Monday, February 22, 2010

40th Street (Cont. #11)

A Christmas/Hanukah tale in Borough Park, Brooklyn, circa 1949.

XIV: Two houses

Leonard, a friend in the second grade, asked me where my Christmas tree was. We were in my home on 40th Street, the population of which consisted almost entirely of working class Jews and Italians. I told him we didn’t have a Christmas tree, we had candles.

“So where do you put your presents? Do you just put ’em on the floor?”

Since we didn’t do presents at Hanukah, at least not like Italians like Leonard did at Christmas, I answered that I could beat him at punchball.

Cannot, he said.

Can too, I said.

Cannot! he said. Then he said he didn’t care, he just wanted to know where we put our presents.

“Anyway,” I said, “we have more holidays than you so ha ha you have to go to school more than we do ha ha ha!”

“I’m gonna ask your mother.” He walked into the kitchen, where my mother was making chopped liver sandwiches on white bread.

“Nathan’s mother,” he asked, “where do you put your Christmas presents?”

In Leonard’s house, there was a tree. It had snow on it, and silver, and diamonds and gold and pure jewels and it was even good for when you catch a cold. Leonard told me that if you smell the branches you get rid of your cold.

In my house, when you had a cold you had to smell something disgusting like Vicks vaporub.

In Leonard’s house there were a million presents under the tree.

In my house there was only a menorah with nine candles, one for each day when Jews were fighting bad people and God made a miracle because there was only oil for one day but God made it last for eight days and He made one candle to light all the other candles. And there weren’t a million presents. Maybe, sometimes, one present. That was brought by my aunt Bella from Philadelphia. “Here, put it under the Hanukah bush,” she’d say. But I didn’t know what a Hanukah bush was, and anyway we didn’t have one.

In Leonard’s house there were two Jesus Christs, the baby Jesus Christ and the grownup Jesus Christ, and they were both God.

In my house God was an old man who had a beard and looked like Moses.

Leonard said that if you were very religious you couldn’t say Jesus Christ.

I said that if you were very religious the only thing you couldn't say was God, but you could say Jesus Christ.

In Leonard’s house on Christmas morning everybody would be in pyjamas and open all the presents and the red and green and orange and blue lights that looked like warm stars going on and off and the turkey when it wasn’t even Thanksgiving and the whole room laughing.

In my house we would just hang around like always until evening, when--sometimes--there would be a meal of flank steak, which we calld flanken. And potato pancakes called latkes that my mother made by rubbing potatoes over a piece of jagged metal that had sharp funny-shaped holes in it. She always cut her fingers on the holes. It was just a regular old day in spite of the candles, and Leonard was so lucky that I vowed to never again let him into my house.

Leonard walked into the living room, eating a chopped liver sandwich.

“Wanna play dray-dul?” he asked.

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