I called my friend, Sarah on Friday to wish her a Happy Birthday. It was the 90th time that she got to celebrate this event.
Sarah and I have been friends from the first time that we met. She is one of the most delightful and fun people I know. Well, actually, she is more like two of the most delightful and fun people I know.
It’s almost as though she is a female version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. On the one hand, she is refined, genteel and delicate in the way I pictured Elizabeth Barrett Browning. But when she gets started on one subject – politics – she transforms into a gruff version of Ruth Gordon complete with the salty language that would embarrass the most hardened merchant seaman.
Sarah and her younger sister were born in Munich, Germany. Her father was the Cantor at their Synagogue but he earned his living as a diamond cutter. As a result, both the girls received an extensive exposure to classical music – something which Sarah and I shared and loved.
In 1934, seeing the storm clouds arise in his country, Sarah’s father moved his family to Antwerp. But after four years in Belgium, the Nazis signed the “negotiated agreement” which annexed Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland and he feared, quite correctly, that this was merely the start of something far bigger on Hitler’s part. Her father, Saul had a friend who owned a wholesale jewelry business in Chicago and offered him a job – so the family left Europe and moved to the Midwest.
The family settled in Chicago’s Hyde Park. At the time, a significant percentage of the population in this neighborhood was Jewish – in part because many of them were professors at the University of Chicago. And directly abutting Hyde Park on the north was Kenwood, a neighborhood that was filled with 10 and 12 bedroom mansions. K.A.M. Isaiah Israel Temple, Chicago’s oldest synagogue was located there and had a congregation of people who tended to be politically conservative.
But the large Jewish population on Chicago’s south side began moving north, particularly when the “Gold Coast” area became more fashionable. Unlike some of their fellow religionists, Sarah’s parents stayed in Hyde Park and it was there that I met her 30 years ago.
I was working as the “precinct captain” of my own precinct, making sure that every Republican vote got to the polls and was voted (if not necessarily counted) on election day that year. Of course, this was volunteer work and was far from taxing. Of the four hundred registered voters in the precinct, there were only about 20 who identified themselves as being Republicans. By comparison to other precincts in Chicago, that was actually a pretty decent showing.
The Republican voters in Chicago’s 5th Ward fell into one of only several categories.
The first were older conservative Jewish voters who had not migrated to the north side, preferring the almost suburban and wonderfully inter-racially mixed neighborhood to the near-ghetto atmosphere which had been crafted by the nouveau-successful about 10 miles north.
The second were professors and students at the University of Chicago’s School of Business.
The third, (and they were few in number) were students at the University’s School of Divinity who had experienced a close, personal encounter with God. As I said, there weren’t many who fell into this last category.
Sarah was a member of the first group and was the stalwart who rounded up the 10 Republicans in her building so that I could drive those who were too frail to walk to the polls and, when they had finished voting, drive them back to their apartment.
That was how Sarah and I met. But there was something insightful and interesting in this wonderful lady, substantially older than I, that caused us to become close friends. In part, it was the Sunday crossword puzzle.
Sarah loved to do the crossword in the Chicago Tribune (and I later was able to talk her into doing the Quote Acrostic as well). But when she would get stuck on a clue, she would call me, knowing that I always was able to complete the puzzle, and ask me to give her a helping hand with it. As the years went by we maintained this ritual of speaking at least every Sunday.
I would, if I had plans for Sunday afternoon after church, start on the puzzle early so that I was prepared for our conversation. We continued to do this for 20 years – until I moved to Las Vegas where I found it impossible to get the Chicago Tribune.
Over the years I noticed that these conversations became longer and longer as Sarah had more difficulty with the puzzles. A one hour conversation to complete the puzzle became somewhat standard. At first I would simply create an alternate clue to the one that was given in the puzzle to try to help her out. But as time went by, my assistance became more direct. “Okay, Sarah, the next letter you’re missing is a vowel.”
I could see myself, thirty or forty years down the road, hoping that I had a friend who would similarly be able to help me out as my memory faded and although these conversations were a little boring for me, I tried to put myself in her place and realize that there was nothing more special than being able to help out a friend.
Despite her advanced age, Sarah is still vibrant and active – but annoyed that she now has to rely on the use of a cane to get around. She still takes her mile long walk every day, although I suspect it takes her longer to finish it than when I first met her. And she is still politically attuned – and incorrect.
I have been sending her copies of my posts as I write them, and she is probably my most severe critic. She thinks that I’m far too polite in my comments about the President. I know because she has told me so in no uncertain terms.
As I said, when she gets on the subject of politics she is expressive in a downright earthy way.
On my most recent call congratulating her on her birthday, she said, “What the hell is wrong with you? You’ve got brains. Why don’t you talk about that SOB (she used one word implying an illegitimate birth status) in the White House and tell people that he’s the biggest piece of sh*t that we’ve ever elected? Look how he’s abandoning Israel.”
“What the hell is wrong with all these liberal Jews? Don’t they remember what the holocaust was all about? Don’t they remember what happened when they tried to find excuses about why Hitler wasn’t so bad? Don’t they remember that 6 million off us died in that SOB’s gas chambers – only because he couldn’t find the rest of us and kill us too?”
“This guy is just as dangerous as Hitler – it’s just that people are too stupid to see that.”
As I said, Sarah has some pretty deep feelings when it comes to politics.
I don’t think that I’m going to mail this particular post to Sarah. But I know that she will appreciate the cartoon. (I owe credit to Rick and his blog “Billericapolitics.org” for it). So I guess I’ll just make a copy of the cartoon and send it to her in the packet I’ve already assembled.
I’ll find out Sunday if she enjoyed it when we have our weekly call.