The Fourth Crown
By Susan Kleinman
“C’mon in,” I say. “Thank you for coming. I’m Sol Gedenkenman. That’s right, the one who called the funeral home. Yes, that’s right, he was my uncle.”
The rabbi says he’s sorry for my loss and so forth, asks if my uncle had any kids of his own and I say no. He looks around at the chairs real slow, like it’s a big decision which one to sit in. Finally, he picks one, the orange one with the big yellow and green flowers. He sits down, takes out a pad and a pen from some kind of knapsack like the school kids use, looks at me like he’s waiting for me to tell him something. Just sits there, doesn’t say anything. Clears his throat, like he’s waiting. So I start to talk.
“Okay, Rabbi,” I say to him. “I’ll tell you how it was. You know how every family has one cousin or uncle all the kids chase after and hang onto, like he was the ice cream man on a hot day? That was my Uncle, Solly Gedenkenman. He should rest in peace.”
The rabbi checks his pad where he scribbled the names, looks mixed up, but he doesn’t say anything, doesn’t ask. I feel kind of sorry for him, cat got his tongue and so forth. So I explain it real slow: “Yeah, that’s right,” I say, “My uncle had the same name as me, even though we were Jewish. That’s what I’m getting around to explain to you. Believe me, I’ve been explaining it my whole life.
“Like on the first day of fourth grade. Miss Schweitzer gave out paper, made us answer all kinds of questions. Not just your name and who to run and tell in an emergency, but what your favorite poem was and your favorite color. The last question was, who was my hero. I wrote SOLLY GEDENKENMAN in big capital letters, and Miss Schweitzer called Mama in and told her I was too big for my britches. Mama had to explain that by Solly Gedenkenman I didn’t mean myself, but my Uncle Solly, her brother, who I was named after—or maybe I should say, named for, since he was still alive and kicking then, fit as a fiddle, and so forth.
“Well, I don’t have to tell you, Rabbi,” I say, “Jews normally don’t name their babies after somebody who’s still alive. Evil eye and so forth. So at my bris, when Bubbe heard that my Jewish name was Shloime Zalman just like Uncle Solly, who was not only still alive but at that very second standing maybe ten feet away sneaking some schnapps even though the mohel wasn’t a hundred per cent done, she faints right there in my parents’ living room, and makes a stain on the carpet with her arthritis liniment. That’s the way Mama always told the story. And I mean always told the story.
“We had the same last name, too, me and Solly, even though he was my mother’s brother, because my parents were first cousins. A lot of people think that’s against the law, but it isn’t, and a lot of people think it makes mongoloid babies, which it doesn’t. Einstein, I’m not, but no one could ever accuse me of being mentally defective, neither. Still, it’s not every day people marry such a close relative. But anyone who knew my father understood exactly why Mama married him. My father . . . well, like Mama used to say, he would give a stranger the shirt right off his back. Which, actually, just so you know, was kind of a problem. He sent checks to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the checks were bigger than what he brought home from the factory. And when cousins wrote from Europe to ask, did he maybe know anyplace they could stay when they got to America, he wrote back and said, ‘Yeah. Our living room.’ So by the time I was born, and my father was giving away money faster than he was making it, my mother figured the only way I was ever going to have enough money for college—I was only eight days old, and already she decided I should go to college—the only way was to get in good with a rich relative. And Uncle Solly, her baby brother, was the only one who even came close to rich, even though he was so young, which I’ll get back to in a second.”
I notice the rabbi keeps looking at his watch, so I say, “Excuse me, am I keeping you? No? Good. So where was I? Oh, yeah: Solly. He was just twelve years older than me, my uncle, a change-of-life baby. We were like brothers but with the same name. When I was a kid, he brought me baseball cards, and one time even a real leather glove, like they use in the majors. But I liked Solly for a lot more than just because I was named for him and he brought me presents.
“I’ll give you a f’rinstance: When Aunt Shaindel died, we had to get to her funeral all the way out on the edge of Queens and the only way to get there was by hired car. Solly sat in the back seat with me. He knew I was scared; I had never been to a funeral. So he drew Sunday Funnies characters on the fogged-up windows to cheer me up.
“‘It’s gonna dry like that!’ my mother screamed from the front seat, like it was her own car. ‘The window’s gonna dry like that and then the limousine company’s gonna have to take the car in for a wash. You wanna pay for a car wash, big k’nocker?’
“‘Okay, okay,’ Solly says, and he wiped the drawings off with his sleeve. But then, when Mama was really watching the road to help the driver find the exit—not that he had asked for Mama’s help, if you know what I mean—Solly took his finger and drew pictures of naked ladies for me.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I say, “I forgot you’re a rabbi; you look so young. Well, anyway, I started the story so I hope you don’t mind if I’ll finish it. Solly had already seen more than his fair share of ladies, I knew it, and he was only twenty-three at the time. A real ladies’ man. But respectful. A mensch. One of the cousins started a rumor like maybe he was a pervert because all those years he never brought a wife to any of the brisses or the bar mitzvahs, but in case you’re wondering, he just liked the bachelor life. No siree, Solly was no kind of weirdo. Never laid a hand on any of the kids, not once, except the time we were out on Coney Island and my little cousin Blanche was drowning and he dove right in to save her and dragged her back to shore tucked safe-n-sound in his elbow, the way those signs from the Red Cross say you should do only as a whatchamacallit, a last resort, quote-unquote, because there’s a chance the one who’s drowning will pull you under too. But Solly didn’t care. If Blanche was going down, he was going down with her. After, when I told him he was my hero for saving little Blanche, he shook his head and said ‘Kid, I’d’ve done the same for you,’ and he would’ve, too.
“Not like Solly was perfect. He never had what you’d call drive, for instance. Instead of a real job, he volunteered as an usher at the ballet, said it was a great way to meet young ladies with a certain degree of class and breeding. That’s just how he said it, ‘a certain degree of class and breeding,’ like he’d grown up in Connecticut, not Brooklyn. Solly went to Columbia back when most people didn’t go to college, not even City. Especially not Jewish people. He could’ve been a lawyer or a doctor. Or who knows, maybe even a professor like my son-in-law at the University of Pennsylvania. Ivy League. Pish-Posh. But he didn’t have to work, Solly, because he had what they call an independent income, quote-unquote. His father, my Zayde, who came here in 1907 when Mama was just a kid, had bought a block of buildings in Manhattan real cheap. By some miracle, they became very valuable, and he left them to Solly when he died. All of them. So, one day a month, Solly knocked on doors to collect the rent money, and the other twenty-nine days a month, he spent it.
“‘You see! It’s no good to give children money they don’t have to work for!’ my mother always screamed. ‘Solly never had to work for a living and look what he became. A big fat nothing.’ Blah, blah, blah. The real story, like all stories between brothers and sisters, boils down to one thing and one thing only: jealousy. Mama was jealous Zayde didn’t leave her any of the buildings, even though Solly was just a kid and my mother was already almost a grown woman when he died. My Zayde said you couldn’t trust a girl with real estate.
“You know, I never knew my Zayde, but I like to think he had a different reason: If Mama had the quote-unquote ‘independent income,’ she would have spent it on dentists and piano lessons for me. So, without it, nu, I have lousy teeth and can’t even play chopsticks, but at least Uncle Solly got to spread some fun around. Because let me just say that fun was never a tip-top priority in my mother’s house. Screaming, now that was a priority. Even the Italians in the building were scared of her, like they didn’t all have uncles in the cement shoes business, hah!”
The rabbi looks at me funny, and I say, “I know, I know. Nowadays, you’re not supposed to say stuff like that. No Mafia jokes. No Polish jokes. And God forbid my daughter should hear me say shvartze—which I swear to God I never mean anything bad by it—I’ve got to listen to her carry on about the quote-unquote disenfranchised underclass until I’ve got a headache. This is what I get for sending her to a fancy college.
“Me, I never went to college, even though Solly would’ve sent me, just like my mother planned, because I was his favorite. And I’ll tell you a secret, he would have sent me even if I had a different name. My mother didn’t have to butter him up.
“But I got sent to Korea, just like half the guys on my block, and I was over there until the war ended. They don’t call it a war officially, quote-unquote. But let me tell you, I was over there and if that wasn’t a goddamn war, I don’t know what is. Anyway, so the summer I came back, all in one piece, thank God, not like Irv Rothstein from Avenue J, he should rest in peace, well, that summer I came back I met my Bea, met her on the boardwalk at Coney Island, believe it or not. She was with some friends and I was with some friends. And I fell in love with her. Like a big rock I fell. And who could blame me? Even today the other fellas in the apartment building tip their hats at me, the ones who still wear hats, and I know they’re thinking: Gedenkenman, you must be something special to have landed such a pretty girl like that.
“I was lucky Bea said she’d go have a soda with me, even. She was way out of my league, I’ll tell you that. I still remember the sweater she was wearing on our first date. Fuzzy. What do they call that fuzzy kind of sweater? I never know the names for things when it comes to ladies’ clothing. Anyway, that sweater, it was the color of a peach. And when she said she’d marry me, I thought I was going to pop. In those days, you got married. Not like today, with the kids running around, jumping in each other’s beds, living together and so forth. Present company excluded, I’m sure, Rabbi,” I say, and his whole face turns red.
“Well, we got married that next winter, and I was gonna work part-time and Bea was, too, even though I didn’t love the idea of my wife working, and I was gonna go to college at night. GI bill, and so forth. But then Mama got sick and I had to help her out with the rent, so I took a job with Uncle Izzy at the stationery store. And then, just when Mama got better, before you could say boo, Bea was in the family way. ‘Infanticipating,’ we called it. Funny, no?” The rabbi looks like he has a toothache. I feel a little bad for him, but I keep talking.
“Anyway, I was gonna have a family to support, so I stayed with Uncle Izzy at the store, stayed with him all those years up until I retired, and that’s why I never made it to college.
“Well,” I tell the rabbi, “I don’t regret it for a second, forgetting about college so I could support my Bea. Married all these years and I still get that funny feeling in my chest when she walks by, that feeling you get at a wedding or a bar mitzvah when you drink the champagne too fast.
“But anyway, this was supposed to be about Solly. I’m sorry to take so much of your time, Rabbi, it’s just that it’s bringing up so many memories. Well, like I said, Solly was my hero, I wanted to be just like him, so I was always asking for advice on things. What tie to wear on a date, and so forth. Not like I had time for too many dates before I met Bea, which is just as good because I always got so nervous I’d be sick to my stomach. But, you know, other stuff too: Where to go on vacation, what restaurant for a special occasion. Solly liked to say I was the first and only graduate of the Sol Gedenkenman finishing school for Brooklyn boys. ‘You can take the boy out of Brooklyn . . .’ he always said.
“On my grammar he didn’t do wonders, just ask my son-in-law the wise-guy professor, Martin. That’s his name, my son-in-law. Not Marty. Martin. Very fancy. If he’s such a big k’nocker, I wanna know how come he’s gotta live where it’s so wet in the winter your bones slosh and so hot in the summer your tuchis sticks to the car seat if you wear shorts. And dangerous! West Philadelphia? Don’t even ask.”
The rabbi starts tapping his foot, like maybe he has to go to the men’s room. “You sure I’m not keeping you, Rabbi?” I ask him. He turns red again and shakes his head, no, no.
“Okay,” I say. “Good.
“So okay, Martin. He’ll be the first to tell you I’m no Shakespeare. But when it comes to the little niceties, if I do say so myself, my uncle Solly has nothing to be ashamed of, the way he taught me. For my bar mitzvah, when all the other uncles gave me fountain pens, he took me to the philharmonic and then for a steak dinner at Peter Lugar. He taught me not to clap between the movements of the symphony, only clear your throat if you have to, and which fork to use for the salad, and so forth.
“Sometimes, once I was all grown up, if Solly had extra tickets for the philharmonic, he’d give ‘em to me and I’d take Bea to the concerts. I always felt bad I couldn’t take her more often. Couldn’t buy her a fur coat like her cousin Marilyn had. Marilyn had three fur coats, actually. And she wasn’t even a second wife. Husband’s a whatchamacallit, a pulmonologist, at Mount Sinai. Big k’nocker. But Solly was the one who taught me that more important than a big present, anyway, was to say out loud, ‘I love you.’ Better yet, I should say it out loud in front of Bea’s friends, they should plotz from jealousy. Best of all, he says, write her a poem. Well, if you think it’s so easy to find something to rhyme with “My Dear Mrs. Gedenkenman,” you’ve got another think coming, but I thought for a poem maybe I should be a little formal. Finally, I gave up on formal. Thank God a lot of nice things rhyme with Bea: Me. Knee. Tree. You get the picture. Bea reads the poem, she starts crying, but happy crying, and puts it on the Frigidaire with one of those little magnets. Solly sees it and claps me on the back and says to me, ‘Solly, I’ll make a mensch out of you yet.’
“We met sometimes for lunch, me and Solly, and he taught me how if you want to impress people, you find a restaurant where you like the food, and you make friends with the waiter, and when he asks what everyone’s drinking you say ‘the usual’ and he knows what to bring, and people think you’re a big macher. Me, one sip of schnapps and I’m shicker, so my ‘usual’ was a ginger ale. But this way, with me saying ‘the usual,’ the suppliers who sold us paper clips and envelopes didn’t know what a lightweight I was. If they did, they would’ve thought they could take advantage on the prices. But Solly taught me how to look like a big shot even when I didn’t feel like one. I don’t know if that’s the kind of thing a young kid like you can understand, especially a rabbi, with all those ‘Thees’ and ‘Thous’, and the big fancy robe on the High Holidays. You probably have more than enough self-confidence to go around. But when you’re a regular guy like me, and you have a family to feed, it can be important to look a little more self-confident than you might really feel at a particular moment.
“But I didn’t have to pretend in front of Solly. Like when Bea came home from the doctor, just a few years ago, and told me she had the C-A- and had to have an operation. She asked me not to tell anyone; she’s a very private girl, my Bea. And I promised. But every night I couldn’t sleep, just came out to the living room and cried. So finally, one night, she comes into the living room and she says to me that if it will make me feel better, maybe I should talk to Solly, he was always so good at cheering me up. That’s the way Bea is: She was worried about cheering me up, even though it was her who was going to have the operation. Well, I went over to Solly’s and I told him, and I was crying like a kid, like a little kid, and he held me in his arms like he was my papa and said, ‘Shh, shh, everything’s gonna be okay,’ and I believed him, because when Solly said something was gonna be okay, it usually was.
“Well, the next thing you know, Solly is on the phone to all the famous doctors, and he gets the best goddamn surgeon money can buy and a private room at Sloan-Kettering and he insists on paying for it and I say, ‘Really, Solly, I can afford it, I’ve been saving, all these years, for a rainy day.’ And he says, ‘Save the money and take Bea on a cruise when she finishes with the chemo. You’re both going to need it.’ And I decide to listen to him, because he’s right pretty much all of the time.
“So, the day of the surgery, Solly sat there with me in the waiting room and held my hand. I swear to God, held my hand. For a second I was a little worried people might think we were—well, you know. But then I had a funny thought: that if I was one of them, you know, and if he was—which he wasn’t, just a regular bachelor—I would be proud to have my uncle Solly as my boyfriend. That’s what a great guy he was.
“Thank God, Bea came through the surgery okay. The night before she was coming home, Solly came over and says he wanted to have a man-to-man talk, and I said he was a little late, if you know what I mean. I was married and had a kid, I knew what was what. But he told me something very personal about a lady friend of his who had the same operation, and how you have to be very careful about their feelings after, when you see them, you know, because maybe she’ll feel like I don’t think she’s so beautiful anymore. Now, for all how close we were, Solly and I had never discussed women that way. Well, not counting the pictures in the car, I mean. He was really a gentleman and I always tried to be one, too. But now, here he was telling me about the birds and the bees and women who had breast cancer but somehow it wasn’t embarrassing, because Solly loved me and Bea so much that he wanted to make sure everything was a-okay like always.
“Well, I took Bea on that cruise like Solly said, and I swear to God, about half-a-dozen people on the boat thought we were newlyweds. At our age! Can you imagine? And the day we came back to New York, Deborah—that’s our daughter, no one’s allowed to call her Debbie any more—she met us at the dock and looked at Bea and said, ‘You look wonderful, Mother. No one would ever imagine you had recently been ill.’ That’s how she talks, fancy, what with her being a lawyer and her husband’s a professor, and so forth. Well, Bea looked like she would pop from happiness and I thought, yes siree, Solly Gedenkenman is my hero. Just like when I was in fourth grade.
“What?” I say. “Oh, I’m sorry, Rabbi. No, sure I understand you have other bereaved families to see. Yeah,” I say, “I was just about finishing up.
“Okay. So, in the last few years, Solly’s health started to go, aches and pains, nothing serious. But you wouldn’t know it from the way he ran around. At eighty, eighty-two, he was still playing golf every weekend and sometimes tennis, and running to the ballet and the opera and God knows what, always with a beautiful woman, and I don’t mean the dumb kind either. I mean doctors and lawyers and publishers. Most of these girls could buy and sell Solly, they make so much money themselves. Anyway, most of his money was long gone, he gave it away to charity faster, even, than my father, he should rest in peace.
“But the funny thing was, with all his fancy friends and Lincoln-Center-this, Lincoln-Center-that, Solly was a kid inside, just like he always was. Did I tell you, when I called, how Solly died? Passed away, I mean? He did volunteer work once a week, with the Jewish children’s home out in Brooklyn. Schlepped out there every Wednesday afternoon and took the kids bowling, skating, you name it. Well, yesterday, he took them to Coney Island to the Cyclone, and right there, on the big dip down . . . you know the one I mean, Rabbi?” I ask him.
He mumbles a little and I say, “What? You’ve never been to Coney Island?! You’re kidding me. Where did you grow up, if you don’t mind my asking?” He tells me Chappaqua and I almost plotz. Who ever heard of a rabbi from Chappaqua?
“Anyhow,” I try to explain to him, “there’s this big dip down, down, down on the rollercoaster, and right there, Solly had a heart attack. Boom! Just like that, his number’s up. And maybe it doesn’t sound so good to go like that, with no warning. But I like to think that’s the way he would’ve wanted to go out, just like that, with a big fat smile on his face.
“Anyway”,” I start to wrap it up, and the rabbi is already folding up his pad and putting it in that kid knapsack of his, “that’s the story of Solly Gedenkenman. Not myself, I mean Uncle Solly. Well, come to think of it, I guess it’s hard to separate what’s my story and what’s his, that’s how much I loved him.”
Well, I’m crying just a little when I say that, and after I finish the whole long shpiel, this kid rabbi looks at me and says, “Well, I’ll see what I can do with this material,” and shows himself to the door. “Material,” he says, like he was going on the Ed Sullivan show. Well, when Bea came home from her doctor’s appointment—just a checkup; she wanted to cancel it, but I told her Solly would spin in his grave which he wasn’t even in yet if he knew Bea wasn’t taking tip-top care of herself—when Bea came home I said, “Bea, I’m not sure I did the right thing asking the rabbi from the funeral parlor to make the eulogy. What if he doesn’t say something nice?” She said no one could say anything bad about Solly, and I tried not to worry, but all night I was up.
The next morning, there were so many people at the Riverside Chapel that they had to move Solly’s funeral from the little room to that big one that looks like a church with the stained glass windows, the one where all the big machers have their funerals. The rabbi asks everyone to sit down, and Cousin Ruth says to me how it must be disconcerting—that’s the word she used, “disconcerting,” she’s an English teacher, Ruth—”It must be disconcerting,” she says, very sweet, “to see that sign that says, ‘Funeral of Sol Gedenkenman’.” You know, what with that being my own name, and so forth. Actually, I hadn’t even noticed, but I have to admit that when the rabbi cleared his throat and said, “We are here today to bid a fond farewell to Sol Gedenkenman,” I felt a little cold all of a sudden, like when the A.C. comes on with a big blast on a really hot day.
The funny thing is, when he said that, presto-change’o this kid rabbi from Upstate has a British accent. “We are here tyoo-day,” he says, like Winston Churchill, “to bid a fohhhhhnd feah-well, to Solly Gedenkenman.” Of course there’s no way to sound British saying Solly Gedenkenman so it just sounded ridiculous and I’m thinking I never should have called this little pisher rabbi, this stranger. I should have given the eulogy myself. Only for sure I would have cried through the whole thing and now that Solly’s gone, who would’ve helped me get control of myself?
Next, the rabbi read the Twenty-third Psalm, which Solly would’ve hated, because it’s all about darkness and evil and fear, things that were foreign like Chinese to Solly, who was all about fun and light and helping people see the brighter side. I wished I had told the rabbi that he should read that other psalm, the one they used to read when I went to shul a few times when Bea was sick: ‘Sing unto the Lord a new song, sing unto the Lord all of the earth.’ That one Solly would have liked. Not like he was so big on the Lord. He told me once he was an agnostic. But he loved singing, and no doubt about it, Solly loved the whole earth. And then the rabbi read from the Talmud. He said,
“There are three crowns: The crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of. . . . “ Something. Royalty, maybe. Well, anyway, he says there are three crowns. . . . “But the crown of a good name surpasses them all,” quote-unquote. And that sounds nice, right? So I’m starting to think that maybe this isn’t going to be so terrible after all. But then, he starts the eulogy, quote-unquote, and after all the stuff I told the rabbi about Solly, he said maybe three whole sentences: How Sol Gedenkenman was much beloved by friend and family alike, and though he was not a strictly religious man, he upheld the Jewish principles of charity and loving-kindness. All of which was true, but he made Solly sound just like everyone else and if there’s one thing my Uncle Solly was not, it’s like anybody else. Before I knew it, the rabbi was done, and he said, “Would anyone like to speak a few words about the departed?” Departed, he says, like Solly was an airplane out at La Guardia. Everyone looked at each other, nervous, no one had prepared anything to say. So even though all these people loved Solly, no one got up and I realized I better get up to say something myself, otherwise it would look like no one had anything to say, and maybe Solly would feel bad, wherever he was, if theren ’s a hereafter, quote-unquote.
So I walked up to the podium, and even though I was sitting right there in the front row, it felt like a five-mile walk, and I was thinking about all the stuff I had told the rabbi, and all the stories I wanted to tell people. But when I got up there, and saw how packed the place was, I got nervous. I was never a good speaker. And besides, I knew, I just knew, I would cry and I wouldn’t be able to stop. So I closed my eyes for a second and all of a sudden it’s like I’m in fourth grade again, and I say, really loud like it’s in capital letters, SOLLY GEDENKENMAN IS MY HERO. I didn’t say WAS but IS because I knew that if I live another five years or twenty-five, every day when I have to make a decision, I’ll make it like Solly was still around, trying to make him proud, trying to be just a little bit like him. I was about to go back to my seat when the rabbi piped up. This time he forgot to put on the English accent and he sounded just like a regular guy. He says, “Mr. Gedenkenman, is there someplace where friends can make a donation in your uncle’s memory?” And I said—I don’t even know where I got this idea, but I said—”Nah, instead of a donation, why don’t we all go out and try and be some kid’s hero, just for one day. I think Solly woulda got a kick out of that. What a guy he was, huh?”
And then something happened that I swear I never saw at a funeral before. People started clapping. And I knew right then and there that Solly had been lots of people’s hero, not just mine. For a second—I’m ashamed to admit it—I felt a little jealous, like I had to share him with all these people. I never even met a lot of them. But like I said, that was just for a second. And then I was proud, so proud, and I thought of my grandmother fainting on Mama’s carpet at my bris and how my mother named me after Solly to get me money for college and how I never went. And I thought: Solly Gedenkenman. This name is better than any college, even the one where my fancy son-in-law Martin teaches. And I don’t care if I’m the only Jew from Brooklyn that’s ever been named for someone who’s still alive, or if the ladies at the bank can never spell my name, or even how my daughter Deborah, the big women’s-libber who everyone thought would keep her maiden name, changed it to Martin’s last name, Stein, the day after they got married, because she couldn’t stand the way Gedenkenman sounded. It was a good name, Solly’s name. Like a crown. And I’m glad to have it.
I walked out of Riverside Chapel, and while I’m washing my hands in the little faucet outside that we Jews use to rinse the curse of death off us after a funeral, Deborah comes up to me and says, in her fancy talk and her twenty-dollar words, that she is aware that perhaps this is not the most felicitous time to tell me—felicitous, quote-unquote—but she is pregnant, due in March, yes, that’s right, after all these years, miracles of modern science and so forth, and if it’s a boy, would I object, would I have any objection whatsoever, quote-unquote, if she and Martin were to name the baby after Uncle Solly, although she understands, of course, that this would mean giving the child the same name that I, the living grandfather, still bear, and she is aware, yes, of course she is very much aware, that this is not our custom, as Jews of Eastern European extraction, quote-unquote, but would I please give some consideration to what she is proposing, and inform her if I object in any way or for any reason whatsoever.
Well, it takes me a while to untie all the knots she’s making with all those fancy words, and I need a minute to just to lay it out flat in my own mind in regular English. But finally, I get what she means, and there I am on the sidewalk, thinking that after all these years, my little girl is telling me that Solly Gedenkenman is her hero, too, and I realize that she means both of us Sollys, that in her own way, she’s proud of me, too, like I was proud of Uncle Solly—not ashamed of me like I always figured. And then, so help me God, she takes my hand and holds it, like she’s a little kid again, and she leans over and whispers in my ear—finally, she says something in regular English—she says, “I love you, Daddy.” Daddy, she says, even though she’s forty-four years old. Daddy, for the first time, maybe, since she was ten.
And I know that if I drop dead on the sidewalk right then, if my number’s up and I keel over right there on the corner of 76th and Amsterdam, it’ll be okay. Because I’m going out just like Uncle Solly did, with a big fat smile on my face.
Copyright © Susan Kleinman 2012
Susan Kleinman’s short stories have appeared in The Baltimore Review, Inkwell, Troika and The William and Mary Review, and her articles, essays and book reviews have been published in The Forward, Gourmet, The Jerusalem Report, Metropolitan Home, Redbook, New York, The New York Times, and dozens of other publications in the U.S. and abroad. Ms. Kleinman was a Gurfein Fellow at Sarah Lawrence College, and has taught writing workshops for middle-school and high-school students and adults. She lives in Westchester County, New York, with her husband and their children.