My closest and best pals growing up were Scots, Jews, Italians. Our family were WASPs, with Welsh and Eastern European (Celtic and Gypsy i muse, more on that another time) extraction thrown in the mix. I remember fondly sitting on our neighbor Marco's freshly cured concrete back porch / wine cellar scoring the occasional sip of vino while my father and our host shared stories on blissfully warm summer evenings.
I had a crush on the little doe eyed Jewish girl that lived on the corner, Helena. Her mother was a death camp survivor. All us kids used to have these massive neighborhood games of tag that took in two or three city blocks and a couple dozen of us youngsters. One time Helena's brother Irving was playing and he was hiding in a garage on the corner just around from their house. I guess it was dinner time and her mom was calling her kids in. Any way Irving was pretty wrapped up in the game and wouldn't come out of hiding and she went looking for him. I remember this so clearly cause i was with in ear shot. When she finally found him crouching in the garage. She quarried with horror in her voice. " Irving what for are you acting like your hiding from the Nazi's." At the time the full gravity of her question eluded me.
Eight year old boys can have strange ways of showing their affection for eight year old girls. One day while walking home from school i took hold of Helena's hand and twisted her arm. She immediately began crying and instantly split the scene making a bee line straight home. Sometime later the doorbell rang... a cold chill ran down my spine, as my Dad answered the door and i heard Helena's Mom's rather high pitched voice. "what for would he do a thing like that?"
"Boomer" my dad's pet name for me echoed through the front hall. I sheepishly made my way to his voice. My father was a very fair gracious calm man. He heard her out while I stood some what behind him in his shadow. He called me forward. He re-assuredly placed both his hands on my shoulders. "Mrs. ....... has something she wants to say to you. " if you don't know what to say keep your mouth shut, if you don't know what to do with your hands keep them in your pockets". The simple wisdom of Helena's Mom the death camp survivor words has stayed with me over the years. There have been times I've heeded them and times I wish I had.
Pictures: top left Peter Menice and my younger brother Glenn Botom right me in my grandparents back yard in TO.