Thursday, December 5, 2013

Sweet Revenge

Jaclyn knew something was going on between Darryl and Irene. She and Irene had been friends in college, lab partners in the clinical lab technology program. They were so close that their classmates referred to them as the conjoined twins. But a cloud had darkened the friendship during their senior year. Jaclyn suspected - but could never prove - that Irene was cheating. Was stealing and copying Jaclyn’s lab reports. She knew that Irene was no wizard in the lab. What other explanation could there be for Irene’s matching her grade-for-grade? 

Jaclyn and Irene lost touch for a few years. Jaclyn moved to Houston and married Darryl. She found an entry-level lab job at the University of Texas Medical Center, and worked her way up to Senior Lab Technician. She glided through each day, happy at home. Happy at work. Until THAT day. The day that she was called into the office labeled Lab Director to meet her new supervisor - Irene. Yes, her erstwhile conjoined comrade was now her boss.

Irene set herself to win back Jaclyn’s friendship - win back her trust. She confided to Jaclyn that she would need help ‘learning the ropes.’ She invited Jaclyn and Darryl to dinner several times. After a couple of months, Irene began to leave work early, and Darryl started coming home late. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Irene had stolen the two things most important to Jaclyn - her happy home and her joy at her job.

But today, she would get her own back. Today, Jaclyn was refreshing the lab’s Salmonella cultures. And there was a box of assorted doughnuts in the break room. Jaclyn slipped a small vial of liquid and a clean syringe into her lab coat pocket. Careful to not be seen, she entered the break room and injected the raspberry jelly doughnuts - Irene’s favorite - with a few drops of liquid. She returned to her lab and disposed of the vial and the syringe in the Hazardous Waste bin.

Promptly at 10:15, Jaclyn left her lab and headed for the break room. The entire lab staff, including the director, were present. And so was Darryl. “Congratulations!” they shouted in unison. As Jaclyn looked around, bewildered, Irene stepped forward, the box of doughnuts in her hands. “When I was reviewing the personnel files, I found out that today is your five-year anniversary in the lab,” Irene explained. “So a few weeks ago, I asked Darryl to help me cook up this surprise party for you.” She opened the box and handed a doughnut to Jaclyn. “There’s much more to come,” she smiled. “But first have one of these raspberry jelly doughnuts. They’re my favorite.

©2013 Phyllis Entis. All rights reserved.

A Note of Explanation: This piece was prompted by the instruction to write a story that revolved around revenge.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Let Me Call You Sweetheart: A Love Story

Let me call you 'Sweetheart,' I'm in love with you.
Let me hear you whisper that you love me too.
Keep the love-light glowing in your eyes so true.
Let me call you 'Sweetheart,' I'm in love with you.
- ©1910 by Leo Friedman. Music by Leo Friedman. Words by Beth Slater Whitson

They came from different worlds. Mary was born in the Whitechapel district of London in 1890. Her parents, Joseph and Rachel moved themselves and their five children to London from Riga, Latvia before Mary's birth. The family, which grew to include eight children, lived at 14 Princes Street (later renamed Princelet Street), a few doors away from the neighborhood synagogue. Mary grew up and was educated in London. She emigrated to Canada in 1906 at the age of 16, traveling alone across the Atlantic to join her parents and her older unmarried sisters.

Jack was born in Vilna (Vilnius), Lithuania in 1888. After losing several infants to sickness, Jack's parents, Isaac and Feyga, sought a better life for their remaining family. In 1904, Isaac and Jack traveled from Vilna to Montreal, via England and New York. Jack was just 15 when he and his father arrived in Montreal. Feyga followed, as did most of Jack's siblings. The teenager who became my grandfather apprenticed himself to a men's clothing manufacturer and worked in the clothing trade until his 80th birthday.

Mary and Jack met at a dance - one of a series of dances organized by Montreal's Jewish community. Jack did not know the dances of the day, except for the waltz. But the waltz was all he needed to woo and win Mary. They married on December 25, 1910. The new hit song, "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" - released in December 1910 - became their special song. Mary and Jack brought five children into the world during the next eleven years. In time, Blanche, Joseph, Ethel, Maizie and Gertrude married, and presented Mary and Jack with ten grandchildren.

Mary and Jack 1946*
In 1946, Gertrude - my mother - married Louis, the love of her life. I entered their world in 1949; my sister, Barbara, in 1953. We lived with my grandparents until a few months after my sister was born. I was privileged to be a daily witness to the love and pride that flowed between my "Granny" and "Zaidie," a cocoon of happiness and security that encompassed and enriched the lives of us all. Our extended family remains close to this day. In the words of Cousin Marcy, "My cousins are my sisters." And I would add that my sister, Barbara, is my friend.

Mary and Jack celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary on December 25, 1970. One month later, tragedy struck. Mary, who was sitting at the window of their apartment watching for my grandfather to return home, stood up awkwardly when she spotted him, and fell heavily. Her fractured hip sent her first to the hospital and later to a rehab facility. She was determined to not be an invalid. She wanted to remain Jack's wife - his partner, not his burden. She worked tirelessly at her rehab, her indomitable spirit driving her to push her failing heart beyond its limits. Mary died on February 28, 1971.

Jack 1971*
When Mary died, Jack removed her wedding ring and placed it on his own finger. He wore it as a pinkie ring for the rest of his life. My grandfather suffered a disabling stroke less than three years after he lost his life partner. He rejoined his beloved Mary on June 20, 1976 and was buried two days later, on June 22nd - my mother's birthday.

Listen! Can you hear that? "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" is playing on the Victrola. If you close your eyes and concentrate, you might see Mary and Jack, waltzing through the heavens to the melody of their special song.

*My thanks to Cousin Rubin for the 1946 picture of my grandparents, taken at my parents' wedding, and to my husband, Mike, for taking the 1971 photograph of my grandfather.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

John Henry Andrews - A Canadian Hero

On August 10th, 1944, Lance Corporal (A/Sgt.) John Henry Andrews saved my uncle's life. His heroism earned him Canada's Military Medal.

I wrote about my Uncle Moshe's brush with death in my Memorial Day post last May. The following description of the battlefield incident is taken from Neil J Stewart's book "Steel My Soldiers' Hearts".

The fighting did produce several memorable episodes for those engaged on Hill 195 that day. Sergeant John Andrews was advancing in his tank with the rest of his No. 3 Squadron comrades along the east flank of the hill, when an 88 mm shell crashed through the hull, severing fuel lines and igniting an immediate fire. The crew bailed out quickly and began creeping through the grass and weeds to a safer refuge, away from the pyre behind them. Sergeant Andrews noticed that one of his crew members, the co-driver, Moe Lutksy, was not with them. In the face of considerable enemy sniping and mortaring, he immediately crept back to the burning vehicle from which he had just escaped. There he found Lutsky, still in the tank, dangerously wounded, with both feet shot off. Andrews dug him out of his seat and slowly dragged him back to shelter and treatment, which undoubtedly saved Lutsky's life. The award of a Military Medal for Andrews was approved almost automatically.

John Henry Andrews was awarded his medal on March 17, 1945 "in recognition of gallant and distinguished services in the field."

Lest We Forget To Remember

The following poem is dedicated to the memory of all who fought to defend their homes, their families and their countries.

By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Friday, October 25, 2013

You Can't Quit Now!

You’ve traveled this corridor scores of times, scurrying like a lab rat through the underground maze of tunnels on your way to lectures or to lunch. Nothing about it has changed. Even the smell is the same - a faint odor of putrescine and cadaverine overlaid with the sinus-searing scent of formaldehyde. You’ve passed this door scores of times. This door on which the letters M,O,R,G,U, and E are stenciled in stark black upper case letters. The door that always conjured up images for you of mayhem, mystery and murder. You’ve never opened this door. But today - today you must enter the Inner Sanctum.

You chose forensics. You’ve been fascinated with detective stories and suspense thrillers ever since you read your first Nancy Drew book. Forensics is detective work without the danger. Without the blood. Yes, you made the choice freely. And now you must enter the door labeled MORGUE. You must.

You take a single, deep breath and enter the room. You’re not alone. You are accompanied by a dozen classmates, fellow travelers in the world of forensic sciences. Your eyes are drawn to a stainless steel table in the center of the room. The table holds a body - at least, you assume it to be a body - a clean, white sheet draped discretely over it. 

The clock in the MORGUE ticks loudly. Your tension builds. The pathologist, gloved and gowned, enters as the clock strikes 10:00. He carefully folds the sheet down, exposing the body in stages from head to toes. It is/was a woman. A ‘Jane Doe’, he says. An unidentified female, found on Mount Royal. His task, he explains, is to record identifying characteristics and to determine the cause of death. He starts with a careful search for moles, tattoos, scars, wounds and lacerations, cataloguing his findings by speaking into a microphone suspended above the table. He lifts her arms, one by one, displaying her hands, enveloped in clear plastic bags that are secured to her wrists with plastic ties. To protect the evidence, he explains. To preserve the fingerprints. He removes the bags and takes scrapings from under each nail, placing the detritus of her death into small sample bags for the forensics team. He continues with his external exam, his probing thorough. There is no room for modesty here, no room for shame. Jane Doe is a cadaver, a corpse. An unidentified fallen object to be studied, examined, parsed and dissected. 

The pathologist dons his surgical mask and selects a marker pen. He uses the pen to explain how he will unlock the mysteries of this cadaver. He draws lines tracing his future scalpel strokes. You feel a twinge of nausea. You must hold on. It’s only a cadaver, you tell yourself - like the dead rats you dissected in your biology lab sessions, but larger. Now the pathologist has set aside his marker pen and is readying a scalpel. You can see the sharp blade reflecting the overhead fluorescent lights on its polished surface. You must hold on, you tell yourself. You watch the blade as it approaches the cadaver. A mist seems to rise before your eyes - thin at first, then becoming dense. You hear a roar in your ears, like a distant waterfall, getting louder and louder. You must hold on. You feel hot, then cold, then hot again. You close your eyes.

You hear voices in the distance. Excited voices. Worried voices. You feel something cool and wet on your forehead. You open your eyes. You are lying on a table - a twin to the one that holds the cadaver. Your classmates are clustered around you, the dissection forgotten. The pathologist is at your side. “Lie still,” you hear him say. “You’ll be fine in a few minutes. You fainted.

You lie there, analyzing the reactions of your classmates. You see sympathy in their faces. Concern, too. And, when they think that you're not looking, you see something else. “Serves you right,” their eyes are telling you. “You thought you were the class hotshot. Serves you right.” 

You sit up, still a bit woozy, brushing off their offers of assistance. There is an autopsy to observe. Your reputation is at stake. You can’t quit now.

©2013 Phyllis Entis. All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Suitcase

Carl breathed a sigh of relief as he closed and double-locked his hotel room door. He had been on the move for 18 hours. And he was only halfway to his destination.

He tossed his suitcase on one of the queen-size beds in the Grand Cayman suite, adjusted the combination on the latches, and slid the buttons. Nothing. He rechecked that the combination was correct: 927 - his grandma’s birthday - and tried again. Still no joy.

Carl stopped for a moment and thought. The only time the case had been out of his hands was when he used the washroom in the airport terminal. He distinctly remembered setting the bag down and then picking it back up after he’d washed his hands. Could he have grabbed the wrong suitcase?

This could be trouble. He had sensitive documents in that case, not to mention his ‘drop dead’ money - money that he planned to deposit in a Cayman Island bank. If he’d lost his bag, he was toast. The feds would love to get their hands on the info he was carrying. So would the Mafia. Those documents were his insurance policy.

Carl went into the bathroom and rummaged through the courtesy toiletries package on the washstand. Good. There was a small nail file. He returned to the bed and started to tease open the latches. It took ten minutes to work the first one free. By this time, beads of perspiration were traveling along the canyons formed by the worry lines on his forehead, and oozing into his eyes. He stopped and wiped his brow.

The second latch was easier. He knew now just how to tackle it. Hurriedly, Carl flung open the lid of the case. It looked like his. Everything appeared intact. He must have set the wrong combination. Relieved, he rummaged through the contents of the bag. The documents and cash were still sandwiched between layers of folded shirts, exactly where he had placed them. A ripple of relief roiled his stomach, and he fought to dominate a surge of nausea.

And then he saw it. Tucked into a corner, mostly hidden under the lining of the suitcase. A tiny rectangular object. He picked it up and examined it. It was an iPod. Perhaps a tracking device? He turned it over and over in his hands, wondering what to do. Suddenly, the iPod began to vibrate and the display flashed a single word: “GOTCHA!”

And Carl didn’t have to worry about the feds or the Mafia ever again.

©2013 Phyllis Entis. All rights reserved.

The prompt: You arrive at your destination, and discover that you have the wrong suitcase. What do you find in it that might change your life forever?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Summer Read

I used to haunt the Fraser-Hickson Library on Kensington Avenue in Montreal when I was growing up. Every Saturday afternoon, Judy and I would meet and - as long as the weather cooperated - walk to the library. It was an imposing structure, at least in the eyes of a couple of tweens; a two story building with a stone facade and large plate-glass windows that illuminated the interior. One part of the library was devoted to children’s books. Judy and I, of course, were beyond that. We went to the grown-up wing - a cornucopia of non-fiction, reference, and fiction collections.

Judy and I loved to wander between the rows upon rows of shelves that overflowed with tempting titles: Tropic of Cancer, Sons and Lovers, The Carpetbaggers. These were beyond our reach, both literally and figuratively. They were on the high shelves and, in any case, we couldn’t borrow them on our children’s membership cards. You had to be at least sixteen to borrow books that were marked with red dots on their spines!

It didn’t matter, though. There was still so much that we could sample. After an hour of drinking in all our choices, we’d each find a couple of prospects. Newly borrowed books in hand, we would cross Somerled Avenue and proceed to the next phase of our Saturday ritual - chocolate ice cream sundaes at the Somerled Soda Shoppe. Our appetites for sweets assuaged, Judy and I would head back to her house, curl up and gorge on our brain candy.

Brain candy! When I was young, I scarfed down stories about Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, and Judy Bolton Girl Detective. Later I graduated to Agatha Christie and Charles Dickens. Today, I inhale mysteries by Sue Grafton, and immerse myself in epic novels sculpted by Herman Wouk, James Clavell and James Michener. My choice of brain candy has evolved over the years, but my love of reading - and of chocolate ice cream sundaes - remains unchanged.

©2013 Phyllis Entis. All rights reserved.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Granny's Knitting Circle

I stood in the doorway to the living room, a few days after my sixth birthday, transfixed by the sight and sound of dancing needles. As I watched, three sets of steel knitting needles greedily swallowed up straight lengths of wool and spit out incipient booties and bonnets. Someone in the family was expecting a baby.

I waited, awestruck by the speed of Auntie Ethel’s knitting, her yarn and needles flying effortlessly through the air. Granny’s hands and needles were a blur; the booties she was knitting took shape magically, right before my eyes. Mom was the slowest knitter in the circle of three. Her motions were not as fluid as those of Granny or Auntie Ethel. But her methodical technique was still effective.

After what felt like a long while - although it was probably not more than a few minutes - Mom glanced up and caught my eye. I held up my knitting kit - one of my birthday presents - and pleaded wordlessly for permission to enter the room. My patience was rewarded with a silent nod that directed me towards the empty footstool.

Mom put down her own knitting and knelt beside me. She placed a loop of yarn on the needle in my left hand, and placed her own hands over mine as she showed me how to cast on stitches. Painstakingly, I added stitch after stitch, until the loops of yarn threatened to overflow the needle. Now what? I looked up inquiringly at Mom, who then showed me how to form the basic knit and purl stitches.

The afternoon wore on. Finally, Granny, Mom and Auntie Ethel put down their needles and assembled the results of their labors - three complete sets of booties, bonnets and baby jackets, one each in yellow, green and white. I held up my needles for their inspection, revealing a knitted yellow ribbon that was one foot long and half an inch wide. Mom took the knitted ribbon, attached it to the yellow bonnet, and held it up to approving nods.

I danced up and down with excitement, and ran to hug Mom, Auntie Ethel, and last of all, my grandmother. I was now a knitter - a member of Granny’s knitting circle.

©2013 Phyllis Entis. All rights reserved.

A Note of Explanation: We were challenged to write a scene that contained absolutely no dialogue whatsoever. No 'he said, she said.' I always was amazed by the speed and dexterity with which Granny and Auntie Ethel knitted, and by the beautiful items they produced. The knitting circle was unofficial. The story - especially the silence - is fictional. My love and admiration for all three of these women was, and remains, real.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Bob - Take Two

You did it again. This is New York. People don’t make eye contact here - especially not on 42nd Street.

All you were doing was walking Butch. So he’s a Great Dane, weighs 200 lbs, stands as tall as your waist and walks ahead of you, weaving back and forth across your path. So you carry on a monologue with him as the two of you walk along, dodging passers-by, trash cans, an occasional pile of unclaimed poop and other detritus of street life in the Big Apple. So what?

You were walking towards Time Square when you spotted Bob - at least, you thought it was Bob - your old high school sweetheart. The one who asked you to the prom. The one who broke your heart by leaving you high and dry on prom night to dance every dance with Betty. The one you never wanted to see again. Ever!

It might have been Bob. He was the right height - about six feet tall. His hair was a little thinner than you remembered, and his waistline a bit thicker. But he carried himself with that same jaunty air - an aura of confidence in his own charm. And he was still a hunk.

You couldn’t be certain, though. You had to look into his eyes - to penetrate his facade. The eyes never lie. You wanted it to be Bob. You wanted to stroll up to him nonchalantly and show him that his rejection of you had been a mistake. A big mistake. The biggest mistake of his life. You heard that he had married Betty. You wanted to hear that she had turned into a fat, frumpy hausfrau. You wanted to make Bob suffer.

So you stared at him, making eye contact as he approached. And he stared back. It was Bob, and he was coming directly towards you, right hand extended. 

"Janie!" He smiled - a familiar broad smile that spread across his face, causing little fan-shaped crinkles to form at the corners of his eyes - and took your free hand in his. "How nice to run into you." Bob turned to address a svelte, sophisticated blond woman who was standing with impeccable composure at his side. "Betty," he said, drawing her forward, "you remember little Janie from our high school class, don't you?"

"Of course I remember Janie." Betty held out her hand to shake yours, but Butch got there first, taking her hand gently in his mouth and covering it with his slobber. "Ewwwwww! Get that beast away from me!" Betty retreated behind Bob, her sophistication dissolved in a mass of dog slobber. "That dog is a menace."

"C'mon, Betty." Bob put out his hand to pat Butch on the head. "This dog is just a gentle giant. You said you liked dogs."

"Well, I lied! And if you're more interested in that beast than in me, you can just forget about picking up where we left off after high school." Betty turned and strode briskly away.

You were afraid to look at Bob - fearful that he would be angry with you. You mumbled an apology and turned to go. "Wait, Janie," you heard him say. "There's a café around the corner with some patio tables. Would you and Butch care to join me?"

©2013 Phyllis Entis. All rights reserved.

A Note of Explanation: By popular demand, here is an alternative ending to Bob

Please Have Your Say

Please post a comment indicating whether you prefer the original ending or this one.

Sunday, June 2, 2013


You did it again. This is New York. People don’t make eye contact here - especially not on 42nd Street.

All you were doing was walking Butch. So he’s a Great Dane, weighs 200 lbs, stands as tall as your waist and walks ahead of you, weaving back and forth across your path. So you carry on a monologue with him as the two of you walk along, dodging passers-by, trash cans, an occasional pile of unclaimed poop and other detritus of street life in the Big Apple. So what?

You were walking towards Time Square when you spotted Bob - at least, you thought it was Bob - your old high school sweetheart. The one who asked you to the prom. The one who broke your heart by leaving you high and dry on prom night to dance every dance with Betty. The one you never wanted to see again. Ever!

It might have been Bob. He was the right height - about six feet tall. His hair was a little thinner than you remembered, and his waistline a bit thicker. But he carried himself with that same jaunty air - an aura of confidence in his own charm. And he was still a hunk.

You couldn’t be certain, though. You had to look into his eyes - to penetrate his facade. The eyes never lie. You wanted it to be Bob. You wanted to stroll up to him nonchalantly and show him that his rejection of you had been a mistake. A big mistake. The biggest mistake of his life. You heard that he had married Betty. You wanted to hear that she had turned into a fat, frumpy hausfrau. You wanted to make Bob suffer.

So you stared at him, making eye contact as he approached. Butch decided to stare, too. And bark. A lot. And the hunk - not Bob after all - ran the other way.

©2013 Phyllis Entis. All rights reserved.

A Note of Explanation: For this prompt, we were to imagine the following scenario: You are approaching someone on a city street. From several yards away, you make eye contact. The other person turns and runs away. Why?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Remembering Uncle Moshe

Moe - my Uncle Moshe - towered over the rest of us. He was Dad’s younger brother, and his antithesis. Uncle Moshe possessed a booming voice, an ebullient personality, and a sandy complexion that always was creased in a broad smile. He was, by far, the tallest member of Dad’s family.

Moe was a Corporal in World War II - the “big one” as Archie Bunker was wont to say. He was a tank driver in Canada’s Grenadier Guards. Moe hadn’t planned to become a soldier - neither had Dad for that matter - but life has a way of changing one’s plans.

The Canadian army liberated Holland in 1944, and Moe’s tank corps was in the heart of the battle for the Lowlands. On the day that life forced yet another radical change in direction, his tank took a direct hit. As the other members of the crew scrambled away, Sergeant Andrews looked back over his shoulder towards the burning tank. There was no sign of Moe. He was still inside the tank.

Moe,” Andrews called out. “Get the hell out of there. The tank is on fire!

I can’t,” Moe shouted back. “I have no feet.

Andrews ran back to the burning tank. He pulled Moe out and dragged him to safety. Sergeant John Andrews was awarded Canada’s Military Medal for his heroism.

Moe was evacuated to a hospital in England, but not before gangrene set in. After several surgeries to stay ahead of the infection, he was left with stumps that extended just a few inches below his knees. When he had recovered sufficiently, the army invalided him back to Canada. He was offered leave to visit his family in Montreal before undergoing rehab, but he declined. “My parents are not going to see me in a wheelchair,” he insisted. “I won’t go home until I can walk.

And that’s what he did. Uncle Moshe was fitted with artificial legs and learned how to use them without crutches or canes. The first time my grandparents saw him after his injuries, he walked through the doorway on his two legs. And that’s how he approached the rest of his life - on his own two legs.

In 1946, after he was discharged from the army with the rank of Sergeant in the Quartermaster Corps, Uncle Moshe married. He and my Aunt Ann presented my grandparents with three grandchildren. I never heard him refer to his ‘disability’ or use it as an excuse or alibi. He was never out of work, and rarely out of sorts.

To my Uncle Moshe: One of Canada’s unsung heroes - six feet tall before the war, ten feet tall afterwards.

Acknowledgment: While I’ve known Uncle Moshe’s story since I was a child, I didn’t learn the name of the heroic soldier who dragged him from the burning tank until very recently. This episode, including the name of Sergeant John Andrews, is mentioned in Neil J. Stewart’s memoir, “Steel My Soldiers’ Hearts.”

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Just Desserts

Jessie stared at the menu. Her lactose intolerance and her allergies to peanuts and chocolate made choosing dessert a challenge. “Could I have the apple crisp, but without any sauce or ice cream?” she requested.

Plain apple crisp - yes, ma'am.” The waiter nodded. “Coffee, ma’am?

Yes, please - black.” Jessie closed her menu and set it down. Tom, her blind date, placed his hand on top of hers where it rested on the table. “I like a woman who knows her own mind.

Well,” Jessie blushed a little. “It’s just that I have some food allergies and have to watch what I eat.” She hated the urge to explain herself.

Your dessert, ma’am.” The waiter set a plate before her - a chocolate brownie topped with vanilla ice cream and decorated with delicate puffs of whipped cream. “And your Irish coffee, ma’am.” He placed a steaming glass mug of the frothy concoction to the right of her dessert.

Wait,” Jessie exclaimed. “This is not what I ordered. I asked for a plain apple crisp and a cup of black coffee.

The waiter apologized and removed the offending items. In a few minutes, he returned with an apple crisp topped with vanilla ice cream and sprinkled with chopped nuts. “Your black coffee will be here directly,” he assured Jessie. “We’re brewing a fresh pot right now.”

Jessie stopped him. “Please. I asked for a plain apple crisp - no ice cream, no sauce, no chopped nuts. Just a plain apple crisp. What part of ‘plain apple crisp’ do you not understand?” Jessie’s frustration was starting to show in her face and in her voice. She took a deep breath and told herself to calm down as the waiter removed the dessert from the table. “Sorry Tom.” She looked up at her date with a wry smile. “I don’t mean to be a pain. Maybe we should just skip dessert.

Tom pushed back from the table abruptly and stood. “Excuse me a moment.”

Jessie watched him walk off. Had she pissed him off? Was he skipping out on her? What should she do? She checked and rechecked her watch. Five minutes passed. Ten minutes. She stared down at the table, her cup of black coffee untouched and getting cold. She would give Tom five more minutes before giving up on him. 

Jessie looked at her watch again; it was time to move on. As she prepared to stand, she heard a commotion coming from the direction of the kitchen. The restaurant patrons fell silent as the chef led a procession of the entire kitchen staff to her table, a smiling Tom bringing up the rear. “My profound apologies for the mix-up, madame.” 

The chef bowed as he took her hand and touched his lips to it. He turned to his retinue and clapped his hands. The waiter removed Jessie’s cold cup of coffee and swept crumbs from the tablecloth. Then, with a flourish, and a murmured apology, he placed silverware, a cup and saucer, and a fresh pot of steaming black coffee on the table. The chef turned to another member of his entourage, received a dessert plate from him, and placed it with great ceremony in front of Jessie. “I do hope that you will find this satisfactory, madame,” he pronounced. “Bon appetit.”

©2013 Phyllis Entis. All rights reserved.

A Note of Explanation: The prompt for this exercise was to imagine a first date, during which the restaurant brought the wrong item to the table three times.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Train - Part 2

"Thanks again, Mr. Simmons." Keith shook hands with his companion and turned abruptly to hide the tears that were welling up in the corners of his eyes.

Simmons watched in admiration mingled with regret as the eight-year old boy followed the conductor down the length of the Grand Central Station platform. That boy - or one just like him - could have been his. He'd had his chance, but shied away. His own broken home had colored his attitude towards marriage and family. A life of career and bachelorhood was what he'd chosen.

His eyes continued to follow Keith as the boy clambered onto the train and turned back to wave at him. Simmons returned the wave, then spun on his heel and started for the exit. "Fool," he told himself. "You're a fool."

Keith settled into his window seat in the first class car and stared out at the platform. He searched the forest of faces for a final glimpse of Mr. Simmons. The man had such an air of confidence and self-possession that his very presence was comforting. But Simmons had disappeared. Keith was on his own.

After a few minutes, Keith heard the sound of a whistle and felt a gentle jolt as the train started to glide along the platform. As he stared out the window, Keith saw his reflection in the glass and watched a tear slowly rolled down his cheek. All at once, he felt very alone - even more so than during those long days and nights when his dad left him with the maid in their Manhattan apartment. 

Suddenly, another face appeared beside his in the window glass. "Hello, Keith. Mind if I join you?" Keith whirled, to find Mr. Simmons sliding into the seat next to his. "I decided that I needed a couple of days off," Simmons explained. "I haven't visited Boston for a long time, and I thought I'd ride up with you. That is, if you don't mind."

Keith rewarded him with a delighted grin. The unlikely friends passed the hours chatting about baseball - Keith's dad had taken him to a Yankee's game - the Central Park Zoo, and the dinosaur exhibit at the Natural History museum. Simmons pointed out various landmarks as the train trundled through New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, and into Massachusetts. He made the history of Springfield, New Haven and Providence come alive for the boy as the train stopped in each city. 

They entered the Boston suburbs, and Simmons' running commentary limped to a halt. "Are you feeling OK?" Keith asked him.

"Just a little tired." Simmons closed his eyes, but not before the boy noticed a hint of moisture in them.

The train slowed as it entered Boston and wound its way through the rail yards into South Station. "We're here, Mr. Simmons." Keith tugged at Simmons' sleeve. "Look! There's my Mom on the platform. She's the pretty lady in the green dress. Hi, Mom!" His mother's worried face relaxed into a smile when she spotted her son waving at her from the train.

"C'mon, Mr. Simmons. Come and meet my mother." The boy took Simmons by the hand, and pulled him into the aisle as the train came to a gentle stop. The pair stepped onto the platform; Keith flung himself into his mother's arms, then stepped back. "Mom," he said. "I want you to meet my new friend, Mr. Simmons. He took me to the train and kept me company all the way here."

"Mr. Simmons and I already have met, son." she said. "Hello, Brandon. It's been a few years." Betty Emerson held out her hand. "Thank you for taking care of Keith."

Simmons stared into her self-possessed blue eyes. "Twenty years.  It's been twenty years." He took a deep breath to steady his voice. Can you forgive an old fool?"

"There's nothing to forgive, Brandon." Betty looked down at Keith and took his hand. "It's time for us to go.She hesitated for a heartbeat, then held out her other hand to Simmons. "Shall we?"

©2013. Phyllis Entis. All rights reserved.

A Note of Explanation: I received several requests for a sequel to The Train. This is it.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Train

Keith squirmed in his best clothes, the collar buttoned tight, a clip-on bow tie slightly askew. His new shoes were squeaky and mirror-finished - still too stiff to be comfortable. His hair was freshly cut and slicked down. This would be his first time traveling alone, and his first train ride. He shifted his weight from foot to foot, dancing with excitement tempered by apprehension. “Is the train coming yet, Mr. Simmons?" he asked the well-dressed man who was standing beside him, gripping his hand. "When will it get here?”

Soon, kid,” Simmons replied, stealing a glance at his Rolex. “Soon, I hope. It should have pulled in ten minutes ago.”

How will I know where to sit on the train?” Keith asked anxiously, his hand twisting in Simmons’ grip. “How will I know when to get offWill the train stop long enough for me?

The conductor will take care of you, kid. Now stop squirming. You’re getting your new clothes mussed up. Don’t you want to look your best for your mother?

Keith looked up at Simmons who, at 6’3”, towered over the lad. The man stood seemingly unmoved by Keith’s concerns, by the lateness of the train, or by the bustle and shuffle of porters and passengers. He wore his air of deliberate detachment like a well-tailored suit. He was simply making a delivery, Simmons told himself. Usually, he delivered legal briefs. Today, he was delivering a boy.

Brandon Simmons didn’t like to remember his own experience as an eight-year old boy, trundled back and forth between his divorced parents like the shuttle of a loom as it passes from side to side through a perfectly defined path of threads. Now, he found himself an accomplice in the same tug-of-war that had ripped his childish soul to pieces.

It wasn’t by chance that Simmons steered his legal career far away from the shoals of divorce courts. But today he was doing a favor for the boy’s father - an old chum from law school - whose appointment calendar could not be superseded by the Amtrak schedule. And he was hating it. Even now, the scars left by his own broken family were still raw - the memories still too fresh.

Simmons looked down at the tow-headed boy standing beside him and squeezed his hand gently in sympathetic understanding. He was rewarded with a smile from Keith. “Thanks for waiting with me, Mr. Simmons," the boy said, "I'm alright now.”

©2013 Phyllis Entis. All rights reserved.

A Note of Explanation: The "prompt" for this piece was a boy and a man waiting for a train.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Josie stopped by the tree and fished a plastic bag out of her pocket. As she bent down to collect Puggles’ deposit, she felt the leash go taut. A low pitched growl vibrated up the stretched leash to her hand.

She looked up just as the dog started bouncing and barking, his strident ‘woofs’ echoing off the high rise walls of the urban canyon. “What are you barking at? Quiet!” she commanded. “Get over here!” But Puggles was focused on something in the shadows across the street. By now, he was so worked up that Josie had to hang onto the tree trunk to avoid being pulled into the road. “What are you barking at?” she asked again, as she tried to identify the source of the dog’s excitement. “Is it a cat?

On hearing the magic word, the dog’s barks redoubled and rose an octave, piercing the air like spikes issuing from a nail gun. He pulled left, then right, then leaped straight into the air, all four paws off the ground. As he landed, Puggles lunged forward once more, yanking the leash from Josie’s hand.

The dog, realizing that he was free, ran into the road, then stopped abruptly when Josie shrieked and called out. A car was rounding the corner, heading directly at her precious pup. She ran into the street to scoop him up, just as the driver swerved to avoid the dog. Behind her, Josie heard the sound of brakes and the sickening thud of metal on wood.

She ran towards the car and looked inside. “Are you alright?” she asked. “Is either of you hurt?”  As she stood talking to the driver, a patrol car stopped beside the wreck. Two officers sprang from car, ordered the driver and passenger of the wrecked car onto the sidewalk, and cuffed them. One of the officers then turned to Josie.

Thanks lady,” he said, tossing her a casual half-salute. “You and your dog just helped us break up a ring of car thieves.

©2013 Phyllis Entis. All rights reserved.

A Note of Explanation: The prompt for this exercise was, "A car passes you at normal speed, rounds the corner and crashes into a tree." I chose to focus on what caused the car to crash.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Battleground Boston

They came to do battle,
The runners in thousands,
Against one another,
Against the terrain.
Each of them striving towards a personal goal.

They came to do homage,
The joyous spectators,
To the athletes,
To the city,
Each of them cheering the runners along.

He came to do carnage,
With bombs filled with shrapnel,
To maim and to kill,
To punish the living.
Each of them blind to the danger nearby.

They came to do service,
The first responders, the doctors, the nurses,
To succor the wounded,
To rescue those trapped.
Each one determined to help others cheat death.

I honor the heroes who succored the wounded,
Who ran towards the danger to rescue those trapped.
I honor their courage and their dedication.

We oft hear the mantra "Guns don't kill people; people kill people."
Today I'm reminded:
People save people.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Phone Call

The house is on fire! There was a break-in! Who’s dead?

Better get out of here. Don’t panic. Where are my car keys?

Somehow, I make it home intact. I walk in the front door - all is calm. Hubby looks up as the dog greets me. “What are you doing home so early?” he asks. “I thought your writing class ended at 1:00.

I catch my breath and pull out my cellphone - a new one, which I just started carrying with me. I check the “last call” memory box. Damn! I erased it in my mad panic. Who could have called me with that urgent message? Couldn’t have been Mom - she would have called my sister in an emergency. Or would she have? Maybe she hit the wrong speed dial button?

Heart thumping, I quickly dial her number and get her answering machine. Uh oh! Better call Sis at work and make sure everything is alright. I dial her office. “Please leave a message…” is what I hear.

Oh my God. Something is wrong! Who else can I call? I don’t have Sis’s cellphone number; maybe Harvey is home? Another message machine. Damn! Why can’t I reach anyone? Better try Mom again - just in case. This time, the phone picks up and I hear my sister's voice. “What are you doing there on a weekday?” I exclaim. “What’s wrong with Mom?

Wrong?” she asks. “What makes you think something is wrong? We’re all here celebrating. Mom just won the lottery!

Oh,” I manage to squeak feebly, “that’s nice.”

As I hang up the phone, Hubby looks up at me again. “What was all that about?” he asks. “And what are you doing home so early?

Just a wrong number,” I reply, as I sit down beside him and pat the dog. “By the way,” I add, “my mother won the lottery.

That’s nice. How did you find out?”

I shrug in reply. “The family grapevine, of course.

©2013 Phyllis Entis. All rights reserved.

A Note of Explanation: The prompt was to build a story around an urgent phone message from an unknown number.

Monday, April 8, 2013


Portia swore as she lowered her 300-lb body carefully onto her hands and knees and started to crawl gingerly around on the kitchen floor. She had warned herself that stopping in the middle of making croissants to remove her contact lens was NOT a good idea. But the speck of flour that insinuated itself between the contact and her cornea was unbearably irritating. Her left eye had teared so badly that the croissant she was trying to shape became soggy.

Sighing, she carefully slid her hands over the tiled floor, once more cursing her decision during last year’s remodel to use small, textured ceramic tiles instead of the 12” smooth travertine she had originally planned on installing. So much for decisions based solely on price. “Stupid woman,” she berated herself. “Stupid, stupid woman!

There it was! At least, it looked like her stray contact. It was in the corner under the edge of the cabinet, nestled comfortably on a large dust bunny next to a piece of kibble. “Guess I didn’t find all of the dog food that I spilled this morning,” she muttered. “Oh, well.”

Portia crawled towards the errant lens just as Percy, her 10-year old Corgi, bounded into the kitchen. This looked like a fun game. Portia didn’t get down on the floor to play with him very often. “Go away, Percy!” she exclaimed, shoving the excited pooch aside. Oh, this was a really fun game! Percy came bouncing back for the next round. “Bad dog! Go away!” Portia shouted, as she reached for the contact lens. Percy looked toward the target of Portia’s outstretched hand. “Kibble!” As if by magic, the floor was licked clean. No more kibble. No more dust bunny. No more contact lens! 

Portia looked at Percy. Percy looked at Portia. Now what? Portia was in tears; this was her last pair of contacts. She had a half-finished batch of croissants on the kitchen counter and no way to see what she was doing. She stood and stared at the wreckage of her day, just as her phone rang.

Hello, Portia, this is Cindy from the Vet Center,” she heard. “I’m calling to remind you that Percy is overdue for his check-up.

Can I bring him in today?” Portia asked. “He’s just swallowed a contact lens and I need to retrieve it, pronto.”

Let me put you on hold a minute,” Cindy replied, “while I check with the doc.” As Portia stood, phone in hand, she heard a gurgle and splat behind her. She turned, to see Percy standing beside a moist wad of dust and dog hair floating in a pool of yellowish liquid.

Never mind, Cindy,” she sighed. “I just found the lens.

©2013 Phyllis Entis. All rights reserved.

A Note of Explanation: The "prompt" for this piece was to combine an everyday disaster with a phone call from someone who has been out of touch for a long time and who offers assistance.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Dinner Party - Part 2

Tom, true to his word, returned home promptly at six; his parents arrived with equal punctuality at exactly six-thirty. "Daphne, Reginald," Gina greeted them, doing her best to suppress an attack of nerves. "Welcome. Tom and I are so happy you could come."

"What a beautiful cake," Reginald - the patissier - had eyes for pastry above all else. "Daphne and I were just talking about the misguided souls who use margarine or vegetable shortening to decorate cakes, and try to pass off their concoctions as butter cream. All looks and no taste." His eyes rolled, and he produced a theatrical shudder.

Gina colored slightly. "Tom, why don't you give your parents a tour of the apartment while I see to the vegetables," she suggested before fleeing into the kitchen. She checked the meat thermometer; the roast was just approaching 'rare' on the dial. Then she placed a couple of cans of creamed corn on the oven rack beside the roasting pan. One less pot to wash, she told herself.

Having regained her composure, Gina returned to Tom and his parents, who were now sitting and chatting in the living room. "Dinner will be ready in 20 minutes," she announced. "Tom, have you offered your parents a drink?"

"Thanks, Gina," Daphne replied, "but we'll wait and have wine with our dinner." Gina glanced inquiringly at Tom. He had never mentioned wine with dinner. "My folks brought us a Washington State Pinot Noir," he explained, as though she had any idea what that signified. "It'll be perfect with the roast." She nodded - sagely, she hoped.

After enduring another 10 minutes of stilted conversation, Gina glanced at her watch. "I'd better check on the roast," she said, happy to have an excuse to leave the room. Suddenly, a muffled "BANG" and residual clatter erupted from the kitchen. Gina raced to the source of the noise, with Tom, Daphne and Reginald close on her heels. All four stared into the kitchen, to find
the oven door hanging open at a crazy angle, one hinge completely torn away and the other twisted awry,
the roast beef lying on the kitchen floor, surrounded by sliced potatoes and wearing the roasting pan like a coolie hat,
two aluminum cans, their sides split wide open, lying at awkward angles on the oven rack, and
creamed corn dripping from the ceiling and drooling down the walls onto counters, cabinets, and the kitchen floor
Gina looked at Tom, her eyes filling with tears. "Don't worry, honey," he reassured her, "we'll go out for dinner and come back here for dessert. It's a good thing you put the cake in the dining room."

She took a deep breath. "Tom, about that cake...." 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Dinner Party - Part 1

"So long, honey. I'll be home by six," Tom smiled as he kissed his bride and headed out the door.

"Please don't be late, sweetie," Gina replied, matching his kiss with one of her own. "Remember, your parents are coming to dinner tonight. They should be here around six-thirty."

Gina held her smile, waving at Tom until the elevator doors swallowed him up. A heavy sigh escaped her lips as she closed the apartment door behind her. Tom's mother was a gourmet cook; his father a patissier. She couldn't hope to match their expertise, but she was determined that this dinner would be a success. So much to do! Where to start?

First, the cake. Chocolate, of course, as it was Tom's favorite. He liked raspberry jam between the layers, and a chocolate butter cream frosting. Gina pulled out her recipe file and donned her lucky apron - the one with all the indelible food stains. The kitchen soon was engulfed in a fine, white flour-y mist; canisters of sugar and salt sat on the counter top, their mouths agape. Eggshells littered the sink as egg white after egg white refused to separate cleanly from its yolk. At last, Gina was able to pour the cake batter into two cake pans, and place them into the preheated oven.

Flushed with success - and her exertions - Gina checked her watch. Already 11:30! Better clean up the kitchen. She reached for the canister lids, closing the flour, sugar and salt bins in their turn. Wait a moment; that didn't look right, Gina told herself. She was almost out of salt. Could she have mixed up the salt and sugar when measuring the ingredients? Nah, she decided. Not possible.

By noon, the kitchen was tidy and she was ready to tackle the roast. She seasoned the meat, placed it in the roasting pan, and surrounded it with sliced Russet potatoes. The tossed salad was next. She'd deal with the hot vegetable later. Gina checked her cake; it had risen perfectly. She removed the cake pans from the oven, placed them on racks to cool, and breathed a sigh of relief.

For the next couple of hours, the nervous newlywed tidied up the small apartment and set the dining room table for dinner - using the 'good' tableware given to the young couple by Tom's parents. She stood at the head of the table and surveyed the results of her efforts. Everything looked perfect. Now to remove the cake layers from their pans and assemble the finished product.

After a quarter-hour of wrestling, Gina surveyed the wreckage. Too late, she realized that she had forgotten to grease the pans. Her perfect cake layers were now scattered chunks of chocolate crumb. Oh well, she thought, I'll make extra frosting for camouflage. She assembled the bottom layer on her best pedestal cake plate, slathered it with raspberry jam, and pieced together a second layer on top. There were a few gaps and crevasses, which she filled as best she could with the remaining crumbs that she salvaged from the cake pans. She licked a few crumbs from her fingers. Salty! She had made a mistake in measuring the ingredients, after all. Well, she'd make the frosting extra-sweet to compensate. Maybe no one would notice.

Gina reached into the refrigerator for the butter. There was only half a stick left. The rest was in the cake. After a moment of panic, she checked the pantry. What could she use for the frosting? There! In the back corner - a large can of Crisco. All she had to do was add confectioner's sugar and cocoa powder, and it would make a picture-perfect frosting. She could even use sweetened Crisco dyed with food coloring to add a few decorative touches. Beautiful! Gina carried the finished cake to the dining room and positioned it in the place of honor on the sideboard.

To be continued...

Sunday, March 24, 2013

My Zaide's Tears

Once a year, when I was a child, I would sit in my grandparent's kitchen and watch Zaide cry. His tears were not from joy; nor were they tears of sorrow. These were Passover tears.

Preparing for a Passover Seder was a major project. All of us had our special tasks. Granny and Mom cooked; I helped to set the table, placing a Haggadah (a book of Passover stories, prayers and songs) at each seat. My aunts each brought a contribution to the Seder meal. And Zaide prepared the "bitter herbs" - the horseradish.

I can still close my eyes and see Zaide standing at the kitchen sink, an apron around his waist. His left hand gripped a grater, cradled in a large bowl; his right hand held a fresh horseradish root. It was a tedious job, and a disagreeable one - the volatile vapors of freshly grated horseradish root are far stronger than onion. Tears streamed down his face. But those tears could not wash away his smile. This was his job - his contribution to the Seder preparations - and he did it gladly.

Granny's special task was to prepare a much gentler ritual food - the Charoset. She put wedges of apple and a handful of freshly shelled walnuts into a wooden bowl that had grown old in Passover service. She chopped the apple and walnuts into a fine paste, then added cinnamon, honey and sweet wine made especially for Passover by Uncle Edel.

Excitement built as the family arrived and sunset neared. Twenty of us - adults and children - settled noisily into our places, chattering greetings and catching up on news. Silence fell when Granny stood to bless the candles at sunset to mark the start of Passover. Zaide took his place at the head of the table, lifted his cup, and began the Seder with a blessing over Uncle Edel's sweet wine. Uncle Moe, seated at Zaide's left, rose in turn to recite the same blessing, followed by each of the men at the table.

Zaide seated at the head of the table, listening to Uncle Moe recite blessing over wine.

Finally, it was my turn. I stood, Haggadah in hand (even though I knew the words by heart) and began to recite in Hebrew "Why is this night different from all other nights?"

As I sat down, Zaide picked up his Haggadah, looked at his family gathered around, and began to recite the answer, "We were slaves in Egypt ...." I watched him as he read and, even from my seat at the far end of the table, I could see tears gathering in the corners of his eyes. Tears of joy. Tears of pride. Tears of love.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Memories of a Veteran - Conclusion

Here is the rest of my grandfather's look-back at the evolution of his Union Local 209 and the working conditions in the Montreal garment industry.

While we were picketing the hotel, I heard my name being called. I looked up on the balcony and saw that it was my wife’s brother, Morris Lapidus, who was a vice-president of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. I then learned that the “scabs” were really union people. It seems that when the I.L.G. found out that the agent hired by the Association was in Toronto, they called him and offered to supply the “scabs.” A deal was made whereby the agent paid each man ten dollars. The Association agreed to pay transportation and lodging. 
The “scabs” never went to the shops; instead they joined a meeting of the strikers at Coronation Hall. When the bosses discovered what had happened, they gave up and the strike was settled. The important benefit we won was the reduction of hours from 60 to 55. 
In 1914, we joined the Amalgamated and our local maintained the same number “209.” I became the recording secretary of the Executive Committee and held that position for 38 years. Local 209 was the largest local, but it was always in financial trouble because it was constantly helping out our poor members, especially when they were sick, and donating to many charitable institutions. 
The Amalgamated has gone a long way since those years. We now have benefits we never dreamed of in those early days of our struggle. The members of Local 209 were always in the front lines of every fight to improve conditions. There were leaders like Benny Cotler, Peretz Tonchin, Issie Lighter, Jack Potashner, Issie Stolovitch and so many others to whom we owe much for the good things we have today. 
I am still a member of the Amalgamated and am employed at the Freedman Company. I am very proud of my local and our Union. We have come a long way from the sweat shop conditions of 1904. After spending a lifetime, 65 years, in the Montreal clothing industry, I should know how tremendous our progress has been. And progress we will continue to make in the years to come as long as we faithfully support our Union. I hope I will be around to see it and share it with all Amalgamated members.

A Note of Explanation: Jack Quint was 81 years old at the time this article appeared, and still at work in the Montreal garment industry. The book Angels of the Workplace: Women and the Construction of Gender Relations in the Canadian Clothing Industry, 1890 - (by Mercedes Steedman; published by Oxford University Press, 1997), confirms my grandfather's recollection of the 'scabs' from Toronto that turned out to be union members in disguise.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Memories of a Veteran

I inherited my love of words, both written and spoken, from my Zaide - my grandfather - Jack Quint. Show him a podium, a microphone or a soapbox, and he would spin yarn after yarn completely off-the-cuff until someone dragged him away. I still can picture him in my grandparents living room, devouring the Montreal Star or a Yiddish-language newspaper. And Zaide also was a writer.

My grandfather was proud to be the Recording Secretary for the executive committee of his Union Local 209 for almost four decades. In 1969, he wrote a retrospective article for L’Aiguille, a union publication. Here is Part One of Jack Quint’s Memories of a Veteran.

As a lad of 16, I arrived in Montreal with my father in 1904 from Vilno, Russia.
Finding it most necessary to obtain a job, I was advised to become an apprentice operator in men’s clothing. According to the arrangement, I paid the contractor ten dollars and worked four weeks without pay. From then on he paid me three dollars a week, which was barely enough to pay for room and board. My dad gave me ten cents a week for spending money.
Six months later I asked my boss for a raise. He refused, saying that he could hire an apprentice who would pay him ten dollars. So, after much effort I found a job for five dollars a week. This was considered pretty good pay and I was quite pleased.
In 1905 I became a member of the United Garment Workers, paying ten cents a week for dues. A couple of years later an Independent Union was organized but it did not last very long. 
In 1911 I worked for H. Kelbert. The shop was on the fifth floor. We were denied the use of the elevator so we went on strike in protest. The United Garment Workers came to our rescue. Sam Gandis organized the tailors. We won the strike. During this episode, I became a member of Local 209. 
A year later I was working at B. Gardner. Mr. Gardner was the president of the Employers Association. The union called a general strike. The bosses hired scabs to replace us. Gardner’s shop had the most scabs. These scabs ate and slept in the shop. The Association hired an agent to bring in scabs from Toronto. When we learned that a large group was coming in, we organized a committee to meet them at the railroad station. There we found numerous police and detectives and the scabs were escorted to the Queen’s Hotel.

A Note of Explanation: My mother found my grandfather's article many years ago while going through some old papers. I made a photocopy of the article, stashed it away and forgot about it. Recently, I came across the piece and felt compelled to share the unedited words of Jack Quint - a man for whom English was, at best, his second language. Please return in a few days to read the conclusion of Memories of a Veteran.

Saturday, March 2, 2013


My earliest memories are saturated with images of my grandparents, especially my mother’s parents, with whom we shared an apartment until I was five years old. Granny was a short, slightly plump lady, whose dignified demeanor - the result of a British upbringing - belied her warm nature and the twinkle in her eye. Zaide, my grandfather, was a tall, funny, loving man who delighted in holding me on his knees, teaching me the aleph-beis (the Hebrew alphabet), and entertaining me with Yiddish songs.

Every Friday night, Zaide came home from work with his pockets filled with little pieces of colored cardboard. He would empty the contents of the pockets into a pile on the kitchen table, and we would sit down together to sort the pieces by color - the blue ones on the left, orange next, then green, then yellow. I thought this was a wonderful game we played together each week. And it was.

But it was much more important than just a game. It was how Zaide got paid. For my grandfather worked as a stitcher in the Montreal garment district, and was paid "by the piece." Every one of those pieces of cardboard - called tickets - represented a seam he had sewn; each color had its own value. Blue tickets might be worth ten cents, red ones perhaps a nickel, yellow just a penny. Once we finished sorting the tickets, we counted how many were in each pile, and Zaide calculated what he had earned that week.

I didn’t know it then, but my grandfather was an active and committed Union Man. He was involved in the 1912 garment workers' strike in Montreal - he wrote about it years later for L’Aiguille, a Union newspaper. What counted for me was that he was my Zaide - my grandfather - the man who held me on his knee, told me stories, taught me how to play gin rummy, and took me to the park in the summertime on Sunday afternoons to show off to his friends.

And who brought me colored pieces of cardboard for us to play with every Friday night.

©2013 Phyllis Entis. All rights reserved.

A Note of Explanation: The prompt for this reminiscence was to describe a favorite activity from when I was between four and six years old.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Collector

Jodi needed more badges. She already had her Knots, her Woodcraft, her Homemaker and her Sewing badges. But that wasn’t enough. The other girls in her troop had so many badges that their sleeves were overflowing. She just had to catch up! But how?

Looking out her window at the snow-covered back yard on McLynn Avenue in Montreal, she suddenly realized that she could do a 2-fer. She could get her Winter Survival Crafts badge and her Hiking badge all in one, simply by tramping through the woods on Mount Royal and having a cookout in the snow. Come to think of it, she could earn her Orienteering badge at the same time. And, if she could convince her kid sister to come along, she might even wangle her Baby Sitting badge. A 4-fer! Not bad for a single Saturday outing.

Fortunately, eight-year old Babs was so stunned to be invited to share an adventure with her 'big sister' that she didn’t think of objecting to being dragged through the woods on a cold winter day. Jodi proposed her plan to her troop leader, Captain Maude, who agreed to the ambitious agenda, and arranged to meet the girls at the scenic overlook at 3:00 the following Saturday, to formally attest to Jodi's accomplishments.

Saturday morning, Mom filled a large thermos with hot cocoa, which Jodi fitted into her knapsack beside the packages of hot dogs, buns, chips, condiments, matches and aluminum foil. Jodi's Dad dropped the girls off at their starting point, and the adventure began. The hiking route ran along a well-marked winding path from Beaver Lake, which was halfway up the mountain, through an open field and into the woods. It took only a half hour before the whining started. “Jodi, I’m cold,” she heard from Babs, who was dragging along behind her. “And I gotta pee.

It was a short detour to the public restrooms, where Babs took a minute to undo her snowsuit, two minutes to take care of business, and ten minutes to suit back up. “C’mon, Sis,” Jodi urged. “We’re behind schedule. We need to be at the top of the hill in an hour so that we can have our picnic before Captain Maude gets there.

I’m going as fast as I can. This snow is so deep, an' it’s getting inside my boots.” Jodi could hear her sister’s tears close to the surface. Just try to walk where I’ve walked,” she suggested, not unkindly, as she turned around to see poor Babs struggling through thigh-deep snow. “If you put your feet where mine were, you won’t sink in so far.

But I’m COLD!

You’ll get warm as soon as we start walking up that hill.” Jodi pointed ahead at the path, that was starting to climb into the woods.

I’ll never make it. I want to go home NOW! I WANT MOMMY!” Babs cried, her streaming tears freezing into miniature stalactites as they drooled down her red cheeks.

Mom and Dad are meeting us at the top of the hill - at the scenic overlook - along with Captain Maude,” Jodi assured her, asking herself whether this 4-fer had been such a good idea after all. “Let’s stop a couple of minutes and have some cocoa - it’ll warm you up.

Mollified by the cocoa and the few minutes rest, Babs fell back into line behind Jodi. After what seemed like hours to the eight-year old, they reached the hilltop. “Now for our campfire,” Jodi said, as opened her knapsack and reached inside.

But, there’s snow all over the place. How’re you gonna make a fire in the snow? I’m hungry an' I’m cold an' you can’t make a fire in the snow. You were fooling me about the fire. I’m gonna tell Mommy on you. You made me come all this way and there’s no fire to cook the hot dogs and I WANNA GO HOME NOW!

Oh, shush,” Jodi exclaimed, more than a little exasperated, a piece of aluminum foil and box of matches in her hands. "Let's gather some sticks. I’ll make a fire. You’ll see!

Still grumbling, Babs helped Jodi gather wood. Carefully, Jodi unfolded a piece of aluminum foil and placed it on top of the snow. Then she removed a sheet of newspaper from her knapsack, crumbled it and placed it on the foil. She used some of the small twigs to build a tepee around the ball of newspaper, and built up small log walls around the tepee.

What are you doing?” Babs asked, intrigued in spite of herself. “You said you were making a fire, but that looks like doll houses made out of sticks.

Just watch and learn,” Jodi proclaimed in her smuggest ‘big sister’ tone, as she struck a match and held the flame to the paper.

The crumbled newspaper caught and sent its flames through the tepee, setting fire to the small sticks. As the tepee began to burn, Jodi carefully pushed the log walls closer to the flames, feeding the fire with larger and larger pieces of wood. Soon, the fire was hot enough to dry Babs’ tears and to burn the hot dogs to a crisp - the best way to eat hot dogs on a cold winter day.

Did you girls have a good time?

Jodi and Babs turned to see Mom and Dad, with Captain Maude standing beside them. Oh, yes,” Babs replied breathlessly. “This was fun. Can we do it again tomorrow?

2013© Phyllis Entis. All rights reserved.

A Note of Explanation: The prompt for this story was a winter experience.