I'm walking the dog in Farmer's Field and this bunch of guys comes up on me. Four or five guys, couple years older than me, 16 or 17. Colored guys. The dog barks at them.
They ask have I got the time and I look at my watch like a dummy instead of running which I should of done right when I saw them but it was dark so I couldn't tell they were colored. Not that it should matter.
I'm by myself except for the dog and it's almost 10 o'clock. I know what time because I told them when they asked. So they know I've got a watch too.
I'm already a dummy to be out there by myself at 10. Dad says Don't walk the dog in Farmer's Field at night. But it's the best place. If I walk the dog down the street, people come out and yell when he craps on their lawns.
One of the colored kids bumps into me. He says Oops but I know he's not apologizing. I know I'm in a lot of trouble.
Another one bumps me on the other side a lot harder. Meantime one of the others goes down on the ground behind me, the old all-fours trick. The first guy pushes me backward and I go over. Good thing I put my hand behind my head before I landed. I could be dead.
Then these guys are on top of me punching and kicking. I'm covering my face with my elbows for protection but there's five of them and they're a lot bigger than me. The dog is barking but he's no help. They just laugh at him.
They turn me over on my stomach and pull the wallet out of the back of my pants. They yank off the watch too. If it didn't have an expansion band they might not of gotten it but then again they might. A leather band, they'd of just pulled until it broke.
They yank me up off the ground and tell me to empty out my pockets. I'm thinking I've got about 35¢ on me. But when I pull my pockets out there's the silver thing lying in my hand along with the coins.
I squeeze my fist so tight the silver thing digs into my palm but it's too late. This tall skinny kid says What you hiding and he pries my fingers open. Then he twists my arm up behind my back so I'm in a half-nelson, he's got my arm so high up it feels like he's going to break it. I shout out something stupid about It's my grandpa's and Come on you've got my wallet already why'n't you let me alone. He just twists my arm up higher. I'm hoping they can't see me crying.
Let me see that thing says one of his buddies. The tall skinny kid waves it over his head but they can't tell what it is in the dark. His buddy says Bring it over here and lights a match. I'm hoping they'll get distracted and maybe I can make a break. The tall skinny kid relaxes my arm so it doesn't hurt quite so much but he doesn't let it go either and now the others are holding onto me too. I'm done for. Don't walk the dog in Farmer's Field at night because of the colored
is what Dad said.
The tall skinny kid pokes the silver thing toward me and asks What's this kid? His voice sounds like someone I know.
The writing on it. I can't read it for shit. Jeez does he sound familiar.
It's from the Bible.
What you mean Bible? It's in some other language.
Oh you a Jew? Kid's a Christ killer he calls out to the others. Hey you killed Christ you know that? Then they all start hitting me again and yelling dirty Jew dirty Jew dirty Jew
. The dog hears the yelling and barks louder. It sounds like he's saying dirty Jew
I start freshman year at Hyde Park High School next Tuesday. I hear it's full of guys like these, hoods and coloreds, colored hoods. Rickie calls it Hood Park not Hyde Park. Schwartz's older brother is a junior at Hyde Park. He got beat up last year in the boys bathroom by some colored hoods. They're sending Schwartz just the same. Schwartz is going to Hyde Park, Rickie's going, I'm going, Lennie and Lug are going too. A lot of others from Kenwood School aren't though. Steve Sokol's family moved to Highland Park couple months ago right after Kenwood graduation so Steve could go to New Trier in fall. Harry Weinstein too, he moved to Glencoe just last week. That girlfriend of Minerva Stein's, whatshername, she moved to Wilmette. Minerva's family isn't moving but Minerva's going to the University of Chicago Lab School instead of Hyde Park. She'll be a U of C rich kid. They've got a few colored at the U of C but they're rich too. Got to be, colored or not. Hannah Koenigsberg, she's moving north but to Skokie so she'll go to Evanston High. There's coloreds at Evanston she says but it's nothing compared to Hyde Park. The colored at Evanston aren't hoods she says. No colored at New Trier at all. Hood Park
Mom and Dad won't move, that's what they've been saying. Dad'd have to drive an hour and a half to his office if he moved north to one of those suburbs plus come up with the money to buy a house too, no apartments for rent in Glencoe Winnetka Highland Park. He doesn't want to move south to Flossmoor or Homewood either. Beth and I'd have to go to Bloom with those hoody kids from Chicago Heights and that's as bad as Hyde Park for God's sake he says.
Mom says What about going west Charles? Not many Jews in Oak Park he says. What about those other suburbs she says. What he says, River Forest Maywood Franklin Park with the Poles and Italians and Bohunks? Why not just go to Cicero while you're at it and we could live with the Mob. I can do without the sarcasm she says. Hyde Park High was fine when I went there, I had lots of friends, I got a perfectly good education she says. That was a long time ago Jean he says. Where are these people's principles she says. They live in Hyde Park all their lives then they scoot out to the suburbs on account of a few colored moving in, what kind of Jews are they anyway? The kind who want to see their kids get through high school without them landing in the hospital he says.
I ask what about the Lab School and he says Who's going to pay for it? This isn't your business Steve Mom says. Let's stop talking about this in front of the kinder
she tells Dad and gives him that look of hers. Wonder if he wants to move but she doesn't.
If we stay in Hyde Park I'll never see half my friends again. If we move I'll never see the other half. Mom and Dad don't care though and it doesn't matter anyway. Beth is staying at Kenwood for seventh grade and I start at Hood Park tomorrow. I better not tell them about this.
I shouldn't of been out there with the silver thing in my pocket in the first place. I should of given it to Grandpa the moment I found it and I would of but they were so busy talking about Grandpa going into the hospital. Grandpa had a blackout behind the wheel, went off the road in Jackson Park and hit a tree, they're taking him to Michael Reese to see why he blacked out. But the car's not in such bad shape. Mom says he probably'll have to stop driving and give it to us.
She'll have to learn how to drive.
I'm sitting next to Dad listening to them and poking my hand between the couch cushions for fun and I feel it, something metal, sort of oval-shaped, definitely not a coin. I'm not going to ask Dad to get up so I can lift the cushion and see what's there, it's one of those conversations where they get mad when you interrupt. I just pull the thing out and stick it in my shirt pocket while they're not paying attention. I don't have to look at it. I know what it is by how it feels. I know exactly what it's going to look like even though I've never seen it in my life.
We were over at Grandma and Grandpa's that night four years ago too, before his blackouts started. Grandpa was telling stories, how his own grandpa was some kind of a jeweler, he made this silver thing by hand, carved letters on it in Hebrew so small you had to use a magnifying glass to read them. Grandpa says Some day I'll give it to you Steve and reaches into his pocket but it's not there. He runs into the bedroom and tears everything apart, then he starts cussing and gets Grandma upset too. Finally he says The colored kid stole it.
I went and found the colored kid to warn him so he wouldn't go to jail but that got screwed up too. He and I were out all day and all night looking for it, the silver thing. We took the wrong El train and wound up at Riverview Amusement Park way out on the North Side. We never even found it. Now I know why. It just fell out of Grandpa's pocket. It's been sitting between the couch cushions for four years.
What was that kid's name anyway?
Jesse. Jesse Owens Trimble, only they called him Sass because of that smart mouth of his. I said maybe we could stay friends. He said I'm nuts on account of he's colored. I didn't even
think about that at the time. I mean, I was ten. I guess I know what he meant now.
It's funny I never ran into him again. His mother Mattie was the cashier at Grandpa's theater, the Calumet, and still is. But I didn't. Never saw him after that. I was ten or eleven. I'm fourteen now so he'd be fifteen. Wonder how he's doing.
I stick the silver thing in my shirt pocket. Beth doesn't see and she's sitting right there next to me on the couch. She'd of snitched if she noticed. Not that I'd tell her. I figure I'll show it to Grandpa next day and he'll be so happy to get it back he'll give it to me right on the spot, not wait until after he dies. Which he's in the hospital and what if he did? Die I mean.
After I stick it in my pocket I forget it's there until I get home. When I get undressed for bed is the first I ever get a look at it.
It has that Bible verse on it in Hebrew like Grandpa said, teeny tiny little letters in Hebrew, so small I don't know how his own grandfather even made them. He must of been a pretty good jeweler, his grandpa.
I can't read it. They don't teach Hebrew at Sinai Temple. You can't even be bar mitzvah at Sinai, just confirmed, that's how Reform it is. Rickie is Conservative, he had his bar mitzvah last year at Rodfei Zedek. It went on so long I nearly peed in my pants. Rickie says When is your bar mitzvah Steve and I say I'm going to be confirmed instead and he says What are you some kind of Catholic? Very funny.
Hebrew letters so small you'd need a magnifying glass to read them if you could read them. I know what it said even though I couldn't read the Hebrew. What doth the Lord require of thee? To do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God. I set it on the night table and just lay there looking at it until I fell asleep.
Real silver too, soft enough to nick with your thumbnail. I put a nick on the back. Just a little one next to the others already there. Grandpa might of done one when he was a kid. Maybe his own grandpa did the other. That guy, the guy who made the thing, back in Lithuania, he'd be my great-great-great-grandpa. I don't even know what his name was. One mark for him
one mark for Grandpa
now one for me. Maybe a fourth mark someday for my own grandson if I have one.
That's what I was thinking while I was falling asleep. Only not now because this time it's gone for good.