Kenneth Kapp was a Professor of Mathematics, a ceramicist, a welder, and an IBMer
until downsized in 2000. He taught yoga until COVID-19 decided
otherwise. He continues writing, living with his wife and beagle in
Shorewood, Wisconsin. He enjoys chamber music and mysteries. He's a
homebrewer and runs whitewater rivers.
Please visit www.kmkbooks.com.
At the beginning of November 1938, Gerhart Franck put the picture of his father in his WWI uniform along with his Iron Cross on an easel in the storefront window. When he closed in the evening, he would draw the curtains behind them. Franck & Sons, Clothiers had been in the same location in Bonn since 1905. He reassured his wife, “Sabina, we have nothing to fear. The Iron Cross is in the window; they will see we’re also part of the Reich. Besides, this is the birthplace of Beethoven and here people don’t behave like barbarians.”
Nine days later, Jewish businesses and homes were vandalized and destroyed throughout Germany. The Iron Cross did not protect Franck & Sons. The large Bonn Synagogue on the banks of the Rhine was burnt to the ground.
Gerhart remembered the verse but couldn’t laugh of the irony of how one day, or the moment when someone broke the store window and set fire to the curtain with the Iron Cross felt like a thousand years. He wanted to cry since surely the destruction of their synagogue was a thousand times worse. Is a thousand times a thousand an eon? He bit his lips, perhaps God had indeed blinked. He worried that the worst was yet to come but kept his council to himself not wanting to alarm his wife and children. As if to prevent that from happening again, he tried not to blink. His eyes dried and sewing became difficult. “Machts nicht,” he told his wife, “it doesn’t make much of a difference since most of my customers are upper-class Germans who are now boycotting Jewish businesses.” The days were passing like years and his hair, before black and wavey, turned grey and brittle.
Gerhart and his family were trapped in Germany and, in 1941, were sent to a confiscated Benedictine monastery in Endenich to await deportation east. He had saved a handful of coffee beans in the heavy winter coat that never left his shoulders. Before they were separated, gave two beans each to his wife and children, saying, “These will protect you. One is from me and the other is from God. You needn’t worry.”
Gerhart survived Auschwitz. His skills as a tailor were appreciated by the officers. He remained in a DP camp in Western Germany for eighteen months. At first, he had hoped for news about his family and then he waited for completion of the paperwork that would permit him to immigrate to the United States. He now had only one coffee bean, having given the other to a Gypsy in his barracks scheduled for the “showers.”
The transport ship departed from Hannover. On the crossing, he looked at the number tattooed on his arm a dozen times a day. Was Sabina’s the number before or after his? And did his two children share a single number since they weren’t even ten? He asked the other DPs but they just smiled and walked away. He was weak. The sea air refused to give him an appetite.
Gerhart stayed below when the boat sailed into New York Harbor. One small valise contained all his possessions. When it was time to disembark, he carried it in his left hand, his right hand clenching a coffee bean. As he crossed from the ship to the dock, he dropped the bean into the water, not caring if this was the one from God.
looked down and followed the bean as it mixed with the garbage blown
against the hull of the transport. For Him, the moment was an
Once in a land far away where many things were magical there lived a mother and her little boy. They were poor but the mother did her best to make sure they always had enough to eat. If she found they were out of bread or milk or even peanut butter she would sigh and tell the little boy they would have to go to the small grocery store two blocks away.
“It’s a magical store and many shelves are empty, not like the big store in town where you can find everything. But here, if the little old grocer were to wave his hands, things would appear on those empty shelves, things that you can’t even begin to imagine. Those magical things would be too expensive for us to buy but the milk and eggs and other items on the shelves are not so magical and cost only a few pennies more than in the big store in town. I’m saving my pennies and nickels. It’s your college fund. We have to be careful not to buy too many things there, just what we really need.”
When the little boy was a baby, his mother would push him in a tiny carriage with rusty wheels that squeaked. When he got a little bigger, she sat him in his big brother’s red wagon and pulled him along as if they were pioneers in a wagon train. Nevertheless, when he was five his mother said, “Tommy, you are big enough to walk to the grocery store and even help carry the milk home.”
Once the little boy asked his mother, “Why is it dark in the here? I can’t find my favorite cereal.’ “Shh, Tommy, it’s so people looking in the window from the street won’t be able to see how Mr. Klien does his magic tricks.”
And then one day the little boy noticed that the grocer was missing the three middle fingers on his right hand. A month later, his mother told him to wait at the counter with Mr. Klien, “I forgot the eggs in the back cooler.” He built up the courage and asked in a whisper, “Mr. Klien, what happened to your three fingers?”
Mr. Klien smiled sadly and said, “Oh, those are magical fingers; don’t be afraid; I can bring them back if I need to. See...” and he held up his left hand, middle fingers folded down and continued, “I can pass my hand over them and they come back. I leave them where they are since they always seem to get into trouble.” He drew his right hand up over the fingers and from where the little boy was standing, the middle fingers on his left hand appeared to unfurl as if by magic.
The little boy smiled. He wished the magical grocer would be his best friend.
At the front of the store, right where you came in was an enormous barrel. Very strange and strong smells rose from the holes in the wooden top. He asked his mother, “What’s in that big barrel?”
She answered, “Pickles.”
The next time they came into the store, the little boy stopped his mother in front of the barrel and asked, “Ma, what’s a pickle?”
The grocer appeared from out of the shadows as if by magic and answered, “A cucumber that’s been swimming in brine a magical amount of time. He lifted off the wooden cover and pulled a magical green thing from deep within the barrel with a pair of tongs. “I’ll cut this in fours, one each for you, your mother, myself, and my wife. Come with me to the counter where I have a knife.”
The little boy squeezed his chest against the counter and watched while the grocer cut the pickle in half and in half again. The little boy thought the slice looked a lot like a tiny slice of green watermelon that they ate in the summer on special occasions like birthdays or the Fourth of July. He thanked Mr. Klien, took a small bite out of the end...and then a bigger bite, and finally managed to push the rest of the pickle into his mouth. It was bubbly like seltzer water and had the taste of onions and garlic. The little boy decided he liked pickles.
One warm morning when the little boy was not so little but was still called a little boy, his mother sent him to the grocer’s by himself. “Tommy, soon you won’t be a little boy but even little boys can help when their mothers have migraines. You’re big enough to go to the grocer’s by yourself and buy a quart of milk. Be a sweet heart and give Mr. Klien this magic paper.” She gave him a slip of paper folded in half.
The magic bell inside the front door rang when he came in. He stopped in front of the pickle barrel. It really was dark and he forgot if he should turn right or left. He was staring left and right when Mr. Klien came to his rescue. Tommy gave him the note.
“Ah, I think my magical little boy deserves a magical pickle all for himself. Since you’re big enough to shop by yourself I think you’re big enough to pick out your own pickle.”
Mr. Klien removed the tongs from the hook behind the barrel and reached over to give them to Tommy. The tattoo on his arm was exposed and Tommy pulled back, scared by the numbers. Mr. Klien saw the little boy’s eyes lock onto the numbers and tried to allay his fears.
“These are magical numbers, Tommy. In that magical land where I lived before, there was a big safe, a vault, like they have in large banks. They put all our precious memories and happiness in there and when I saw them close the door, I wrote down the numbers of the combination. Someday I may go back to that magical land and bring everything back here. That’s why the shelves are empty, just in case...”
The little boy wasn’t sure what Mr. Klien meant and said, “Oh.” And when Mr. Klien gave him the tongs, he smiled and fished a pickle out from the top of the barrel. “Thank you, Mr. Klien.”
When Tommy got home, he put the milk in the refrigerator. When his mother got up, she thanked him. “Tommy, you’re no longer a little boy.”
Tommy smiled and stood on his toes to kiss his mother on her cheek. “I’ll still be your sweet heart though, won’t I?”
“Yes, yes. That will never change.”