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THROUGH MY FATHER’S EYES

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2

From CHAPTER ONE

 

My parents had a short courtship, as most people did in those days, and married in Krakow in 1918. As newlyweds, they lived in Lishke and ran a housewares store. Then the war came. And it was a war unlike any other.

My father went to fight in the Austrian Army. My mother learned she was expecting me after he left for the war. When I was born, he took leave from the army and was thrilled to see me, his firstborn male child. I recall a picture, which has since been lost, in which my father was wearing his army uniform adorned with a bright sash across his chest. He looked very young holding me, his newborn son. When the war ended, he came home for good. That was in 1920.

My memories of my father are of Saturdays at shul (synagogue) in Lishke. He was a religious man and encouraged the same of his family. We went to shul together every Saturday. He covered his head and mouthed the words of the prayers he sang. I remember his great singing voice.

On other days of the week he worked at the hardware store or would go out on his bicycle to sell sewing machines. As a child I remember him rising early in the morning, bags loaded with advertisements and brochures, setting out on his bicycle, then returning in the evening with signed contracts that were fulfilled by the Singer Sewing Machine Company. My mother helped in the store and cooked.

I often spent weekday evenings reading in my room after supper. I recall hearing my mother singing in the kitchen, her melodically happy voice filling our house as she worked. She was always singing. She had so much to do with the kids, the store, and the housework, and yet she was always singing.

As she tucked in my shirt and straightened my collar each day, she would smooth out my hair and ask, “Mayer, have you done your schoolwork for the day?”    

“Yes, Mama.”

“Nathan?” She held out her hand as Nathan took his turn to approach her. He reluctantly stepped forward because he hated when she used her thumb to rub the dirt off his cheeks. He had a tendency to get into everything, even very early in the morning.

“Boys, be good, stay together, and behave. Now go learn.” She would always say this as she gently pushed us out the door. As we walked down the steps, we could hear her melodic humming behind us.

We all helped our mother around the house because she had so much to do. There was the busy store and four children to attend to. Lydia was seven years older than me and a big help at home. Later when I was twelve, we hired a girl who would come in to do the wash, get water from the well, wash the floor, and do other things around the house.

I am sure that no one else had a dog like ours. We named him Wolf, because he was big, white, and looked just like one. He was a wonderful playmate, a faithful watchdog, and he guarded the house better than any police officer could. A good-natured dog, Wolf was never on a leash because he didn’t need one. He was loyal and happy. He liked to make the rounds and to protect the apartment. Often, when Nathan and I came home from school, Wolf would be there waiting. He would let us scratch behind his ears while he kept his eyes on the road behind us, and smiling the way dogs do. The other kids in the neighborhood loved our dog. Really, I think they were just jealous!

Wolf was not allowed in the house. He stayed in his doghouse outside. When there was any suspicious activity he would bark loudly and mean enough to scare away any trouble faster than law enforcement ever could!

Late one night before the real trouble in Krakow started, we were all home in bed, asleep. Wolf started barking his loud, deep bark just outside the door. We could sense that something was very wrong. My father got up to check. He ran down the stairs on the side of the store. He then slowly opened the door and peered out onto the street. Wolf continued growling but my father saw nothing, and whatever or whomever had been there was gone. Up and down the quiet street all the neighbors were sleeping. It felt eerie. Wolf quieted down and everyone went back to bed, but I couldn’t help but feel something sinister was out there in the darkness—quietly waiting and scheming.

 

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