Great times in my youth were punctuated by playing games and going to the library. Renee took me to the library before my 5th birthday and conned the librarian into giving me a library card. From them on I was able to take out four books at a time. My favorites were the Mary Poppins stories. My imagination soared on high as Mary flew into homes via her umbrella. Her feats fascinated me to the point that I thought she was a real person. There was something about her that was so different from my own surroundings that I was somehow transported into a world populated with superheroes and strange lands and animals.

The characters in these books and others were so different from my Yeshiva Yiddish readings and less adult than some of the other adult type literature in the English part of my day. I guess Mary Poppins lived in a non-Jewish world that I knew nothing of. She was British, mannerly and born to serve the upper classes. This amazed me. She also did everything with a flair, whimsy, and a kind of bossiness that did not seem to offend most people. She could accomplish magical things with ease. She was even better than Green Lantern, Hawkman or Captain Marvel. She had powers, but she was not outlandish or spectacular. She was so very different and captivating.

My school day never really ended with classes. They ended with long sessions in the street playing marbles, or rather gambling with marbles. You placed a marble near the curb of a street and offered 5 marbles to anyone who could role his marble and hit yours. If you were a real entrepreneur you carved a few holes in a wooden cheese box and offered 25 marbles to anyone who could role them in. With the proper set up, you could win hundreds of marbles, or lose hundreds of marbles. If you really were a champion, you could win puries ( marbles with no blemishes and perfectly clear), which were worth 5 and sometimes 10 marbles.
To this day, I am sure that neither my mother, grandmother and sister knew that I spent extra time after school winning and losing marbles.
I would sometime come home an hour later than I should with some cockamamie
( decalcomania) story of how I had lost my coat, learned of the person who took it, went to their house and recovered my coat. They took it in so sweetly and never punished me. If I needed more marbles, I would take some of my pennies from God and use them to create a stash for myself. I guess over the long haul, I broke even. Somehow, the use of the pennies did not offend God, nor did I repay him/her until very much later in life.
Someone in my family, probably sister Renee thought that I needed some more organization in my life. Somewhere about age 7 or 8 I was escorted to a community center to meet with something called the Cub Scouts. Since it was not a Jewish organization, I was really not familiar with it. I had not heard about it in school or at home. I ventured forth into the room to be greeted by a young man of about 20 or so and a group of kids about my age or older, none of whom I had ever met. They were doing something with glossy leather strips and were making a lanyard ( a word I was not familiar with). The 20 year old sat me down with the other boys and gave me the materials to make this lanyard. I was not very good at it, especially since I had received no instructions.

Many of the other boys completed their tasks and showed them to the 20 year old. I was never told his name. They put their lanyards around their necks and wore them proudly. I was unable to get more than a few of the first stitches done when panic overtook me. I was never going to finish this task. That is the way it went for the next few weeks. How did I know that I was about two years younger than any of the other boys. What they did was not interesting at all. These things with making fire by rubbing two stones together seemed irrelevant to me- how about some Diamond matches. Outdoor things where there were no balls to play with, or organized games seemed not to be kid friendly. I was really out of my element.

In a room down the hallway a group of girls, called Brownies sat in a circle doing all kinds of girl things. They seemed to be having a great time talking about movies that they had seen, singing songs, some of which I knew, and generally not paying attention to the outside world. They were my kind of people. The boys were serious about their projects, made even more so by the 20 year old. The girls seemed to be an entity by themselves not paying any attention to their leader, whoever that was.
The girls were much more interesting, maybe because of my age, or the lack of girls in my all boys school. They were really different. Even their vocabulary spoke of a different set of interests. I was drawn to them. One evening, I stopped by their room and watched them for a while. One of the girls, probably about 10 years old as I think about it, saw me and invited me in. I looked around skeptically and walked through the door. They were doing some sort of project that involved putting things together in order. I cannot remember if it was wooden sticks, or making marionettes, or playing a game. I was invited to participate and participate I did. I made no attempt to go to the Cub Scouts and spent the rest of the evening with the girls. It was the last time that I went to these meetings. I am not sure what happened. I have a feeling that someone peached on me and I was asked not to return.

Funny thing is, that was not the last time that I chose to be with girls. I was raised by women- my grandmother, mother and older sister and women things were familiar to me. Fortunately, my wife of 46 years has gotten me out of some of my bizarre habits of snapping the elastic on bras when she goes into the lingerie fitting room, for that is what I did when I went shopping with my mom and sister. In junior high school, when we had social dancing, I was always the first boy to go over and ask a girl to dance, while my confreres cowered on the other side of the gym. When I got older and in charge, female staff members would always tell me that I had a soft approach to women. Maybe so, I credit my family for all of that.



  1. You do have a gentle way of communicating with women, Arnold – at least that has been my experience. But I AM glad Carol cured you of some of the “other” habits you developed!!

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