Lies My Father Told Me  

 alternative medicine     science and philosophy       biography     home
  literature and art        gallery        history and misc.       blog       email


Chapter V

   Sunday is gray but dry.
   Grandpa and I sit on the wagon. Parked in
front of a junkyard. The great yard gates, open now,
are plastered with bills, an advertisement for tires, a
dozen elections. French graffiti, dirt, and scraped

   A man, the scrap merchant, is unloading some
junk from the wagon. Reclaimed metal. Mr. Ander-
son, burly blond Englishman. Finished, he hands
Grandpa a dollar bill. Grinning at me, the cockney
says, "Gonna be a junk peddler like your grandfather
when you grow up?"
   I nod yes, and Grandpa answers for me. "He's go-
ing to be a messiah when he grows up, Mr. Ander-
   Anderson puts his foot up on the wagon wheel. The
wagon almost lurches, and Grandpa pulls on the reins.
   "A messiah? I thought messiahs were born, not
made, Mr. Elias."
   Assuredly Grandpa answers, "Messiahs make them-
selves. Each child can become a messiah."
   Merry Anderson laughs. "That's sure not in the
Old or New Testament, Mr. Elias."
   Grandpa was an adherent of a Hasidic sect, but he
was not in good standing, as I learned later. Hasidism
was an eighteenth-century revolt against talmudic scho-
lasticism, advocating the joyous expression of love of
God through love of life. Its founder was referred to as
the Bal-Shem-Tov. But Hasidic revivalism had quickly
ossified into yet another rabbinical orthodoxy. Grand-
pa was attracted to the poetic antiauthoritarian as-
pects of Hasidic lore, and to its life-affirming author-
ity that flowed from the Bal-Shem-Tov, a continuous
revelation through story, dance, and song. Grandpa
subscribed to the truth. The rest he ignored. He
clucked the reins for Ferdeleh to start.
   "It's in my testament, Mr. Anderson. Good-bye. See
you next week."

    Mrs. Caruck's secondhand store is like a museum.
All down one side men's used suits hang from a bar
suspended from the ceiling. Another line, of women's
used dresses, down the other side, turns the room into
a forest.
   Grandpa goes up to the counter. I drift along
through the undergrowth: the old furniture, old
clocks, bedpans, vases, books, bric-a-brac, stuffed
animals. Caruck's shop is a dream within my dream.
   Mrs. Caruck is an impressive woman. She has a
powerful masculine face and a low, husky voice.
"Don't break anything, Davie, and I'll give you an
   Grandpa dumps a load of men's suits and women's
dresses on the counter. I draw near, goggle-eyed, star-
ing at the lady, so imposing, who wears spectacles.
She's large, but warm. And elegant
   As Grandpa and Mrs. Caruck exchange pleas-
antries, she sorts through the clothing, putting those
she is interested in to one side, dismissing the remain-
   "How's Annie?"
   "Fine, fine."
   "Due anyday now?"
   "A few months."
   My eyes wander through the shop's wonderland. A
stuffed bear holds sway over one end of the forest. He
seems to be friendly enough, for there are stuffed
birds too, very near him, and they have not flown.
   Grandpa asks, "How is your Sarah?"
   "You have your troubles, I have mine." Mrs.
Caruck has sorted what she wants, rejecting the rest
with a lazy gesture. They've been playing this game
for years. Each understands the other perfectly.
   She points to her pile. "A dollar. A mouth she has.
You've heard her."
   "I was thinking five, six dollars. But Joe returned,
didn't he?"
   Mrs. Caruck ties the clothes she has selected into a
bunch. "He hasn't got a job. Who needs him? Okay, a
dollar-fifty." She lifts the pile, as if the business had
been concluded.
   But now she makes to replace the clothes on top of
the counter, for Grandpa has counterbid. "Make it
four dollars," he says. "Joe's a hard worker. He's a
good man."
   "Three months he works, nine months he lives off
   There it is! Over there. The suit of armor. Not sold
yet. A Victorian piece, built to clothe Victorian halls.
I can't fit a man into it with my mind. Tin cans. Light
sparkles on its few fluted surfaces; gleams dully con-
touring convexities small and full. The space behind
the prison-visor eyes is black, empty. Or is it? It
stands erect among the dangling dresses, besieged by
chest of drawers, table, dresser, mirror, chairs, and
stand-up gramophone. Magic.
   By the counter, Mrs. Caruck stands holding the
pile of clothes. "Two dollars. That's the best I can
   Grandpa moves closer to the counter, shaking his
   Mrs. Caruck, nonetheless, starts toward the back
room with the clothes. "I told him to learn another
trade. She tells me not to mix in. Don't ask me for
money, I won't mix in. I'm overstocked anyway. I
really don't need this."
   Grandpa motions to her. "If you're overstocked,
better not burden yourself. Mendelsohn will give me
at least five dollars."
   Mrs. Caruck again returns with the clothing, plac-
ing it carefully on the counter. "So how much do you
   "Four dollars."
   Mrs. Caruck shakes her head. "Three, take it or
leave it."
   Grandpa frowns with concentration, thinking. And
then accepts. "Fine, all right."
   And I, who have been standing behind Grandpa
listening to the bargaining, foolishly ask him, "What
did you pay for it. Grandpa?" I simply want to work
out his profit margin. How we feed Ferdeleh.
   Grandpa pretends he didn't hear my question, ex-
cept to give me a distant look.
   Mrs. Caruck too decides it's political to leave it, to
evaporate and disappear. She points to the pile of
old clothes she didn't want. "This is worthless, I'll
take it off your hands for a quarter."
   Grandpa shakes his head "Mendelsohn will give me
a couple of dollars for it." He looks at me and waits.
   "So... fifty cents. How much do you want?"
   "You're overstocked."
   "All right a dollar."
   Mrs. Caruck reaches for the second pile of clothes,
while, quite independently. Grandpa is gesturing, yes,
she can have it. The dealing is concluded.
   Mrs. Caruck disappears into the rear room. The
sweep of her long dress. The cut of her elegant high
heels, her high button boots. Some grandeur. Here is
a Juno to share Olympus with Grandpa.
   But I am puzzled by this last bit of bargaining, and
the persistent mention of Mendelsohn. I tug on Grand-
pa's coat "Why don't you sell it to Mr. Mendelsohn,
   "I would lose a good friend," says Grandpa.
   Mrs. Caruck returns from the rear room with a tray
bearing a teapot, two cups and saucers. And an apple.

chapter six