my father died and left me with both a store and my mother. Never
a man to waste time, he didn't linger. He went to bed and fell asleep
quickly as always. Only this time he didn't wake up. It was Thursday,
October 22, 1981.
Three weeks later, when I noticed
I was still alive and my father was still dead, it became time to
turn my attention to the store, that tiny hosiery and dry goods
domain where my dad, Daniel Potkorony, had reigned unopposed for
almost half a century. The debate began. What should we do with
it? All of November we anguished, dazed, looking to others for help
with a decision I never imagined having to make. My mother's cousin,
Moishe, who was also our lawyer, advised us to get rid of the place,
to liquidate and walk away.
"You've got enough headaches."
He was right. I already had
a full schedule working part time as a School Psychologist while
I finished my doctoral studies. I certainly didn't want to give
that up to become a shopkeeper. I had no husband, no siblings, and
neither of my children were interested in selling socks and underwear.
To Eugene and Nancy, the store was a relic, a place I insisted they
visit occasionally, so their grandfather could see them.
He enjoyed offering gifts of his merchandise
to his grandchildren. "Do you need anything?" he'd ask. "Go ahead,
take something. Don't be ashamed."
The three foot tall, hand-painted
sign above the store window announced to the world that this was
the site of Universal Hosiery Company, a grandiose choice
in names for an uneducated immigrant from a small town in Russia.
But other than his origins, nothing about my father was small. He
measured five feet ten inches, just a bit above average for his
generation, but he was a commanding presence. Broad shouldered,
with a solidly husky frame and a booming voice, he rearranged the
air when he walked into a room. He could crack walnuts with one
The store was housed on the
ground floor of a vacant tenement building on Orchard Street, the
Lower East Side of Manhattan. It occupied a space six feet wide
and eighty feet long. Both sides of this rectangular sliver were
lined with khaki green shelves made of steel. They stretched from
the rubber-tiled floor all the way up to the tin filigreed ceiling.
Every shelf was filled with boxes of merchandise neatly stacked
in rows, mostly men's socks, underwear and pajamas. A small section
in the rear was devoted to women's panties and stockings. Customers
were served from a wooden counter that bisected the front half of
the store, and sales were rung up on a 100 year old NCR cash register,
with a brass handle that needed a full circle turn before the cash
drawer clanged open. Receipts were hand written on an invoice pad
that documented a purchase from "Universal Hosiery Company, The
House Of Bargains."
"Before you decide what you're
going to do," we were told by our accountant, also a cousin, "you
have to take inventory."
"Yes. Inventory. You have to
count how many dozens there are of each item. We need to get the
net worth of his stock."
I listened carefully enough,
but down deep, where my soul lived, I was convinced this was all
a dream. Any minute now my father would suddenly jump out from where
he was hiding, and we'd all laugh at the joke he'd played on us.
After all, at his funeral service, a close friend seeking to comfort
me had said, "If your father could die, Sandra, then anyone could
It was the middle of November
before we gathered enough courage to physically visit the store.
While my father was alive, no one ever set foot on the premises
without his permission, nor was anyone else privy to the operation
of his business. It was basically a one-man show, with limited assistance
from his brother, Morris, who worked there until his death in 1978.
Then my uncle Joe, a retired postal worker, was recruited to unpack
stock and stand watch at the front door whenever my dad needed something
from the back.
In addition to the main selling
area, there was a separate storage room where out of season merchandise
was kept. I knew it was there, but I'd never actually been inside
it. With my mother following closely at my heels, I pushed open
the creaky wooden door and peered inside. The only light in this
windowless room came from a bare bulb dangling in its socket from
a ceiling wire that swayed when I pulled the string to make it go
on. Huge cartons stuffed with cellophane-wrapped packages of thermal
underwear and flannel shirts were stacked against one side of the
room. Shelves on the opposite wall were piled high with old ledgers,
bank statements and boxes of receipts. We were looking at the archives
of Universal Hosiery Company, which went back to 1937, the year
the store was born.
Ignoring my mother's protests,
I climbed up an eight-foot ladder to get to the top shelf. She stood
on the ground beside me, tightly clutching one side of the ladder,
convinced I would fall, but also wanting to know what was there.
I found an old suitcase with two bottles of liquor inside, an unopened
bottle of Crown Royal and a half empty bottle of Chivas Regal. Nothing
paltry about my dad's taste in alcohol.
"Throw it away," my mother
ordered. "It must be from a long time ago."
"Sure, Mom." I didn't tell
her I also found several unused condoms in the suitcase, and they
looked pretty new.
We could have hired someone
to take care of the inventory, but that would have been like opening
my father's bedroom to strangers. We wanted to examine everything
ourselves first, our curiosity as great as our reverence. So, the
day before Thanksgiving I bought a thick spiral notebook, a box
of black marking pens, and we began. Not an easy task for one middle
aged daughter and her tiny, elderly mother. My mom had never stood
much higher than five feet, but she'd shrunk as she aged. By the
time my dad died, she was barely four feet ten inches. If I knew
almost none of the details about what my father did, my mother knew
less. She'd never in her life even written a check.
My uncle Joe helped us, since
he was familiar with the merchandise, and my children spent most
of the Thanksgiving weekend there, which gave us a chance to be
together without the pretense of celebration.
Henry Semel, one of my father's
friends who had once operated a similar business, showed up uninvited
to offer assistance. A short, chubby man with a few strands of dyed
black hair combed sideways over his scalp, he wore a large gold
pinky ring and constantly chewed on an unlit cigar.
"Don't worry, Rose, I won't
light it," he assured my mother. "I know you don't want me to smoke
this here," he added, probably hoping she'd contradict him.
"You're right," she replied.
"Cigars stink. Danny never liked them."
Henry turned out to be a big
help, but whenever we tried to thank him, he'd wave away our gratitude
with the explanation he really owed a lot to my father.
"Do you think he owes Daddy
money?" my mother whispered one day, when his back was turned. "I
bet he does," she added, ever suspicious of kindness.
There was no way to know, and
I didn't care. Henry gave me my first lessons in how to run a retail
business, and for that I was grateful.
My mom took it upon herself
to bring lunch for everyone, usually cream cheese and jelly sandwiches
on rye bread, a thermos of coffee, and slices of danish.
"It's time to eat," she would
announce, promptly at noon. There was enough for everyone, but I
was the one she pressured most.
"Soon, Mom. I just want to
finish this shelf."
"You need to eat," she would
entreat. The boxes can wait."
If urging didn't work, she'd
set napkins out on the counter, unwrap the sandwiches and pour the
coffee. "You better come right now. It's getting cold."
It was easier to eat than argue.
When she wasn't feeding us,
she followed me around watching closely as I opened each box of
merchandise and tallied its contents.
"Are you sure you know what
you're doing?" she'd ask, skeptically. "Daddy didn't used to do
it that way."
When I became irritated, which
was often, I'd challenge her, "How do you know?"
She'd shrug and say, "I know
better than you."
We spent the first week on
socks alone. I learned to recognize all-cotton English ribbed socks,
as distinguished from cotton blends. There were orlon, nylon, and
wool socks, dress and sport socks, thin socks, thick socks. And
each type came in different lengths, anklet, mid-calf and over the
calf, or "otc's" as Henry called them. Just when I thought we'd
completed all the hosiery, I found a few cartons of boys and infant's
socks. When I closed my eyes at night, boxes of socks continued
to float across my field of vision.
Men's underwear was the next category.
My father had a huge stock of briefs, boxers, undershirts and tee
shirts in three brands, Hanes, Fruit of the Loom and Munsingwear.
I studied them all. It was fun to learn about men's underwearalso
titillating. Munsingwear, for example, makes a brief with a pouched
crotch and a fly that opens horizontally. I'd never known a man
who wore such a brief. Not that I'd been intimate with a lot of
men. There was Allan, my husband for twenty yearshe wore boxersand
a scant few others in the six years since Allan and I had separated.
Several months before my father died, I'd ended a relationship with
an Israeli named Yossi. He wore colored briefs.
I drove my mother home each
evening, and we'd talk about what to do once the inventory was complete.
The more familiar we became with the contents of my father's store,
the harder it was to contemplate letting go of it. His soul still
"If we could only get a man
to take over the business," my mother said, looking at me hopefully.
"I wouldn't mind coming in to work. What else do I got to do? Stay
home and stare at the walls?"
I convinced myself it was my
duty to keep the store open for her sake, and talked to practically
every male relative about buying the place, renting it, or getting
involved in any way that would allow my mother to continue working.
No one was interested. I even propositioned Henry, although my mom
wasn't too happy about that.
"Why do you need a man to take
it over?" he asked. "You're an intelligent girl. Why don't you run
it? Hire a man to help with the heavy work. It'll give Rose something
to do, a place to go every day."
But what about me? I already
had enough places to go every day. I didn't want any new places,
any more responsibilities.
Joe came up with a solution.
"I got plenty of free time, Rose. If you want to run the store,
I could work for you three days a week, just like I did for Danny.
Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday."
My mother nodded, enticed by
the idea of being a boss, stepping into her husband's role. Now,
if I would only cooperate, rearrange my life so I could come in
every Sunday, Monday and Thursday, then she'd try working five days.
"At least I'll be with you,"
she explained. "Who else do I have left?"
I didn't have the heart to
turn her down, and if truth be told, a part of me was beguiled at
the prospect of taking over for my father, actually running his
store. So I agreed to be there three days a weekfor a while.
We'd be open Sunday through Thursday. Most of the shops in the area
were run by orthodox Jews, and they were all closed on Saturday.
In a nod toward religious freedom, in the 1930's Mayor LaGuardia
had granted the merchants of Orchard Street a special dispensation
from the city's "Blue Laws" that were in effect at the time, permitting
them to stay open for business on Sundays.
Once the decision was made,
I took a three month leave from my school psychologist job, and
we resumed the inventory with new zeal.
When we announced our intention
to keep Universal Hosiery alive, Moishe, speaking as both
cousin and lawyer, tried to dissuade us. My father owned half of
the abandoned tenement building where the store was housed, and
Moishe thought it was a big mistake not to just sell everything.
"What do you know about running
a retail business?" He asked. "Two women alone. It's crazy."
I resented his lack of faith in me. "We
He shook his head. "Your father left
enough so your mother never has to work. Besides, you can get a
good price for the property in today's market. Be smart. Take the
money and run."
I explained this wasn't about
money, but about giving my mother a reason to get up in the morning,
to feel useful. He wasn't convinced. "Can't she find something else
to occupy herself with? Let her volunteer in a hospital."
My mother was never a woman
to enjoy hanging out with friends. She couldn't understand the ladies
in her building who played cards or Mah Jongg for hours on end.
"Nahreshkeit," she called it. Foolishness. Keeping a home
for her husband was what filled her days. It may not have made her
happy, but it was what she knew. Now, with him gone, there wasn't
much to do in the house, and shopping held no interest for her.
Nothing held interest for her. My dad was the one who had brought
vitality into our home; it was his curiosity about life, his energy
she'd inhaled for sustenance. He was the one who sang in the shower.
So now, if my mom was actually
expressing a desire to do something, even if it seemed fiscally
unwise, I certainly wasn't going to stand in her way, nor I told
Moishe, should he. Convinced of our determination, if not our wisdom,
he recommended we incorporate to protect us from personal financial
risk. This meant my mother, at the age of seventy-eightshe
told everyone she was seventy-threebecame the president of
a corporation. She couldn't resist smiling as she signed the certificate
of incorporation, her short curly hair freshly dyed and varnished
into a honey brown pouf for the occasion. I, too, became a corporate
officer for the first time in my life, listed in the Minutes as
Vice-President and Treasurer. We had new business cards printed
with both our names in the right hand corner, where my father's
used to be.
We chose Christmas Day, 1981,
two months after the death of Daniel Potkorony, proprietor, to reopen
the doors of Universal Hosiery Company, now reincarnated
as Universal Hosiery Corporation. It was a Friday, not one
of the days we ordinarily intended to work, but many Orchard Street
stores stayed open on Christmas hoping to benefit from last minute
gift shoppers. Sunset, the beginning of the Sabbath, would arrive
a little past four, allowing us a chance to begin our tenure as
shopkeepers with a short first work day. The plan was to open at
ten and close around two. We each had our own set of keys. There
were two locks on the entrance door, and three on the heavy metal
security gate in front of the store, an ancient contraption made
of iron that spread and closed like a fan. Since Joe was merely
an employee, and only a relative by marriage, my mother didn't think
he merited the prestige of having his own keys, although there was
no way she could open the gate without his help. As the lone male
in our group, Joe automatically assumed responsibility for operating
the gate, firm in his belief it was not a job for a woman. I, however,
insisted on learning how it worked, and under his reluctant tutelage
managed to succeed in closing it a few times by myself.
The two of them arranged to
meet in front of the store a little before ten. I was driving down
from upper Manhattan, and would try to arrive at the same time.
"Don't be late," my mother
warned. "We got a lot to do."
She looked to me for guidance.
I was counting on Joe. Henry, who had become my retailing mentor,
also promised to stop in. He'd been especially helpful in teaching
me how to price merchandise, offering specific instructions about
discount store profit margins, although it was no secret that price
quotes on Orchard Street were hardly firm. I kept the cost list
handy for reference and wrote the per dozen price on many of the
boxes, hoping customers would be less likely to dispute written
figures. I knew we needed change for the register, and had gotten
a bunch of singles, fives, and tens from the bank. The coin compartments
were already stocked. This was a strictly cash business, no credit
cards, and checks accepted only if you had proper ID and looked
honest. My dad had many regular customers who paid by check, but
Rose was disdainful of my willingness to accept them.
"What do you need it for? You're
just asking for trouble. I say cash only."
The night before our inaugural
business day, I took a chlorotrimeton pill at bedtime, hoping the
antihistamine would make me sleepy. I did fall asleep quickly, but
lurched awake several times during the night, unable to recall the
dreams that were making my pulse race and my heart pound. As morning
drew close, I gave up trying to sleep and decided to drive down
to the store early, to be the first one there, telling myself I
could do some last minute arranging, get everything set before Joe
and my mother arrived. What I really wanted was time alone with
my father, convinced his spirit still hovered around the dust coated
cardboard boxes, the faded black floor tiles, and especially in
his check-book, his old letters. Everything I touched, everything
I smelled, contained molecules of Daniel Potkorony. He was there,
definitely, his presence confirmed by a lingering scent of Taboo,
the pungent aftershave he wore faithfully, and Helmar, the sweet
Turkish cigarettes he chain-smoked. I wanted to rummage through
his desk and run my fingers over words he had written, to try copying
some of those words with his pens.
The weather was clear and sunny
on Friday morning, but the temperature was biting cold, in the single
digits, unusual even for New York. How many people would actually
come shopping in this weather? Part of me wanted a crowd at my door,
yet I was afraid of becoming overwhelmed if too many customers showed
up at once. I hadn't completely memorized where all our merchandise
was. It would take time to find things. My mother would be extra-nervous,
expect me to handle everything at once, then blame me for any mishap.
By the time my car pulled into
Orchard Street, I'd unzipped my ski jacket and removed my gloves,
yet my palms felt sweaty and my throat extremely dry. It's only
pre-performance jitters, I thought, telling myself it would pass
as soon as we made our first sale. I found a parking space right
in front of the store, and took that as a good sign. It was eight-thirty
in the morning, and none of the other shops had opened yet. The
street was empty, unnaturally quiet, like Brigadoon before sunrise,
a movie set awaiting the call to "Action!"
I put my gloves back on to
protect my fingers from freezing, then set about opening the security
gate. I got the locks unbolted easily enough, but the heaviness
of the iron grill proved too much for me. It felt like it was nailed
to the ground. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't move it enough
to access the entrance door. I tugged, heaved, cursed, rested, then
tried again. No luck. That was not a good sign. Just as I was about
to concede defeat, I spied a man across the street, ambling down
"Yoo hoo," I called. "Hey,
"You want me?" the man replied
"Yes. You. Can you help me?"
Nodding, the man crossed the
street, sauntering towards where I stood. He was a very tall man,
with skin the color of coffee beans, easily over six feet, and way
too skinny for his height. I judged him to be in his thirties, but
I could have been off a decade in either direction. He was dressed
in faded jeans, a black turtleneck sweater and a thin parka jacket,
hardly enough to keep warm on a day like this. If he wasn't an actual
vagrant, he certainly didn't look like a man with a comfortable
residence and steady employment. He smelled faintly of alcohol.
I wondered if he was someone to be afraid of, but decided no. He
had a kind face, intelligent looking eyes, and besides, I was desperate
to get into the store before my mother arrived.
"I can't get this gate open,"
I told him. "It's worth five dollars to me if you can do it."
The man grinned, and I saw
that two of his top front teeth were missing.
"No problem, ma'am. I'll be
happy to." With one hand, he pushed open the gate as easily as if
it were made of cardboard.
"Thanks a lot," I said, opening
my bag to give him the five dollars. I considered the money well
He shook his head and held
up one hand. "That's okay. I can't take money for doing a lady a
favor. That ain't how my mother raised me."
"Well, I'm grateful." I looked
at him with new eyes. "What's your name?"
I held out my hand. "Pleased
to meet you. My name is Sandy."
He barely touched my hand when
he shook it. "Please to meet you, Miss Sandy. I've just come up
from South Carolina, looking for work. You have any jobs need doing?"
"Not at the moment." It made
me uncomfortable being called 'Miss Sandy' like I was some kind
of plantation owner. Still, I wanted to do something for him. "How
about you take the five dollars and buy me coffee with milk and
a buttered roll . . . and get something for yourself."
Curtis took the five dollars.
"Thanks. I'll get myself a cup of hot soup, if it's all right with
you, ma'am." He flashed me his toothless grin and went across the
street to the deli, while I finished opening the store. When he
returned, I told him we could use someone to mop the floor on Monday
if he was interested. He thanked me and left, promising to think
about it. I sat down at my father's desk to eat my breakfast, feeling
rather proud of myself. I'd just had my first experience as a store
owner, encountered an obstacle and handled it successfully. Good
During the next six months
I felt like Alice, lost in a wonderland that was sad as well as
bewildering. Where was I and how did I get here? On the evenings
before my store days, I'd lie in bed and think things like, "Tomorrow
the store . . . My father died . . . Instead of a father, I have
a store . . . The store has become my father. It gives me money,
it makes me do things . . . And it comes with my mother."
We got used to the stream of
regular customers who inquired after "the man who always was here--you
know, the big guy." They were visibly shocked when they learned
my dad had died. It comforted me to hear their anecdotes, their
own treasured memories, their expressions of admiration, even awe.
"I need a dozen dress nylon
socks in assorted colors," a young man said. "Can you help me?"
"They're on display right behind
you," I replied, proud of my new arrangement. I'd set out two rows
of socks in open black Universal Hosiery boxes decorated
with my Dad's typically modest "Worn The World Over" logo in bright
red. "Just take what you need."
"But your father always told
me what colors I needed. He never let me choose. I counted on him
to know what was right for me."
The same kind of thing happened
with requests for underwear, a phenomenon I labeled "Customer Anxiety,"
something never mentioned in my psychology texts. I was torn between
feigning expertise and encouraging autonomy. My father was a benevolent
despot, and his subjects had been content with his rule, but it
was not a role I took to easily. It felt more natural to wait calmly
for irresolute shoppers to obsess over whether to buy the blue socks
or the brown, then offer support for their decision. My mother,
however, had no qualms about interrupting such slow dealings, sometimes
going as far as pulling socks right out of a person's hand.
"We don't have all day," she
would scold, as much to me as to the intimidated patron. "Come back
when you make up your mind."
I was mortified, but customers
seemed to take her rudeness in stride. It's easier to put up with
abuse from a feisty old lady who isn't your own mother.
Noting my distress, some of
them would try to console me. "Don't worry about it," they'd say,
especially the men, who seemed to find my mother cute. But it was
hard for me to ignore her behavior. She was undermining my position,
treating me as a wayward child. I tried instituting a rule that
neither of us should interfere when the other one was in the middle
of waiting on a customer.
"I'll do it my way, Mom. and
you do it yours."
"But you do it wrong. I can't
stand to watch you."
"Then don't watch."
And so it went. We'd squabble
between sales. As I became more familiar with the merchandise, I
found myself supervising her exchanges with shoppers.
"We don't have any flannel
shirts" she would say, if she couldn't remember where they were.
"But we do, Mom. In the storage
room. I'll get them."
She'd purse her lips, frown
and say something like, "We just got in a new shipment. My daughter
didn't tell me what came in."
A more serious battle involved
plumbing. The only source of heat in this six-by eighty-foot space
was an ancient gas blower that hung from a ceiling pipe and blasted
hot air toward the front of the store. Once upon a time it might
have had a working thermostat, but now, the only way to stop the
fierce gusts was to turn the switch off manually. It was so cold
without the blower you could see your breath, yet after ten minutes
with it on, the entire front section became impossibly hot. My mother
liked the intense dry heat, and wanted to keep the blower on all
the time, but when I began to perspire I'd turn it off, only to
have my mother or Joe flip it on a few minutes later. "It's like
a sauna here," I'd mutter. All day long we'd alternate between roasting
and freezing. There was also no hot water. And worst of all, we
had no bathroom! My father had apparently never thought it necessary
to install one. There was a cold water sink in the back, which according
to my uncle Joe, was toilet enough for the men.
"A lot of stores on the block
don't have toilets," he told me on our first day of inventory taking.
I found that hard to believe.
"So what do you do when you have to go?"
He gestured toward the sink.
"That's not going to work
for me," I said, then turned to my mother. "You can't expect me
to go in the sink."
"Use the toilet in the coffee
shop on Grand Street," she said. "That's what I always did."
"But that's two blocks away."
"So what. So you walk a little."
"I don't want to have to put
on my coat and leave every time I need to pee. That's crazy."
The next day my mother brought
in an old pot. "We'll keep this in the storage room. Nobody will
see you. When you're done, just empty it in the sink."
For the time being, I used
the coffee shop's facilities, but when we decided to run the store
ourselves, I pressed for a bathroom.
My mother resisted. She didn't
want to change anything.
"If it was good enough for
Daddy, it's good enough for me."
"Daddy didn't menstruate,"
I reminded her. "I'm not going to work here without a toilet. I
also need hot water to wash my hands."
"Fancy lady. Big shot. Go 'head,
waste money on nonsense. You don't even know how long we'll keep
She argued, she insulted, but
I remained adamant. No toilet, no work. Finally she capitulated.
"Do what you want. You never
listen to me anyway."
She sulked for days, finally
extracting my promise not to install it in her presence. "They'll
make such a mess. Daddy's whole store will be ruined. Then you'll
I was in my mid-forties, way
too old to be admonished like that. I just didn't know how to stop
heror how to stop myself from feeling guilty about wanting
to make life easier. One thing I did know though, from years of
practice, was how to do things behind her back. On a Friday in January
when the store was closed, Joel the plumber, installed a small water
heater in the basement, and a flush toilet in a narrow crawl space
my father had used as a storage closet.
I reveled in the luxury of
a flush toilet right on the premises, not to mention a sink that
offered hot water. My hands had become badly chapped from handling
dusty boxes and cartons with nothing but frigid water to wash them
in. If my mother appreciated the changes, she kept it to herself.
Still bruised at being overruled, she spent the next few weeks evaluating
how frequently I used the bathroom.
"Again, you're going?" she
would ask sarcastically, as if overuse was detrimental to the toilet.
"Do you go so much at home, too?"
I refused to join that battle,
and the comments eventually abated along with my mother's reluctance
to use the facility herself. Instead, she became the bathroom overseer,
the supreme judge over who was permitted use of it. Occasionally
a customer, in dire need, would request permission, which my mother
"No. We don't have one," she'd
say curtly. "Go to the coffee shop."
customer had gone, she'd lecture me, and Joe too if he was there,
about how important it was not to "let in any strangers." Neither
of us dared oppose her to her face, but once in a while I made an
exception if my mother wasn't around.
These first months I struggled
to learn everything about running a business. Immersed in the details
of where to buy and display merchandise, how to set prices and become
facile at selling, I dream-walked through my changed life. Each
day I'd suffer intermittent attacks of grief, sudden punches in
the gut powerful enough to make my throat swell, my eyes tear. I
missed my father terribly. Responsibility for my mother was burdensome,
yet without the familiarity of her predictable behavior to cling
to, I would have been at a loss for breath. Immersed in consoling
her, in battling her, I was momentarily distracted from mourning.
The same was probably true for her. Any emotion other than anguish
was a welcome respite.
January through March were
traditionally slow business periods along Orchard Street. Christmas
was over, Easter and Passover not yet here. On the Mondays and Thursdays
I spent in the store alone with my mom, if the weather was bad,
hours might pass without a single customer. We'd busy ourselves
straightening and arranging stock, drink coffee, reminisce and argue.
She insisted on continuing to bring lunch for the two of us despite
my plea for her to stop.
"But I like bringing you food.
I used to make Daddy sandwiches. He didn't complain."
"I don't mean to complain.
It's just that I'm tired of cream cheese and jelly. The same thing
every day gets boring. I'd like something else for a change."
"So I'll make something else,
if you're that fussy. How come I don't get bored eating the same
My mother never actually got
hungry. If she experienced food as a source of pleasure, she hid
it well. As far as I could tell, she ate because eating was necessary
to stay alive. My father was the one who maintained a love affair
with his palate. Anything that triggered memories of dishes enjoyed
in the past could make his voice grow soft and his eyes dreamy.
Grossinger's corned beef was forever enshrined in his food hall
of fame, as were Ratner's onion rolls. He never tired of reciting
in minute detail the blissful taste of a particular food eaten monthssometimes
yearsago, offering these unsolicited recollections in contrast
to whatever my mother had just served him.
"This potroast is hard. It's
got no taste. Aach!" He'd try another bite and sigh. "No taste whatsoever."
"What's wrong with it?"
"You didn't cook it long enough,
that's what's wrong." He'd turn to me. "My motheryour Bubbyshe
knew how to make a potroast..." He'd lick his lips. "So soft, it
would melt in your mouth."
My mother would inevitably
frown, directing her reply to me as if he weren't there.
"Your Bubby's potroast was
like shoe leather. He doesn't remember."
I hated being put in the middle
of their quarrels. I didn't even like "potroast," which my family
always pronounced as one word, as if were the name of an animal
rather than a way of cooking.
Business picked up during April
as the weather grew warmer and the days longer. The crowds on Sunday
were exciting. Once I learned the merchandise and could locate things
quickly, the store became a homemy home, as if I'd been born
there. I would become energized by the steady flow of people asking
for things. From ten in the morning to five in the evening, sometimes
without a break, I jumped around, running up and down the aisle
from the front of the store to the back then to the front again,
over and over. I never got impatient with customers. They were more
than potential sales. They were my clients. Servicing them was therapeutic
to us both. As a psychotherapist, if I was lucky after six months
of treatment a client would get a little better, hopefully no worse.
Progress was slow. But as a shopkeeper, if a man walked in asking
for a dozen black socks, I could give him what he needed immediately.
"Great," he'd say. "How much?" I'd tell him the price, he'd hand
me the money, and I'd give him the socks. Instant gratification.
I'd made him happy, and I had some hard currency to put into the
register. Green money has a lot more magic than a check.
At the end of a busy Sunday,
I'd have at least one, and sometimes two thousand dollars to count.
I'd write out the deposit feeling very rich. It didn't matter that
most of the money wasn't profit. It was cash, more than I'd ever
handled at one time. I loved the feel of it, the smell of it, building
neat piles of tens and twenties all facing in the same direction.
I delighted in the fifty dollar bills and the occasional hundred,
counting and recounting.
For fear of theft, we didn't
want to keep a lot of money in the cash register during the day,
so my mother and I would periodically empty the large bill compartments,
stashing our hoard in an empty sock box behind the counter. I'd
finger the bills greedily, watching the pile grow. Rose would have
loved to be in charge of money, but she didn't have my speed and
skill, nor was she knowledgeable about bank deposits. We compromised.
I'd count and tally the bills, hand out our "weekly pay" and prepare
the deposit slip. She'd take the deposit to the bank the following
day. Every Sunday I'd give the same prearranged amount to Joe, my
mother, and myself. Our Salaries. If the total for the day was particularly
large, I'd take a little extra, telling myself that as boss, it
was my right. Of course I didn't tell my mother that, but then again,
she was also free to take what she wanted. If she ever did so on
the days I wasn't there, she never told me.
I'd feel wired by the time
we closed, and usually arranged to have dinner out with friends
afterwards, often choosing expensive restaurants and picking up
the check for everyone as my father used to do, flushed and excited
as I paid with green money.
The leave of absence from my
school job ended in April. Now, in addition to the three days in
the store, I resumed working Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays as
a School Psychologist. That meant a six day work week. On Saturday,
my one day off, I'd collapse and spend much of the day in bed feeling
sorry for myself, convinced I'd been struck by lightning and left
to suffer the aftermath of the burn alone. I had a lot of money,
along with a lot of new responsibilities and no father. My youth
was gone, I had no lover, and the future looked bleak. I was aging
rapidly and if my father had died, then so would I.
My friends commiserated. Carol
suggested I visit a psychic.
"Marianna is great," she gushed.
"More gifted than a licensed
psychologist?" I'd been toying with the idea of seeing a therapist,
but when you're a psychologist yourself, it's hard to find anybody
as wise as you think you are.
"It's different, much faster.
Marianna will know immediately how to help you. She'll tell you
what to do, not wait for you to guess. Try her, what have you got
Seventy-five dollars, I thought.
At one time that would have been a prime consideration. Before my
dad died, I functioned on a very tight budget. The cost of the Sunday
Times was almost the same as the cost of a small box of spaghetti
and salad fixings. I didn't always have the ready cash for both.
Now, with my father's legacy of the store and half a building, not
to mention an extensive portfolio of stocks, bonds and cash, it
seemed to be raining money. A warm rain can refresh, but a cold
rain can make you sick. My inheritance did both. I no longer had
to worry about money, but I had to accept that the windfall was
tied to the loss of my father.
I scheduled an appointment
to see Marianna, waiting three weeks for an opening in her apparently
very busy schedule, and then accepting 8:00AM on a Saturday morning,
much earlier than I wanted, but all she could offer. Marianna lived
on the ground floor of a shabbily kept building in Greenwich Village.
I almost cancelled, but forced myself to go. "This is me doing something
for myself," I murmured over and over. "Just for me."
Marianna was a large woman,
close to six feet tall with a husky build. She wore a long sleeved
flowered caftan, several gold necklaces, and at least a half dozen
bracelets. Her features were mannish, and she had a deep voice.
It occurred to me she might be a male transvestite. But wouldn't
Carol have told me that? Unless she thought I wouldn't go under
those circumstances. Well, I was here, might as well make the best
of it. A tape of the session was included in the fee, and after
a few pleasantries, Marianna inserted the cassette.
"Shall we begin?"
I nodded and waited.
"Please give me something of
yours to hold, like a watch or a ring. It helps me pick up your
Rather skeptically, I handed
her my watch, an inexpensive Timex I'd had for years and wore constantly,
even to sleep. She clasped it in both hands and sat silently for
a few minutes with her eyes closed before asking "What would you
like to know?"
"My life's changed dramatically
in the last few months." I didn't want to reveal too much. "Can
you tell me about the future? Or maybe suggest some good ways to
handle the present?"
"I can" she said, and proceeded
to describe my turmoil and sadness so accurately, I could have sworn
Carol had clued her. Tears came to my eyes as she talked about my
childlike charm, a quality I particularly liked, now irretrievably
shattered. I didn't want to be reminded of that.
"You've suffered a great loss."
Another news bulletin I didn't
need to hear again.
"I've recently lost my father.
Can you tell me something about what lies ahead?"
She rubbed the watch between
her hands. "I see money," she began.
I interrupted. "Well he did
leave my mother and me some money."
"This is different from an
inheritance. I see money hidden in a box. Some kind of old box.
I can't tell if it's metal, but there's definitely money in it.
The word "box" reminded me
of the store, and I told her a bit about my new life. It felt good
unburdening myself and she was a sympathetic listener.
"You've really had a rough
time," she said, and turned the tape over to the other side.
"I'm sensing money somewhere
in your father's house or maybe in his shop."
I sighed. Money was the least
of my needs at the moment. Nevertheless, the idea of finding more
was seductive. I resolved to brave my mother's scorn and talk to
her about Marianna's prediction. You never could tell.
The next day in the store,
over morning coffee, I regaled Joe and my mom with the details of
my session with a psychic, omitting the part about its occurrence
on the Sabbath. I tried to present the whole experience lightly,
a lark, making sure to credit Carol as the instigator. After recounting
Marianna's predictions I asked, "So, what do you think?"
My mother responded with her
usual "it's nonsense" shrug and grimace combo, yet apparently something
about the possibility of finding money intrigued her. "What about
you? Do you believe that?"
"I don't know. It's possible.
Some of the things she said about me were true. Maybe this'll come
"Was the lady a gypsy?"
In my mom's experience, only
gypsies told fortunes.
"I don't think so." I didn't
want to tell her I wasn't sure Marianna was even a lady.
"A guy I worked with at the
Post Office used to visit a fortune teller," Joe chimed in. "He
said her advice saved his life."
"I don't believe in it," my
mother concluded. "It's throwing away money. How much did you pay
"What's the difference?" I
could say five dollars, and it would still be too much in my mother's
eyes. "Besides, she's not a gypsy." I turned to Joe. As far as you
know, did my father ever leave large amounts of money hidden in
Joe flicked his cigarette ash
into a saucer my mom had placed on the counter for this purpose,
glancing at her for approval. "He didn't used to talk about such
things with me, you know."
We knew. Joe had only been
summoned to help out in the store after my uncle Morris died. Morris
was the blood relative, Joe was a poor brother-in-law who had not
provided very well for his family. He was an appendage, not an equal.
"But," I persisted, "did you
ever see anything?"
"A few times I saw him take
a package of bills and give it to your mother's cousin."
"Which cousin?" My mother was
definitely interested now.
"You know, the lawyer. What's
"Moishe?" I prompted. The one
who's helping us with the estate?"
"Yeah. That's the one. Now
and then Dan would give him money, and a few weeks later, Moishe
would bring it back."
I made up my mind to ask Moishe
about this. Funny he'd never mentioned it.
"How about at home, Ma? Did
Daddy ever hide money at home?"
"Not that I saw, but you know
your father. Did he ever tell me anything?"
"Well," I said. "From now on,
let's keep our eyes open."
And we did, Rose, more persistently
than the rest of us. She had found a task that engrossed her, something
to fill her time. If her husband had secreted cash anywhere, she
was determined to find it. For three months she searched in vain.
So did I, but I tried to be less obvious about it. The storage room,
the merchandise shelves, behind the counter, in the heavy iron safe
upon which the register sat, the obvious places, the least likely
places, we rummaged through everything. Nothing turned up. At home,
my mother explored every inch of the apartment without success.
After a while my interest flagged and we gave up. At least I did.
When I telephoned Moishe to
question him, he admitted to having done money lending deals with
my dad. "Once in a while one of my clients might need a few thousand
dollars short term, and prefer not to go through a bank," he explained.
"Dan--your father--always seemed to have a supply of cash on hand.
He made good interest on his money, and I got to help out some clients."
"Was this legal?" I wanted
to know. And how much money are you talking about?"
"Perfectly legal," was his
reply. "Anywhere from five to twenty thousand."
"If there's nothing wrong with
this, how come you didn't tell me about it?"
"There'd be only two reasons
to tell you," Moishe answered, using a sing-song voice, as if he
was reciting from the Talmud. "The first reason would be if there
was money outstanding, and there wasn't. The second, and only other
reason to mention it would be if you had an interest in lending
spare cash. Do you?"
"Maybe." While there may have
been nothing illegal about lending money, I wondered whether my
dad had reported the income from these loans to the IRS.
Two months after we took over
the store, Curtis Hightower, my opening day hero, reappeared one
Monday morning, wearing the same flimsy parka, which now sported
a rip at the shoulder and a broken zipper. He stood in the doorway
and whispered in a barely audible voice about my offer to pay him
for mopping our floor, reminding me I had specified Monday, and
apologizing for taking so many Mondays to show up.
My mother came over, eyed Curtis
suspiciously, then as if he weren't there, asked in Yiddish, "Vas
villt ehr?" What does he want?
"Curtis, this is my mother,
Rose Potkorony," I said, embarrassed by her rudeness."
"Pleased to meetcha, Miss Rose."
He bowed his head in her direction. She barely nodded.
"Curtis is going to wash our
floor and maybe wax the linoleum, if you think it's a good idea."
"For how much?" my mother asked
"Would ten dollars be all
"Fine, I said, before my mother
could begin to haggle.
"Maybe he could also dust on
the top shelves," she said, taking in his height.
"Whatever you say, Miss Rose."
My mother, somewhat assuaged
by Curtis's willingness to please, as well as his deference toward
her, marched him over to where the cleaning supplies were kept.
When he was done, I handed
him the agreed upon ten dollars, plus an extra five while my mother
wasn't looking. I also gave him a black thermal shirt, which she
"It's freezing outside," I
explained. We don't only have to give charity to yeshivas, you know."
She didn't reply. Curtis had
carefully washed, rinsed and waxed our long narrow floor space until
the black marbleized rubber tiles glistened. We agreed it would
be good if he could come in every Monday to do the floor and other
odd jobs that might come up. My mother decided to have Curtis take
all the old boxes of receipts down from the shelves in the storage
room for her. It was one place she hadn't yet examined in her ongoing
quest to find the cash windfall predicted by "The Gypsy," as Rose
persisted in calling Marianna.
So, Curtis became a regular
employee of Universal Hosiery Corp. Maybe "regular" is too
strong a word. Sometimes he would show up at the appointed time,
sometimes not. Once he sent an emaciated looking Latino man to inform
us, "Curtis ain't coming in today. Said to tell you he's sick."
Alcohol fumes lingered in the air long after the messenger left.
We knew Curtis also drank, but no matter what he did when he wasn't
in our store, he always reported for work sober. I wondered how
much his fear of my mother influenced his effort at sobriety.
On the days Joe and Rose worked
the store by themselves, I was required to call and check in at
least once. If I didn't, my mother would invariably seek me out
at my school psychologist job. It was disconcerting, but I was benevolent
about it. No matter if the questions were trivial, and they usually
were, I felt it behooved me as a daughter to be available to my
mother. As Universal Hosiery's Chief Executive, it also made me
"Did you tell the Window Dresser
to come in?" my mother asked one day. She was asking, but her voice
"No," I replied defensively.
Even if I had, I might have hesitated admitting it, reluctant to
engage in the inevitable battle over innovation, over change of
"Well, he said you told him
She was referring to Irwin
Goldstein, Orchard Street's prime Window Dresser. A short, slender
man in his fifties with a wide smile and a prominent "Adams Apple",
he looked like an aged jockey and seemed always to be in very good
humor, which struck me as strange, considering he made his living
squeezing into narrow storefront window spaces and stapling dry
goods samples to pieces of oak tag.
was one of the few proprietors who hadn't used Irwin's services,
preferring to do the job himself, no mean feat for someone my father's
size. Our window space was four feet square, six feet high, and
accessible only through a tiny opening no broader than twenty inches.
Dressing the window meant first pushing aside the rolltop desk that
blocked this opening, then crawling through it sideways. Once inside,
my dad would unpin the rows of socks, underwear, and pajamas neatly
tacked to sloping pieces of sheet rock, and replace them with a
similarly displayed sampling of fresh merchandise. Hand-lettered
signs identified styles, and notified potential customers of the
"unlimited selection inside." Since neither inventory nor signs
ever varied, the main purpose of redoing the window twice a year
was to replace sun-faded merchandise, or in my father's words, to
"make the window look fresh."
As Irwin worked his way through
the Orchard Street establishment windows, he undoubtedly noticed
the increasingly faded and dusty state of our little showcase, but
he'd waited until April before coming in and introducing himself
to me. My mom was helping a customer in the back and didn't get
to meet him that day.
"I knew your father well,"
he said, leaning against our door. "I just stopped in to tell you
I'm sorry he's gone."
Irwin went on to recount how
he never could convince my Dad to let him do any work for Universal.
"He wanted to do everything himself. I used to kibbitz him about
how he was taking away my living. He was a great guy, Danny was."
I nodded. As Irwin turned to
leave he said, "You should really think about fixing up your window.
Summer's coming. I could clean out the space for you, put in a new
paper backdrop. It would look much nicer, and be good for business
He was probably right, but
I wasn't ready to have my father's last display dismantled just
yet. "How much would you charge?" I asked.
"My standard rate for a job
like yours is a hundred and fifty."
"I'll let you know. If not
now, maybe for Christmas."
"Whatever you say." Irwin took
out a business card. "Call me any time. If I'm in your neighborhood,
I'll stop by to say hello, just like I used to do with Dan."
When my mom heard about Irwin
and his offer she immediately went to take a closer look at what
little she could see of our window from the inside of the store.
She too, wanted to extend the life of whatever my father had touched,
but had a hard time justifying the preservation of dirt anywhere,
for any reason.
Behind the display of merchandise
were a dozen empty sock boxes, neatly stacked in three rows, and
covered with at least an inch thick coating of dust. It looked like
they'd been put there years ago to help keep the sheet rock in place.
My mother immediately vowed to clean every one of these boxes, and
tried to press me into crawling far enough into the opening to reach
"Forget it" I said, repelled
by the accumulation of dust. "Let it stay the way it is for now.
We'll clean everything when we get the window dressed."
"I'm just gonna wipe each box
with a damp rag," she replied as if she hadn't heard me say no.
"It won't interfere with the display. Why should we have dust?"
I shook my head. "When you're
ready to do the whole job, I'll call that window dresser man, Irwin.
For now, let's just leave it."
She pouted. "I'll do it myself.
Joe will help me."
"Do what you want."
Joe helped by moving the desk
for her one day when I wasn't there, enabling her to poke a feather
duster attached to a foot long pole around the boxes and wipe some
of the dirt away. It wasn't really satisfactory, but the only alternative,
emptying the entire window was still out of the question. We needed
Occasionally Irwin and I would
pass on the street and he'd greet me warmly. "Don't forget about
the window," he'd say, and I would nod and smile.
"One of these days," I'd tell
So now, my mother was calling
to tell me Irwin had come by again.
"He's having a special," she
reported. "He'll do the whole job for a hundred and fifteen dollars."
"Do you want to do it?" I asked,
relieved when she said no.
"It's too much trouble. I
don't have the strength."
"We don't have to do it just
because he tells us to. Tell him I'll call him when we're ready."
my mother and I agreed. After we said goodbye, I sat quietly, waiting
for images of the store to fade so I could become a functioning
school psychologist again.
December, 1982, our second
Christmas in the store, found us knee deep in customers.
Shoppers who preferred no-nonsense direction
sought out my mother.
"Can you help me? I want to
buy ladies pantyhose as gifts," a portly middle aged man approached
her, holding a slip of paper with several styles and sizes noted
on it. Rose picked out the items and convinced him to take a full
box in each style.
"Three pair in a box. We give
you low prices, but you have to take a full box."
That was not true, but he didn't
know it and nodded his acquiescence. He agreed to buy four boxes,
a good sale. As she began to figure the cost, the man looked down
and checked his list.
"Oh, by the way," he said.
"Do you have any crotchless panty hose?"
My mother was nonplused. "What's
He repeated, "Crotchless panty
She held up one hand. "Just
a minute" she said, and walked closer to me. "Do we have crotchless
panty hose?" she whispered. "What is that?"
I smiled and explained. "It's
panty hose with the crotch missing. We don't carry that kind."
She still looked confused,
but returned to the customer. "In this store we sell you the whole
thing. Later you can cut out the parts you don't like."
Irwin, the window-dresser,
stopped in at the end of January to inquire whether we thought Universal
Hosiery's shabby display had negatively affected our Christmas
selling. My Mom and I looked at each other, then she sighed in a
way that acknowledged Irwin might be right. It was time to let go
of my father's final exhibit, now grown so dingy it no longer honored
"Maybe we should wait until
spring," my mother tried to procrastinate one more time. "Then we
could include summer merchandise."
"On the other hand, it might
be better to do it now when business is slow," I responded.
After Irwin reassured us we'd have
room for samples of all our merchandise and offered us his off-season
discount, we succumbed and set a date for late morning, the following
Thursday. This would give me, my mother, and Curtis time to take
the old display down and clean the space in preparation for Irwin's
professional efforts, installing backdrop paper, positioning samples,
and stapling the new stock in place.
"Pins are passe`," he informed
us. "No one uses them anymore." Then, noticing my mother's disturbed
expression, he offered a conciliatory amendment. "Except maybe in
a few places, like pinning a description to a pajama or a shirt.
That would be okay. You can even use some of Dan's old signs. But
everything else gets stapled."
In addition to selecting which
merchandise should go into the window, we were given the chore of
doing all the prep work. An arduous job. I confess one of the reasons
behind my acquiescence to this project was that I'd scheduled a
short vacation trip to California beginning the next day. I planned
to spend a few days with Eugene, who was living in Berkeley, then
drive to Los Angeles to consult with a psychologist at UCLA who
had done research in the area of my own dissertation study. I was
now up to the gathering of data stage, and looked forward to professional
feedback. Assigning my mother the task of dealing with the discarded
window merchandise, not to mention overseeing the removal, at last,
of the stack of old dirty sock boxes, would keep her occupied and
assuage some of my angst at leaving her alone.
Curtis met me as arranged in
front of the store at 8:30 Thursday morning. I'd promised him twenty-five
dollars to work the day as our window-dressing assistant. He moved
the rolltop desk just enough to give me a clear, albeit small path
into our diminutive glass showcase. My mother arrived, and after
the three of us fortified ourselves with coffee and cake we set
to work. I crawled into the window space and began by passing the
dusty sock boxes to Curtis. They bore the "Worn The World Over"
Universal logo, and aside from the heavy layers of dirt, they looked
pretty intact. My mother decided that if we cleaned them they might
be useful to replace some of our current display boxes that had
become worn and cracked.
"Please don't bother about
boxes now," I pleaded from inside the window, where with unexpected
trepidation, I started dismantling the rows of socks my father had
personally pinned to the plaster boards. "We've got too much else
to do. Ask Curtis, to store everything in the back room for now.
You can deal with them next week, Mom, while I'm gone."
Reluctantly, she agreed, and
turned her attention to the piles of faded merchandise I began handing
out to her. She directed Curtis to put socks in one carton, underwear
in another, shirts, pajamas and other miscellaneous items in a third.
"A lot of this stuff is still
good," she announced, adjusting her glasses to get a better look.
"I can wipe off the dust with a damp rag and put it back in stock,
especially the shirts and underwear in cellophane packages. The
rest we'll give to a rummage sale, or keep ourselves."
"Fine, Mom," I agreed. "You're
in charge. Do what you want. All I ask is that you wait till next
week. Right now everything we don't need goes to the back. Okay?"
The next morning I flew to
San Fransisco. Eugene had gotten me a hotel room in Berkeley, near
his living quarters. We'd seen each other over Christmas, which
wasn't that long ago in Eugene's opinion, but we chose this time
for a visit because he was on school break. From my point of view,
it was never too soon to see my son again. I phoned my mother from
the airport, in order to reach her before the Sabbath, what with
the three hour time difference. My mom wouldn't answer the phone
from Friday sundown until Saturday evening. She sounded lonely,
and tired from the effort of the day before.
"Take it easy this Sunday,"
I advised. "It shouldn't be too busy. I'll call you again in a few
days." I made her write down my hotel number in case of emergncy.
On Monday, Eugene and I toured
Alcatraz, and I had the dubious pleasure of being locked in one
of the cells for an interminable five minutes. He dropped me off
at the hotel for a nap before dinner, and I had just lain down when
the phone rang.
"Sandy! Are you there," my
mother shouted into the phone.
Oh, no, I groaned inwardly. What
new calamity. "I'm here. Is anything wrong?" I prayed nothing was
"Nothing's wrong." She sounded
"What is it then?"
"You'll never guess." My mother
It was not like Rose to play
games. I didn't know what to make of it. "If I'll never guess, then
just tell me. What's going on?"
There was a pause, and I began
to get alarmed. "What, Ma? Tell me."
"Remember the boxes in the
window. The dirty ones you wanted me to throw out?"
"Yeah." I didn't really care
what she did with them, but wasn't going to argue. "So?"
"So, when I was cleaning them
with a damp cloth, I opened them to clean inside, and guess what?"
Without waiting for my reply she continued. "I found money in one
of the boxes, Sandra. A lot of money!"
Wow! God bless Marianna, I
thought. Her prediction had proven true. "How much money?"
"I took the box home in a plastic
bag to count here by myself. I didn't want Joe should know."
"So how much?"
"I just finished counting it
now. There's a hundred-twenty dollars in checks, and close to $23,000
in cash!" My mother was definitely giggling again.
I didn't know what to say.
"Are you sure?"
"Don't you think I know how
to count money?"
"What's the date on the checks?"
"Just a second." I heard papers
rustling. "October 19, 1981. What do you think it's from?"
I thought for a minute. "The
checks and some of the cash are probably receipts Daddy never got
a chance to deposit. The rest might either be money he was going
to lend or had just gotten back with interest. We'll never know.
What's the difference?"
"No difference. I was just
curious." My mom sounded so alive, so triumphant. "Looks like your
gypsy was right."
"I guess so. What do you want
to do with the money?"
"We'll talk about it when you
get home. In the meantime I'll keep it here in my bedroom." Her
voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. "I don't want to say
too much on the telephone. I don't think you should even tell Eugene."
I doubted anyone had learned
of our windfall and bugged my mother's phone. "Okay, Mom. This certainly
is good news. We'll talk more about it when I get home."
I did tell Eugene. "That's
amazing!" he said, his voice full of excitement as he began speaking
rapidly. "You should go back to this lady. The next time I come
to New York, I want to go. Do you mind if I tell Dad? Maybe she
could help him find money."
It was sweet the way Eugene
wanted to help his father, but I doubted my ex-husband had any money
he didn't know about. Allan was constantly in debt, and the news
of our good fortune might make him feel envious. "Better not say
anything for now."
We celebrated in a fancy Chinese
restaurant in downtown San Fransisco. The next day I bought him
a stereo for his room, an Olympus automatic zoom camera for myself,
and a new late model Walkman for Nancy. Thank you Daddy.
I returned home late Saturday
night. Sunday morning, before going to the store, I stopped off
at my mother's apartment, so I could look at the cash for myself.
Rose was extremely proud of her discovery. Her detective work had
paid off--big-time. She took me into her bedroom, and ceremoniously
fetched a hat-box from the closet removing the top carefully, then
extricating a towel wrapped package. Gingerly, she unwrapped the
towel which covered a plastic bag housing the now famous sock box.
Inside, I found two envelopes. One envelope contained twenty thousand
dollars neatly organized in packs of ten one-hundred dollar bills
stapled together in the left-hand corner. The second envelope housed
the checks and the remaining twenty-eight hundred dollars in assorted
bills of different denominations.
I caressed the bills lovingly.
"Let's split the twenty-eight hundred and hold on to the rest."
I told her about the presents I'd bought for Eugene and Nancy.
"Buy yourself a gift," I urged.
"Treat yourself to something you might otherwise hesitate to spend
a lot of money on." I pushed bunches of bills toward her. "Go ahead."
My mother sighed. "It's too
late for me."
"What do you mean?"
"Years ago when I wanted to
spend money, to buy nice things, your Daddy never gave me enough.
Fifty dollars a week for the table, that was it. I had to beg for
"So now's your chance, Mom.
Buy a fur coat, jewelry, whatever you want."
"It's too late," she repeated.
There's a time for everything. When I had desire, I didn't have
money. Now that I have the money, I don't have the desire." She
smoothed and straightened several of the bills, sighing.
"Well, I'm taking fourteen
hundred," I announced, fearful she would impose her lack of desire
on me. "You can do what you want, but I think you should take it
too. How about a new television set? Or maybe a new air conditioner?
We opened a safe deposit box
to house the twenty-thousand, and decided to discard the checks.
It was too late to deposit them without arousing suspicion, and
we could certainly afford to relinquish the $120.
The more I thought about it, the more
clear it became that finding the money was a sign my father wanted
me to have his store. That it was my mother who found the money
was as irrelevant as the fact it was she who had always done the
cleaning and cooking. The way I saw it, my father wanted Universal
Hosiery to go on and approved of my running it. And so it was
settled. The store would continue.