods to me to follow him, and leaves.
   Grandpa leads Ferdeleh into the stable, and into
his stall. We remove his blanket, brush him down,
and feed him.
   The official, the cop, Mr. Baumgarten, Mrs. Tan-
nenbaum, and all the rest have followed us.
   The official hands Grandpa an envelope. "You will
have to find a stable a hundred yards from a dwell-
   "Is not a stable a dwelling? Have not human be-
ings lived in stables with their fellow creatures? He
whom you worship was born in a stable."
   This gives them a moment's pause. The cop
changes the subject. "That's a very old horse. It's
time he was put away."
   "When your mother and father get old, will you
put them away?"
   "Hey. It's not the same, eh?"
   "That you cannot love a horse the same way you
can love a person only says you cannot love a per-
son all that much either, Mr. Policeman."
"Hey, it's not me who's being judged here. It's
   "Ecclesiastes says we are all being judged here, be-
cause we don't know what it is we have to put away.
Our hatreds, our vanities, our sins should be put
away; not those we love."
   The tailor is ecstatic. "Mr. Ellas! Lenin himself
couldn't have said it better!"
   The official and the policeman start to leave. The
official throws a last word. "That horse better not be
here when we come back in thirty days."
   "It will be here. As sure as God is just, it will be
here." Grandpa smiles at me, and gestures again that
I am not to worry. "Where else would it be?"
   Relieved, and very, very, very proud of my grandpa,
I am content.

   Another Sunday. The sled slides along the moun-
tain road. The mountain is snow-sheathed, and all
the branches carry silver linings. Covered with warm
blankets, we sit on the sled. We are going down a
slight incline, and my snow-white steed - Ferdeleh is
at least as white as the city snow, though maybe not
as white as the Mount Royal snow - my snow-white
Ferdelah jaunts along, and the winter bells jingle mer-
rily. But I am not at ease.
   "Papa says they'll put you in jail if you don't find
another stable."
   "They won't put me in jail. God will find a way for
us. Remember the story I told you about the good
little squirrel and the fat greedy squirrel?"
   "Yes, the fat greedy squirrel kept stealing the lit-
tle squirrel's hazelnuts."
   "And that little squirrel never gave up!"
   "That's right. And what did God say about such
a little squirrel that never gave up?"
   Brightly I answer, "God said, 'For such a squirrel,
I have to make a miracle.'"
   "And," says my grandpa triumphantly, "He did!"
   Recollecting the story, I grow excited, and eagerly
continue, "When that big fat greedy squirrel came
to steal the hazelnuts again..."
   Grandpa takes over,"God turned them into
   And me,"And the big fat squirrel broke all his
   And Grandpa finishes, "And he never stole the lit-
tle squirrel's hazelnuts again. So ... when people
like us need a miracle ... it happens. I have it from
the highest authority."
   "Do you believe in miracles. Grandpa?"
   "No, but I rely on them."


Chapter XVII