Poetica Magazine

Poetica Magazine

Once Upong a Time
by Kenneth Kapp

          It wasn’t as if Mr. Frank was ungrateful, far from it. He still thought of the African-American serviceman, by now he knew that Negro was the old word and not to be used – who was so kind to him in the Camp. He wished he could remember his name. He often dreamed of the piece of paper the soldier gave him with his name and address. Sometimes he thought of putting an ad in an African-American newspaper, maybe in Brooklyn, maybe in Harlem, asking the soldier who hugged the poor Jew in the Camp to write him c/o the Sterns. Who knows, maybe he would get lucky.

          He was thinking it must be two years already, he’s in America, brought here from the DP camp. Now I can get by with a little English and Yiddish and I’m living in my own apartment. America, the Promised Land, but what’s it promising me?

          They had told him, “You should be independent now. It’s good that a man stands on his own feet.” He wanted to ask, “So whose other feet should I stand on?” but knew that wasn’t polite, especially after all the Jewish Services had done for him.

          They said it was a studio.

          He didn’t understand. “But I’m not an artist or musician.”

          “It just means everything is where you can see it, except the bathroom which is behind a door.”

          There were two other doors. The one you went in and out of, another for his coats and whatever he needed to stuff out of the way.

          But the Sterns were happy so he was happy. They made him promise that once a month he would come by for chicken soup Friday night. “This is America, you don’t even have to go to shul with Mr. S.” And then they tried to joke, “You don’t go, of course that means only one matzah ball.” He liked Mrs. S’s matzah balls so he went to shul once a month. They agreed that he would go the Shabbos when they would bless the new month. The gave him a luah [calendar] from The Sages of Israel and circled the days.

          Family services found him a job in a kosher grocery store a few blocks from his apartment. Thirty hours a week. It wasn’t much, but he was given fruit and vegetables that had seen better days for free and sometimes a few chicken pieces on Thursday or Friday. The owner was always laughing. “Gerry, HaShem [God] says we should feed the poor. Who am I to argue with God.”

          Gerhardt never got used to his English name, and being told he was poor made him uncomfortable, but who was he to argue. He did that in the camps and was left with nothing. Nu, Herr Franck, you’ve your studio, some slightly bruised apples, a droopy carrot, so what’s to complain?”

          But those first weeks, walking between his studio and the store, he would stare at the black faces that rushed by, hoping he would see his friend from the camps. But then one stopped and asked if he was lost. He didn’t know what to say. He just pulled up his sleeve. “Here, they gave me this number, so how can I be lost?”

          The man sighed and held his hand, rolling the sleeve back in place. “I’m sorry. But in America we don’t stare at strangers.”

          Gerhardt looked at his worn shoes and apologized. He stopped looking for his friend.

          Another year passed. David, the man from the Refugee Committee, would stop by every few months to see how he was doing, encouraging him to go out. Twice he came with his family and they all went to Prospect Park. Another time David asked if he would be willing to talk about his war experiences to a Cheder class of eighth-grade boys.

          Gerhardt thought for a while. “Nu, you wish also these boys should have nightmares?”

          David stopped by specially to invite him to a talk at the Jewish Community Center about Chagall. “Gerry, there’ll be a nice talk and a reception after with tea and cookies. You’ll meet other people and make friends. Who knows?”

          He paused for a moment before answering. “No, but thank you. About me, I don’t think they will write a story, ‘Once upon a time in America.’”

About the Author:

Kenneth Kepp was a Professor of Mathematics, a ceramicist, a welder, an IBMer, and yoga teacher. He lives with his wife in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, writing late at night in his man-cave. He enjoys chamber music and mysteries. He was a homebrewer for more than 50 years and runs whitewater rivers on the foam that's left. His essays appear online in havokjournal (.)com and articles in shepherdexpress (.)com.Please visit www(.)kmkbooks(.)com.