The fuel behind the energy of our lives, friends are those rare individuals who elect to share life’s journey. They are there during the good times – and the bad. While not related by blood, they are the people who elect to be there for us – our companions, confidants, and fellow-travelers by choice. Recently, friends from my youth have actively come together through FaceBook. Perhaps the process of aging has caused us to reach back and gather close those who shared the formative years of our lives, inviting them to join us once again even as we venture forward. The process of exploring our collective past in Evanston, Illinois has brought up rich images of places, people, and experiences. Coalescing, these long-standing friendships are blending past and present. The longing for the warm and familiar surroundings of our youth is being replaced by an extended family picking up where we left off.
That’s probably why two of my greatest pleasures in writing GOLANSKI’S TREASURES have been time spent with Max as a child reliving a youth surrounded by a warm and loving family – and as an older man in New York’s Lower East Side neighborhood.
Having lost his family to the Holocaust, Max has developed a few close friendships with colorful characters who’ve stepped in to provide him with a semblance of family. While they can’t replace those he lost, they provide him with a connection to the world, and camaraderie that only comes from being “known.” They are a lively group, and I thought you might enjoy them. So, without further ado, I’d like to begin introducing Max’s “gang!”
Leading the pack is Sammy, an animated ball of energy and Max’s closest buddy. Sid is best described as a well-meaning, but undeniable curmudgeon, and Morrie is simply a sweet and kindly soul. Every week they meet for “a cuppa coffee and a pastry” at the Cafe Arabica, followed by pinochle in a nearby park.
However, rather than my telling you about them in the context of discussion, I thought you might enjoy taking a moment to peak beneath the tent of the world where Max lives. So, today I’d like to invite you to brew up a cup of your own coffee, pull up a virtual chair at the Cafe Arabica and meet the first of Max’s “Alter Kochers Club” (Yiddish for “Old Farts”), Sammy Fuchs. I hope you enjoy him as much as I do!
(NOTE: Quoted text is copyright protected by Sue Ross, 2012 and remains the exclusive property of the author. Use of this material without permission is prohibited.)
Sammy was small verging on elfin with hair an entity onto itself. Jutting out at odd angles it danced around a face defined by years of laughter. From the rakishly crinkled skin around his mouth, to his laughing eyes, Sammy was undeniably unique. In many ways, his hair served as an antenna that drew attention to his way of interacting with the world. While not immune from life’s challenges, he had traveled the years with sorrows miraculously held at bay.
‘It’s all about attitude,’ he’d explain, finding life much more to his liking when experienced as he wished it could be, rather than the way it really was.
Sammy’s family was from Munich, where before WWII Jews served as the heads of governments, banks, and universities. Fully assimilated within the dominant society, their experiences were decidedly different from those of Eastern Europeans. This contributed to a certain modicum of class distinction that sometimes spilled over into dealings with other ‘lansman.’ Possessing this self-inflated sense of worth as a German Jew bolstered Sammy’s already strong sense of personal power. He identified himself as the group’s self-acclaimed troublemaker, whose mission in life was to keep both his contemporaries, and the rest of the world on their toes — one of the few things left that gave him pleasure.
‘Sex is like a song,’ he’d say. ‘I can hum the melody, but can’t quite remember the words. And food? With these lousy dentures it’s impossible to chew anything to set my taste buds on fire! We come into the world gumming pabulum and we leave it the same way.’ For Sammy, making waves was not only a form of entertainment, but a skill elevated to an art form.