KNOCK-KNOCK! WHO’S THERE?
© 2010 by David Wainland
The final hours of my Bar Mitzvah day drew to a close and I was happy beyond my expectations. My performance had gone well, my suit had stayed clean almost to the end and I was the recipient of many gifts including money and the proverbial fountain pen
My parents replenished the kosher groaning table in the living room at least twice. Ben, from Hyme’s deli who had supplied the food was beaming proudly in the corner while he munched on a plate filled with cold cuts from a tray he created.
Throughout the afternoon many of the attendees at our open house were neighborhood merchants, extended members of our family. Not cousins, uncles or aunts, but an army of volunteer guardians who kept an eye on the children of Walton Avenue. Each of the local purveyors called my mother by her first name and that included all the employees at the new Daitch Crystal Dairies supermarket that opened at the end of the war.
My pediatrician/family doctor was there and the dentist who served our family as well as the owner of the drugstore on the corner. It was the same pharmacist twho hired me at eleven to deliver prescriptions and then fired me because I lost twenty dollars. The owner of our local bakery delivered the rolls, bread and cake personally. Then he waited until the first slice of challah was blessed, cut and served.
When everybody left, including my grandparents, who stayed until my mother ushered them out, we changed into our casual clothes. My siblings Jerry and Laurie were already fast asleep and in the eleventh hour of the day, we spilled my gift envelopes of cash, checks and U. S. savings bonds onto the kitchen table.
“Wow,” my first word as I took in the pile. Never before had I seen so much money in one place. I was impressed even though my parents had already explained that my earning, except for the bonds, would be paying for the affair.
“Shush!” exhorted mom, “The kids are sleeping.
“Ten, twenty, thirty, thirty five… “My father began the count while my mother in her kitchen uniform wrote the giver’s names and totals on a lined piece of paper.
“Speak softer Marty; they can hear you in the hall. It’s none of the neighbor’s business.” Mom was always a bit paranoid about privacy matters although at that time none of us knew what paranoid meant.
“One hundred, one-ten…” he whispered.
“Louder, now I can’t hear you.”
Dad grimaced, shrugged and continued.
“Four hundred, four-twenty,” he held the last envelope up to the light before he carefully slit it open. “Four hundred and fifty dollars, oh boy, Marion our son has made a killing.”
“Shush, I told you don’t give us the evil eye.”
The doorbell rang.
Mom went white as a sheet.
“Don’t answer it. It’s them. They came to get the money.”
I wondered who the “Mysterious them,” was, though when my father reached into the kitchen drawer and pulled out one of my mother’s sharpest gray steel knives, the answer was suddenly very clear.
“Marion, take the money and go to the back. I’ll check to see who is there. David, stay with your mother.”
I was busy looking for a weapon of my own when he slapped the back of my head.
”You’re a man now. Go to the bedroom with your mother and stay with mommy. It’s your job to protect her.”
My chest swelled with pride. Yes, today I was a man and I had a job to do.
She gathered the cash, checks and bonds into a pile and brushed it with one hand into the white apron she extended with the other, folded it over and sprinted to towards the back of the apartment.
This time there was a loud knocking.
“I’m coming. One minute. Who is it?”
My dad’s voice never showed a tremor of fear. Instead of the bedroom mom slipped into the bathroom and slammed the door behind her. I was left standing in the tiny claustrophobic hall between the two rooms.
“Western Union Telegram,” was the muffled reply through the steel door.
I moved back into the living room, and watched dad walk to the door, slide the chain lock and open it ever so slowly, the knife hidden in his right hand and behind his back.
Then, with a smile of relief he swung it wide. A tan uniformed boy is high boots and cap stood in the frame, yellow envelope in his hand.
“Telegram for David Wainland.”
Dad tucked the knife in the back of his pants, reached into his pocket and with relief sounding in every snap of his mouth he thanked the boy and passed him a quarter. He shut the door, slipped the chain bolt shut and sent me for mom.
I banged on the bathroom door.
“Mom, it was a telegram. It’s ok.”
She opened the door with tremulous fingers and stared over my head with her piercing blue eyes as if to see if everything was as it should be.
Behind her the apron barely peaked out of the commode, wedged between the seat and the bowl. In it was the money, all of it.
We spent the remainder of the night flattening, drying and ironing my first and only Bar Mitzvah fortune.