Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Cucumber King, continued

Because many of you have asked--thank you--I’m extending the account of my first entry, “The Genesis of the Blog’s Title.” This one will be more meaningful to you if you begin with the first.

My father’s death was the trauma and turning point of my life. It came just days before my eighth birthday. In accord with Jewish tradition, on four holidays over the next year I rose and stood in synagogue in prayer for the memorial Yizkor service in remembrance of the dad I still wanted to know. Though a matter of minutes, it was an eternity to a boy who, never daring to look up, burned with the self-consciousness of feeling that every eye in the congregation was on him, pitying him, distinctly the youngest, smallest person in the entire shul who no longer had a father.

My mother, a grief-stricken forty-year-old widow, inherited a business that meant next to nothing without my dynamic father, and a lot of money she knew absolutely nothing about managing. Cultured and stunning, she never remarried, devoting herself instead to being as much a father as mother to two sons. She exuded love and embodied decency, and when she died, at ninety-three, I was able to say that I did not have one bad memory of her.

I don’t have a bad memory of my father either, in part because I have so few. I still feel cheated.

I remember a “gent” with a sterling silver cigarette holder burning a “perfect” cigarette hole in the most elegant pair of slacks I have seen to this day. A mild-mannered man popping Tums in his mouth after every meal, and in-between. A hard-working man falling asleep during movies and having a favorite song because it was the only one he knew—
if I sang “the one I like” to him, which I did at his bedside. "In a quaint caravan, there's a lady they call the gypsy." I remember a pal who blindly took my side in every squabble. I remember a tender, loving father who called me, of all things, his “pussycat.”

I remember too little, and I waited too long to learn a lot about him. My mother told me she would have to “drag” him away on vacation. Dining with him in some idyllic setting, she saw a distant look come into his eyes. “Lou,” she said, “Are you enjoying yourself?” He looked at her and, his eyes asking for mercy, said, “Do you know what I could be making now?"

My Uncle George, who worked for my father during summer breaks from college and idolized him, said he and a three or four-man entourage of my father’s co-workers would struggle to keep up with him as he hurried along a small town street, turned abruptly to enter a restaurant, stepped to the bar, ordered coffee, swallowed two sips and left as abruptly as he entered, entourage hotfooting after. An hour later, my father would do it again—the hasty turn, the restaurant bar, the coffee, the two sips, the sudden exit. And that was nothing, my uncle recalled from his youth with fresh awe, compared to the fox my father whimsically bought as a pet!

My cousin Elaine describes the excitement of the young cousins in Pittsburgh when, on the same day every week, they ran into a neighborhood grocery to see their names on the labels of the produce baskets “D. LOUIS FOX” shipped all the way from Wachula or Pompano Florida. "Elaine Peppers"… “Gloria Carrots"… “Samuel Cucumbers”!

By all accounts, he was a sweet, genteel man.

The punch and the prizes are not the same when your grandfather takes you to a father and son day.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Father son stories are always touching... as both a father who tries and sometimes misses the mark, and a wayward son I always feel touched by others expressions of such memories.

    Whether it was unintentional or not I found quite the Father/son motif in "The Confidence Man" between Melville, The Confidence Man, and the Steward. I saw The Confidence Man as the son Melville was disappointed in and ashamed of, and the Steward was the young man Melville wished was his son, but was not his creation. Meanwhile, the Confidence Man saw Melville as the father he could not please despite being what his "father" had made him.

    Anyway, nice story. Always good to be made to feel your own emotions through others experiences.

  3. Ooooh. Now I REALLY want to know what TeacherLady said. Otherwise: Good, Ray. And more please!

  4. I love it when I reading it

    I knew it from my auntie...
    She recommended this stories blog to me
    and the theme of this story was made me curious and honestly I've been interested to read it more

    deeply nice story

  5. I am silent. This is priceless.

  6. Makes me yearn a bit for my own Dad who by the passing of years has been too forgotten. A vicarious tribute for all sons and fathers.

  7. This is another heartfelt and poignant piece. Barry Rulnick told me about this blog. In the short time I know him, he seems to know me very well. It seems to be a small club of members who can reach back and have these memories evoke emotion.

  8. I remember your mother fondly - she was truly stunning! Mike and I were happy to visit with her on a trip to Florida a number of years ago.

    Tania Levin
    25 September 2010