All posts in the Memoirs category


Published March 13, 2017 by rochellewisoff

Today Pegman takes us to Dublin.

Feel free to stroll around the area using the Google street view and grab any picture you choose to include in your post.

To enjoy stories inspired by the What Pegman Saw prompt or to submit your own 150-word story, visit the inLinkz button:

For guidelines and rules for the What Pegman Saw weekly writing prompt, visit the home page.

This week’s location was suggested by the talented Alicia over at Up From the Ashes. Thanks Alicia!

Thanks to Karen Rawson for running the show.


Sorry to be so late this week. I had a busy weekend and really didn’t think I’d make it at all. However the Pegman Force is strong and resistance was futile. Below is my choice from the Pegman Prompt Buffet. 

Genre: Anecdote

Word Count: 150


My mother cradled my newborn son in her arms. “Look at his Yiddishe punim. If you couldn’t have a girl, the least you could’ve done was name him after my father of blessed memory. Sam’s a good name.

I grimaced. “It’s not like I had control over the sex, Mom.”

She glowered and I could pretty much read her mind as soon as the words “control” and “sex” left my mouth. Her opinion of my marrying a goy was no secret.

“You can always come home,” she often reminded me—until the day I announced my pregnancy.

Despite her objections and disappointments, over the years Mom grew to accept her son-in-law and adore her grandson. No matter what, she insisted on calling him Sammy.

“What kind of name is Shannon for a Jewish boy?”

What better name for a baby born the day before St. Patrick’s day?


Shannon and his mother a few years later. 


Published March 4, 2017 by rochellewisoff

Today Pegman walks through a St. Louis neighborhood.

Feel free to stroll around the area using the Google street view and grab any picture you choose to include in your post.

To enjoy stories inspired by the What Pegman Saw prompt or to submit your own 150-word story, visit the inLinkz button:

For guidelines and rules for the What Pegman Saw weekly writing prompt, visit the home page.

Since I chose the destination this week, I had no choice but to write a story. Right? Of course, right! 

Even at 150 words…50 over my normal flashes, I found myself wishing for more. 😉  Below is my choice of prompt. It brought back some wonderful childhood memories.


Genre: Mostly Memoir-Some Fiction

Word Count: 150


            Compared to our ranch-style house in Kansas City, George Weinberg’s two-story in St. Louis seemed a veritable palace. I looked forward to sojourns with our cousins in the early 1960’s.

            Although George’s wife Carla, a German refugee, was generous and an impeccable housekeeper, her cooking left something to be desired—taste.  We didn’t dare complain. Carla had survived unbelievable hardship and she meant well, but how can a person ruin hamburgers?

            The summer I turned fifteen, Mom had dental surgery. Granting her request to be left alone, Dad took me to our favorite getaway for an overnight.

            It was dark when he woke me. “There’s a great diner around the corner.”

            Alas, Carla stood at the foot of the stairs, platter in hand. “Guten morgen!

            “Pancakes?” Dad’s stomach let out an audible whimper. “You shouldn’t have.”

            “Nonsense. I should let my guests leave hungry?”

            What’s the German word for ‘cowhide?’        


Published January 9, 2017 by rochellewisoff



It’s my great pleasure to start the year off by interviewing Friday Fictioneers regular, Sarah Potter who lives in a house on a hill, with panoramic views over the English Channel in SE England. Sharing the house are her husband, son and chocolate Labrador, all three of whom are great supporters of her literary endeavours. When not writing novels, she pens haiku and tanka poems, takes nature photographs, grapples with bindweed and snails in the garden, invents recipes, and sings mezzo-soprano.

What made you decide to be a writer?

My love affair with writing fiction and poetry blossomed at the age of eight. I could read before I went to school, which gave me a head-start with vocabulary. My mother read me lots of books as well; ones that were too advanced for me to read myself, such as The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White. Also, she made up stories off the top of her head. I remember in particular her tales about The Eccentric Man who liked to do things such as having operations without anesthetic (wince). At senior school, I wrote exercise-book length novellas: popstar or sci-fi romances mostly. These proved a great hit with my classmates, as well as my piano teacher, who showed one of my literary creations to her English teacher boyfriend. He responded with the words “That girl will be famous one day”. …Still waiting, although I do have the line of fame on my palm, so maybe there’s still time for his prophecy to come true. In my 20s, I was too busy making ends meet to have time to write much, apart from poems that moved almost imperceptibly between depressed rambles and black comedies. At the age of 36, I decided to go to evening class and study for an AS Level in English, which I passed with a straight A, with full marks for the creative writing module. The same year, I watched Kevin Costner’s movie, A Field of Dreams, in which he said something along the lines of “I’m 36 and if I don’t fulfill my dreams now, I never will”. That’s when I decided to write my first novel, a time travel romance set in a psychiatric hospital.       

What is your favorite genre? Why?

This is a difficult question, as I read quite widely. My choice of fiction at any one time depends upon my mood. I’m not good with high literary, as it’s too exhausting. On the other hand, I can’t deal with pulp fiction that has two-dimensional characters and unadventurous vocabulary. There’s nothing that’s more of a delight to me than discovering a brilliant trilogy and reading all the volumes back-to-back. In particular, I love apocalyptic science fiction, with Justin Cronin’s “The Passage trilogy” at the top of my list. This genre fascinates me, not out of a sense of morbidity, but because of its epic scale. Throughout history people have demonstrated an amazing spirit of survival against a backcloth of good and evil, and the apocalyptic scenario takes them right to the point of extinction, yet there’s a core group with the vision and determination to fight back, using a combination of practical skills and a profound sense of community.

I enjoy Nordic Noir, too, especially Karin Fossum, and Scandinavian authors in general, my favourite being the quirky Danish author, Peter Hoeg, who writes in an accessible literary style. The novel for which he’s the most famous is Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, but my personal favourite is his less well known satirical anthropological novel The Woman and the Ape.

“Desiccation” is mesmerizing. How did you come up with the idea? How long did it take you to write it?

desiccationDesiccation is number three out of five novels, and was originally titled “Spaced-out”. They say write about what you know, so I based the setting for the story on the boarding school I attended in the latter part of the 1960s. The school never came under attack by body-snatching interdimensional aliens, although I seem to remember daydreaming about such things when I should have been concentrating on lessons. I did three months of research, which included reading a fascinating natural history book all about woodlice/pillbugs, followed by three months of writing the first draft. I sent the second draft out to a literary agent who said “I applaud your imagination and your writing skills, but it would be very hard to convince a publisher to take on a mix of science fiction, fantasy, and humour written by a first-time author”.  After this, I cast Desiccation aside and left it to marinade for ages, then rewrote it, then left it to marinade again, until in 2015 my family persuaded me to have a go at indie publishing one of my novels. My son voted for Desiccation, on the grounds that he’d found the first draft so exciting that he’d stayed up all night reading it and spent all the following day falling asleep at school.

I’m reading “Noah Padgett and the Dog-People” which, so far, is a rare treat. What can you tell us about it?

This is my fourth novel. I’m marketing it as a middle-grade children’s novel, although I suspect that most of my readers are aged 40 plus (much the noah-padgett-and-the-dog-peoplesame as with Desiccation). I like to think of Noah Padgett and the Dog-People as a multi-layered crossover novel that children and adults can enjoy at different levels. For instance, there’s Sergeant Salt and his Mercenary Lurcher Band, which is my joke on The Beatles’ album, Sergeant Pepper and his Lonely Hearts Club Band. Children possibly won’t pick up on this, but they will still find the characters entertaining. The book is available as an audiobook, as well on kindle and in paperback. For me, hearing my book read by talented actress Mil Nicholson, who’s brilliant with the characters’ voices and accents, is almost as exciting as having it made into a movie.

The inspiration behind the story is my chocolate Labrador, who was a puppy at the time of writing. I kept having anxiety dreams in which I turned around for a moment and she disappeared, and the more I thought about it, the more the kidnapping of a beloved dog seemed like a disturbing central theme to a novel. Added to this, my mother used to breed and show dogs and my first job after leaving school was as a kennel maid, so again, it was writing about what I knew.  Here’s my novel’s three sentence hook…

When Noah Padgett and his chocolate Labrador puppy disappear through a computer screen, they find themselves in the Zyx-dimension, where the main species is Canis sapiens. Bluebell soon falls into the paw-hands of deranged entrepreneur Monsieur Percival Poodle, who likes to collect alien specimens and believes himself above the law. Meanwhile, Noah ends up in a high security hospital for criminally insane Canis sapiens, with no apparent means of escape and terrified for his beloved puppy’s safety.

Bluebell in the furry flesh. © Sarah Potter

Bluebell in the furry flesh. © Sarah Potter

Who is the author who inspires you the most?

Apart from Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, you mean? ( 😉 ) This is a hard question to answer, as different authors have inspired me at different times in my life. These days I’m looking for five things in a book.

  • I find it so engaging that it compels me to sneak read it at breakfast time.
  • I care passionately about the fate of its characters.
  • The writing is crafted so beautifully that it gives me profound “wow” moments.
  • It teaches me something new, including techniques to improve my own writing.
  • When I’ve finished reading it, I suffer withdrawal symptoms and can’t settle to read anything else for a week or two.

I’ve already mentioned some of the authors who fit this bill, but who to choose above all others?  Here are the three authors who’ve taught me the most about writing as a craft: Donna Tartt, Rose Tremain, and Stephen King, and of those three, I would say that Donna Tartt triumphs over all.

How often do you write?

When I’m writing the first draft of a novel, I write for about five hours a day from Monday to Friday. For rewriting or editing, it’s around about three hours a day. Most weeks I write a haiku poem for the regular “Monday Morning Haiku” feature on my blog. Time permitting, I also participate in Friday Fictioneers, which I love. Any other writing is done at random times and scribbled on scraps of paper, which I scatter about the house or stuff in my coat pockets. Then I have to go on a hunt for them, having forgotten where I’ve put them, rather like a squirrel with its winter food hoard.  

Do you have any other major projects in the works?

I’ve an idea for a new work, which I’m researching at the moment. This is for a “genre bending” novel, better known as mashup fiction. This involves taking a literary classic that’s in the public domain and melding it with a genre. An example of this is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. At the moment, I’m reading the original Pride and Prejudice, and then I’m going to compare it to the mashup version and its sequel, Pride and Prejudice: Dreadfully Ever After. If I decide this type of novel is for me, I will go ahead writing it, with a view to submitting it to a traditional publisher or two. I’m keeping it close to my chest about which public domain work I intend to slaughter or enhance!

What are your writing goals for the future?

Ultimately, I would like to write a novel that literary agents and traditional publishers are willing to take a punt on. On the other hand, I don’t want to end up stuck with churning out novel after novel of the same ilk, unless I adore that ilk; otherwise, it will give me literary indigestion and a writer’s ulcer. If I can achieve recognition for my brand, namely “quirky fiction”, rather than for a particular genre, I will die happy.

Meanwhile, in the latter part of 2017, I might indie publish a third novel, most likely my medieval-style sword and sorcery fantasy adventure. This will be my experiment into whether it’s easier to market a novel that fits into a recognised subgenre, while still allowing for quirkiness. So far, my experience of marketing sucks.          

What advice would you give other writers?

  • Read widely.
  • Learn techniques and pick up skills from other authors, but develop your own voice.
  • Put your work under the microscopes of trusted beta readers who write well themselves and/or have editing experience. Don’t make changes immediately, but put the critiques aside for a week or two, especially if they annoy you! When you’ve calmed down and left your manuscript to marinade, compare the reader reports. If all of the readers pick up on a particular problem, then this problem needs addressing.
  • Don’t rely solely on your computer’s spellchecker.
  • Keep your writing muscles exercised, but don’t push it on days when you’re not in the mood. Go out for a walk or to the gym, meditate, have a sleep, clean the house, brush the dog, sing, dance, whatever. Anything other than writing total rubbish and beating yourself up about it.
  • Observe life closely, through all of your senses.
  • Give yourself plenty of thinking time.
  • Eat regular meals and don’t prop yourself up on strong coffee and donuts.
  • Don’t give up your day job and end up starving in your garret.


Connect with Sarah: 

Independent Author Network 

Sarah’s Books on Amazon:
Noah Padgett & the Dog-People



Published December 19, 2016 by rochellewisoff


“Instigated by Dawn Landau”  at Tales from the Motherland

To join us for this project: 1) Write your post and publish it (please copy and paste the instructions from this post, into yours) 2) Click on the blue frog. 3) That will take you to another window, where you can past the URL to your post. (folks have trouble with this, but it’s not that hard. 4)Follow the prompts, and your post will be added to the Blog Party List. The inLinkz will be open until January 3, 2017

Please note that only blog posts that include a list of 50 (or an attempt to write 50) things that made you feel Happy or 50 things that you are Grateful for, will be included. Please don’t add a link to a post that isn’t part of this exercise; I will remove it. Aside from that one caveat, there is no such thing as too much positivity. Share your happy thoughts, your gratitude; be creative; be happy and grateful, and help us flood the blogosphere with both!

50 Things I’m Thankful For

  1. Good health
  2. My husband Jan airport selfie
  3. Our 45th wedding anniversary in November-celebrating it with good friends
  4. My trip to California in November to do a radio interview
  5. Time spent painting and bonding with Olive while in Californiaart-time-with-olive
  6. Time spent with Olive’s other grandma while in California
  7. Enjoying the visit with my son Travis and daughter in love, Jaimi (Olive’s wonderful parents)

    L-R Grandma Dru, Jaimi, Travis with Olive and Bubbie Rochelle

    L-R Grandma Dru, Jaimi, Travis with Olive and Bubbie Rochelle

  8. Decorating cupcakes with my new daughter in love, Sarah for her wedding receptioncupcake-bonding
  9. Time spent in Chicago celebrating my youngest son, Christian’s marriage to Sarah
  10. Chatting with my eldest son, Shannon at the receptionfamily-fields-at-reception
  11. Friday Fictioneers and the friends I’ve made as a result
  12. My daughter in love, Sayda, a gifted horse breeder who did NOT perish in the World Trade Center on 911
  13. My third novel, As One Must, One Can debuted this monthaomoc-titled-cover-art
  14. Coffee Table Book of Illustrations – Companion my trilogy of novels to be published soon
  15. My first Barnes and Noble Book Signing in AprilBN with Kimmee
  16. A nearby indoor lap pool
  17. Good watercolors
  18. Pencils
  19. Laughter and things to laugh about
  20. Freedom to pursue my dreams
  21. My home
  22. Colors, particularly purple.
  23. Dry white wine
  24. My computer
  25. Music
  26. Dance
  27. My faith
  28. Freedom to practice my faith
  29. Good books, many of them written by friendsphoto 4
  30. Other writers
  31. Warmth in the winter
  32. Hot and cold running water – not everyone’s so fortunate
  33. My doctor who is a strong, beautiful woman
  34. My dentist who is also a strong beautiful woman
  35. My one and only brother, Jeff WisoffPSK and my brother
  36. The Miracle of the internet and Skype (living the science fiction of my youth)
  37. The ability to draw and express myself.
  38. Air conditioning in the summer
  39. FlowersBubblle Blowing
  40. Dogs and cats even though I don’t currently own a pet. They love unconditionally.
  41. Soft sheets to sleep on
  42. My car
  43. Ears that hear
  44. My mind
  45. Eyes that work…perhaps not as well as they used to.
  46. Eyeglasses and contact lenses.rochelle-with-glasses
  47. Money in the bank. Enough to be comfortable.
  48. Fingers that work. I’m blessed, after 40 years of cake decorating not to have carpal tunnel or crippling arthritis.
  49. Plenty of water to drink.
  50. Hot black coffee in the morning.rochelle-with-mug-and-books


21 October 2016

Published October 19, 2016 by rochellewisoff


Alicia Jamtaas has been published! Her short story, “A Private Death” has been included in the fall issue of  “Sweet Tree Review.” aliciaWay to go Alicia!

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The next photo is the PROMPT. Remember, all photos are property of the photographer, donated for use in Friday Fictioneers only. They shouldn’t be used for any other purpose without express permission. It is proper etiquette to give the contributor credit. 


PHOTO PROMPT © Claire Fuller

PHOTO PROMPT © Claire Fuller

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Genre: Anecdote

Word Count: 100


            Sunday was “Fan Tan” night when I was eight. My family played the card game for pennies.    

            “Where’s that seven of hearts?” Dad tossed a copper on the table with mock disgust. “Shelly? You only have one card left?”

            “The little brat’s got it,” said my fourteen-year-old brother pitching his coin.

            I batted my eyelashes. “Why, Jeffrey, whatever do you mean?” With a dramatic flourish, I laid down the seven. “I win!”

            It’s not the victories I remember as much as the unprecedented peace between my parents, my father’s relentless teasing, and laughing so hard I nearly wet my pants.




14 October 2016

Published October 12, 2016 by rochellewisoff

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The next photo is the PROMPT. Remember, all photos are property of the photographer, donated for use in Friday Fictioneers only. They shouldn’t be used for any other purpose without express permission. It is proper etiquette to give the contributor credit. 

PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

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Genre: Hysterical Faction

Word count: 100

For a few of us, Wednesday, 12 October 2016, is not only Friday Fictioneers but also Yom Kippur, the highest of Jewish holy days. For that reason, I’ve taken the liberty of rerunning the following story from April 3, 2013. A handful of  you might remember the prompt and even have a story you want to repeat. 

Click Here to see the original post.

The Ashamnu  is a traditional prayer of repentance  recited on Yom Kippur, the Jewish highest of holy days or day of atonement. The word “ah-SHAM-nu” means we are guilty or we have sinned.  


             Rhoda cast furtive glances in all directions, inhaled throat-burning smoke, held it, and then exhaled, handing the joint to Marcus.

            “Don’t be so paranoid.” His bloodshot eyes glittered.

            Candles illuminated the corners of his darkened bedroom. In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida blared from the stereo and patchouli incense tickled her nose.

            After they’d downed an entire bag of chips, Marcus plopped his yarmulke on his head.

            “So much for fasting. Let’s get back before they miss us.”

            Side-by-side they sneaked into the synagogue and giggled through repentance prayers.

            Every year afterward, when Rhoda dutifully attended services, she chuckled as she recalled the “High” Holiday.



Original Artwork from 1971 © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Original Artwork from 1971 © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields


Published July 31, 2016 by rochellewisoff

Recently, I had a discussion with another blogger about some of the stories I’ve written that reflect my family background. Most of what I know came through stories my mother told me. I’ve always known I was of Ashkenazi Jewish descent and that my grandfather came from Poland around 1903 at the age of 19 with “nothing but the clothes on his back.” According to my mother, he was a self-taught tailor. 

I was never really close to my grandfather. In retrospect, there are so many questions I wish I’d asked him. But as a cousin and I’ve agreed, he might not have answered them. The following story is one that molds fact and fiction into the conversation I never had with Grandpa. 


Original Artwork © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Original Artwork © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields


“Mom, do I havta go?”

“You’re his baby granddaughter.”

Rhoda Wiseman popped a piece of bagel slathered with cream cheese into her mouth. She savored it on her tongue and chewed with slow deliberation. How could she worm her way out of this weekly torture?

“I need to stay home and do my homework”

Mom picked up a ceramic salt shaker from the ten-year-old Tappan range and pretended to speak into it as if it were a microphone. “Sunday, July 18, 1965. Schools in Kansas City are out for the summer and you are there.”

“You want me to be prepared for junior high, don’t you?”

“Nice try.”

“Tricia just got a new bike. She says I can take it for a spin today.”

“You can ride when we get back, and don’t talk with your mouth full.”

Rhoda studied her mother for chinks in her armor. Swallowing with an exaggerated gulp, she slurped her milk and slammed down the aluminum glass with a clank-thump on the Formica counter. “They go to church on Sunday nights.”

“I wish you’d find some nice Jewish kids to play with.” Mom muttered and lifted the metal basket from the coffee percolator. She dumped the grounds into the garbage can under the sink. “We won’t be there that long and being obnoxious won’t help. Now finish your breakfast and then go get dressed.”

Sliding off the stool, Rhoda dropped down on the cool tile, embraced Mom’s knees and planted frantic kisses on her shins. “Please, Miz’ Wiseman have mercy. Whip me. Beat me. But don’ make me gooooo!”

Rolling her eyes, Mom swooshed her hand through the air like a soaring eagle and then pressed the back of it against her forehead. “Enough, Sarah Heartburn.”

Standing, Rhoda leaned her head on her mother’s shoulder and sniffed, making puppy noises. Tabu cologne swelled her nostrils. “You smell so nice, Mommy.”

“Flattery won’t work either. You’re going and that’s final.”

Mom and Me (age 13)

After two hours of begging, fuming and fretting, Rhoda slouched beside her mother in Grandpa’s living room. She tilted back her head until her neck ached and watched the second hand trudge past the Hebrew characters on the wall clock over the divan. She tippy-tapped the rhythm with her toes, making screaking noises on the heavy plastic slipcovers under her sweaty thighs, until Mom’s frost-chilled glare said, “Cut it out or else!”

Slumping forward, Rhoda dug her elbows into her knees, propped her chin on her hands and concentrated on a pair of lead-crystal seals on the coffee table. The two figures faced each other with balls perched on their noses. Shimmering sunlight made amoeba-shaped patterns through the smooth-glass curves.

She watched Grandpa’s inverted image, distorted in the translucent orbs. His dual reflections faded into an astral haze. From somewhere in outer space a voice intoned her name.

“Rhoda! Grandpa asked you a question.”

Snapping open her eyes, she felt heat rush from her neck, all the way to her forehead. She forced the corners of her wooden mouth to bend. The old sourpuss didn’t return her smile.

            His rawboned fingers, yellow-stained and freckled, curved around his easy-chair’s armrests. Sunken into the threadbare seat cushion, his timeworn torso blended in with it. Concave cheeks, stippled with day old bristle flanked a pockmarked bulb of a nose. His eyes, a mix of tenebrous blue and somber gray, scourged her with an implied tongue lashing.

“Your mother says you read. What do you read?” His thick accent and gruff voice scathed her. 

“I—I’m reading The Diary of Anne Frank. And I—um—I like Sholom Aleichem’s stories.”

“Your mother also tells me you go to church?” The last word spat out like an unexpected mouthful of curdled milk.  

“Once. With Tricia. Just to visit.”

He shrugged. “Visit ‘sh’mizzit’. Too much time you spend mit Goyim.”

Rhoda heaved an inward sigh when he turned his attention back to Mom. “Evie, this girl’s alone too much.”

“I make good money, Dad. We need the extra income.”

“What about Nathan?” 

“The restaurant takes a lot of work. He’s just beginning to break even.”

Grandpa flew into a Yiddish tirade.

Rhoda was glad she didn’t understand his words, although she had a pretty good idea of their meaning. Every visit eventually led to his low opinion of the man, a nominal Jew, who’d “spitefully” married his daughter and wooed her away from her family’s orthodoxy.

Mom stood, the hurt in her chocolate-brown eyes thinly masked by a Max Factor smile, and picked up her purse. Leaning over, she squeezed his angular shoulder. “Take care of yourself, Dad. Call if you need anything.”

Without looking up, he nodded and lit a half-smoked cigarette, as crumpled as the man himself. Leveling his lethal eyes on Rhoda he pointed at her with a gnarled finger. “Remember your tribe.”

Afterward, Mom took her to Wimpy’s Drive-In for an Italian steak sandwich and a Coke. They sat at the counter on tall stools in the concrete and glass enclosure that had been added so patrons could enjoy “inside dining.”

Onion and hamburger aromas, like favorite playmates, frolicked about the cramped space. Relishing the grease-laden air, Rhoda dredged a French fry through a ketchup mound. “Do you have to tell him everything?”

“He’s your grandfather.”

“I suppose you told him how much I hate visiting him, too.”

“Of course not. It would hurt his feelings.”

Rhoda’s mind flashed back five years to her brother’s bar mitzvah. Fresh-faced and golden in his new suit and fringed prayer shawl, he took his place on the bema, the platform in front of the congregation, before the Torah scroll. The sanctuary echoed with his melodic cantillation. Afterward, the rabbi proclaimed him his star pupil. Even Dad, who rarely attended services, beamed.

Over tables loaded with sweets and melons, guests piled their plates and sang Aaron’s praises.

“Such poise.”

“What a voice.”

“A future cantor.”

What did “Crabby Appleton” have to say? Did he compliment his grandson’s impeccable pronunciations? Commend him for his hard work? Ha! Although Aaron had only made a couple of mistakes, the old buzzard couldn’t wait to point them out in front of everyone.

No, she decided, Smiling Sam, as Daddy called him, was the coldest of all cold fish. “Feelings? What feelings?”

Smiling Sam

Two weeks later, Dad, the music aficionado of the family, brought home a record. “Especially for Rhoda.” He lifted the console lid, took the disk from its cardboard sleeve and lowered it onto the spindle. “New Broadway play.”

She stretched out on the carpeted floor, folding her arms behind her and listened to familiar characters leap from the pages of her books.

“A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? ” Zero Mostel, as Tevye the milkman, spoke over the solo violin, introducing the villagers of Anatevka before leading the cast in the song, “Tradition.”

 Mom, dusting knickknacks, swayed to the Klesmer style music. She set a figurine on the “what-not” shelf above the stereo. “You know who’d love this record?”

The following Sunday, at the dinner table, Rhoda suffocated under the weight of Grandpa’s scrutiny. He watched her every move, commenting on what she ate, how much she ate and the way she held her fork. Why did Mom have to invite him over? Couldn’t she have just loaned him the record?

He carved his steak into square chunks; each one the same size and shape. Spearing one of them with his fork, he tangled his lips around it and chomped it between his clacking false teeth. “Nu? Where’s Aaron?”

“Out with the guys for a final hurrah before he leaves for M.U. He said to tell you how sorry he is to miss you tonight, Sam.” Dad winked at Rhoda who choked on a giggle.

In his haste to make his getaway, Aaron had caught his toe on a sidewalk crack and tumbled headlong into the hedges. Leaves clinging to his hair, spitting dirt and sticks, he stumbled to the car. “Call me when the coast is clear.”

Rhoda tossed the last bite of salad into her mouth and stacked her empty plates. She bolted from her chair to the kitchen. “I’ll wash the dishes.” 

Mom followed her. “They can wait.” She lowered her voice. “It won’t kill you to join us in the living room.”

Rhoda groaned; her ulterior motive thwarted. “But I’ve heard the record a dozen times.”

“One more time! With feeling!” Mom turned to leave, halted and sent a searing gaze over her shoulder. “Remember, Rhoda. Hurt people hurt people.”

“Remember this. Remember that.” Muttering under her breath, Rhoda plopped down on the round eggshell-blue loveseat the Wisemans fondly referred to as the “cuddle chair”.

Grandpa eased himself onto a straight-back chair beside the stereo and laid his hands on the arm rests. Mom patted the sofa cushion. “Dad, wouldn’t you be more comfortable here?”

He pointed to his ears that hung like draperies on either side of his gaunt and balding head. “Not so good the hearing.”

“Now for the pièce de résistance.” Dad set the needle in position on the record and twisted the volume knob. “Enjoy!”

If Grandpa did enjoy it, Rhoda couldn’t tell from his expression; an impenetrable; brick wall with cement reinforcements.

On the third cut, Tevye lamented his poverty to God and then broke into song. “If I were a rich man ya ha dee ha dee ha dee ah dee a deeya deeya dum, all day long I’d biddy biddy bum if I were a wealthy man.”

In a stunned moment Rhoda would remember the rest of her life, Grandpa’s gravel-hard eyes transformed to liquid quartz. The staid precipice of his stolid chin quivered and the immutable line above it trembled upward at each corner. “My father sang just like dat.”

Her paradigm forever shifted, she dreamed that night of Jewish people in Czarist Russia. They clasped hands and danced around one man. Instead of Tevye the milkman, she saw Sam the tailor, arms upraised and a broad smile on his face.

The next morning she coaxed open her crusty eyelids. Pain stabbed her temples and her throat felt like she’d swallowed broken glass. She shivered and pulled the blankets around her neck. “Mo-om, I don’t—cough, cough—feel good.” 

Mom, in her sleep-wrinkled nightgown, her hair swathed in toilet tissue to preserve her weekly salon investment, shuffled into the room. Sinking down on the bed, she slipped a thermometer under Rhoda’s tongue. She counted three minutes by the clock, took it out and held it up to the light with an apologetic shake of her head. “101º. Dad’s already left and Aaron spent the night with his friends. I’m afraid you’ll have to stay with Grandpa.”

Rhoda moaned. “I’m old enough to stay by myself.”

Snuggling under a feather comforter on the couch in Grandpa’s spare room, Rhoda snoozed most of the morning.

From the basement below his sewing machine’s whir and click soothed her. Even though he’d retired ten years ago, he still did some odd tailoring jobs from home. Mom said it kept his fingers agile and his mind alive. Rhoda snickered. “Alive” was never a word she would ascribe to her craggy grandfather.

By mid afternoon her febrile headache subsided. She sat up and surveyed the stark-white room that boasted no pictures to break the monotony. Against one wall stood a half-full bookcase with a portable TV on the top shelf. An antique bureau graced the opposite wall.

A ragged, leather-bound photograph album on the end table beside the couch intrigued her. A yellowed note written on parchment in a foreign script lay on top of it. She rolled onto her side and reached for it.

“You’re feeling better, yes?”

“Much—” Yanking back her hand, she looked up, expecting his usual condemnation-glare. Instead, his eyes bore an unfamiliar softness. “—better.”

“Still warm.” He pressed his cool palm against her forehead, gently pushing her back to the pillow.

“You want to see?” Scooting a chair to the couch, he sat, laid the album in his lap and opened it. He skimmed his finger over a photograph of a bearded man and a woman wearing a hair-covering babushka. In front of them stood two children; a boy in knee pants and girl with waist-length curls. Grandpa’s thumb caressed her image. “Fayga. Meineh schvester. My sister. She is ten there. I am five, I think. Mama. Papa. Killed soon after this.”

“My great grandpa?” Rhoda’s heart banged against her chest. “The one who sang like Tevye? How?”

“Pogrom. Murdering Cossacks. Fayga and me, we hid under the bed.”

“You saw?”

“I saw.” Turning his face to the window, he shut his eyes. “They burned first the synagogue. Rosinia, our shtetl, our village, our friends, our lives—gone.” He snapped his fingers. “Like dat.”

After a few minutes of tight silence, he opened his eyes and turned back to Rhoda. “Fayga, mit a doll’s face.” Encircling her hand in his, he raised her fingers to his lips. “You look just like her.”

Rhoda’s cheeks blazed. Questions stuck in her throat like cold oatmeal.

Grandpa let go of her hand and continued to speak. “Again the Cossacks come to Poland to ‘recruit’ soldiers into the Russian army. It’s 1903. I am seventeen and live in Anapol with Fayga and her husband, Yankel, and their twin daughters. She hides me under a pile of diapers and soiled clothes. Oy, the stink.” He grinned like a schoolboy and pinched his nose. “The Cossacks don’t like it much either. They leave. Fayga kisses me and shoves me out the back door.” Grandpa’s smile dissolved. “‘Go,’ she says. ‘Go to America.’”

“You came by yourself when you were Aaron’s age?”

“Like an animal in the ship’s steerage level.” His eyes became faraway shadows. “When I come to New York—Ellis Island—I have no one.”

“How did you get to Kansas City?”

Grandpa pulled a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket. Sliding one out, he poked it into his mouth. He took a matchbook from the same pocket, tore off a match and struck it. Lighting the cigarette, he sucked it and hissed a smoke stream through pursed lips. “To see dis old man now you would not know what a clever boy he was. And at dat time I don’t speak English.”

“Who taught you?” 

“You live on the street, you learn quick.” 

He turned the album page and showed her a leaflet with the drawing of a man on a horse on the front. “I decide I will go to Texas and be a cowboy.”

“This isn’t Texas, Grandpa.” 

            “My granddaughter, the genius.” He waved his thumb in the air. “Sometimes I get a ride—a meal, a bed to sleep. A job here and there. Weeks. Months. Pennsylvania. Ohio. Illinois. And so on.”

            Rhoda hugged her pillow to her chest and sat upright. “Wow! You must’ve had gobs of adventures! What was it like?”

“Stories for another time, yes?” Grandpa pinched her cheek and set the album back on the end table. “On Friday night I reach Missouri. I’m hungry and tired. I find a synagogue. A widower who lives alone with his daughter invites me to spend Shabbes with them. So Cowboy, ‘sh’mow-boy’, I become a tailor and marry the prettiest girl in Kansas City, may she rest in peace.” 

“What happened to Aunt Fayga and Uncle Yankel and the twins?”

He picked up the note that had fallen to the floor and translated. “‘24 August 1940. My dear brother Shmuel, Thank you for the check. With what we have saved it is enough for all of us to leave Warsaw. We cannot wait to see you.’” He ground out his cigarette in the bottom of an empty coffee cup. “After dat—nothing.”

Paralyzed with revelation, Rhoda stared at her quivering grandfather, his eyes heavy with fresh sorrow. His past became her present. Huddled between a dirt floor and a musty bed, she watched Cossacks breaking through the door. Shuddering, she heard the Nazis goose-stepping by, their thick boots clopping on the pavement.

Sliding onto his lap, she snuggled against him.

“Tonight, I will tell my grandson.” Grandpa crushed her in his embrace. “Wonderful Bar Mitzvah.”smiling sam the tailor

Story published in


Available Here on Kindle.

A few print copies available from the Author.

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