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.