In the space of just over five years, from 1930 to 1935, we moved nine times. During that period I lived in seven different neighborhoods and attended five different schools. I remember how it felt to be taken to a new school, escorted to a classroom, and introduced to the teacher, who would in turn introduce me to the class. Their eyes would all be upon me as I was directed to a seat, children I did not know staring. At recess time I would wander through the school yard watching the children talking and playing, with the teachers standing about, knowing nobody there, until after a couple of days I would begin to make some friends. It is important to keep what I have just said in mind, because much of the meaning of what follows will depend on it. But I should also explain that during each of those moves there had been trouble at home. My mother was doing her best to keep us unaware of my father’s condition, and to carry on as if all were well, but there was no way that she could have screened out the anxiety. Something was happening to my father that I did not understand, and what was happening was not good.
I want to tell about a party that took place when I was about 12 years old. At the time, what happened was baffling and shocking to me. Now I can see clearly that a number of things were involved, although I am still not entirely sure of their relative importance and exactly how they fit together. But before I can describe what went on at the party it is necessary to tell of several other incidents, beginning with one that happened about two years earlier.
We were living then in downtown Charleston, on Rutledge Avenue just below Broad Street, in a second story flat. My father had lost his electrical business several years before, after spending the larger part of two years in the hospital in Richmond, Virginia, with a brain abscess that had developed from a case of mastoiditis. On at least one occasion he had been expected to die, but he had recovered, and we returned home to South Carolina, although for months afterward he had worn bandages around his head and his left side had remained paralyzed for almost a year.
This was in the worst years of the Great Depression, and during his lengthy illness he had left his business in the hands of an assistant. By the time we moved back to Charleston from Richmond the business was in such poor shape that he had been forced to declare bankruptcy. Years later I learned that the people he had left in charge had apparently maneuvered things to make that happen, and then bought up the remaining stock and assets and taken away the business from him.
While this was going on, I knew only that the business was being sold. It would have meant little to me in any event, just as I had no sense that in moving from our big house on Hampton Park Terrace to a second-floor flat downtown, we were coming down in the world. Later I came to recognize that what was taking place during those years was being absorbed by me to a considerably greater extent than I was aware.
In the neighborhood where we now lived there were a number of other children. There were the Baker boys, Ronald and Markham, who lived next door, and next to them the Hairstons, Charlie and Johnny, whose family occupied the street floor of a house owned by the Magwoods, who lived above them. A boy named Wade Sterling lived further up the block, and another, Buddy Westendorff, across the street from us. There were also two Jewish children, Jack and Jeanne Marcussohn. All of us went to Crafts School, and in the afternoon we usually played together.
Saturday mornings the Marcussohns and my brother and sister and I went to Sabbath School at our temple, K. K. Beth Elohim, the reform Jewish synagogue. The school was very small, no more than two dozen or so students ranging from five-year-olds like my younger brother to the 15- and 16-year olds in the confirmation class. There were two Orthodox synagogues in Charleston, both with much larger congregations, whose religious schools and services were held on Sundays, but no Orthodox families lived in our neighborhood and I no longer had any Orthodox Jewish playmates.
When Sabbath school was over, I went to the movies at the Majestic Theater on King Street, to see a cowboy film and the current serial chapter. The others in the neighborhood went there on Friday afternoons, and there were certain times when this posed problems, because when the last chapter of the serial came around, revealing the answer to the mystery, they found out the secret before I did.
There was a serial entitled “The Darkening Shadow,” with a killer who appeared at key times during each of the twelve installments, throwing a dark shadow on the wall and uttering a low moaning sound. The question was, who was making the shadow appear and causing the murders? On the Friday afternoon of the last installment, the Hairstons and the Bakers, who always went together, returned with the incredible news that the murderer was a bumbling radio technician called Sparks, who always sat around jingling a couple of keys and acting silly.
I could not believe it was so. Only when I saw the final episode myself on Saturday did I accept the fact that Sparks was indeed the culprit, and that the seemingly innocent key puzzle that he had been manipulating each week controlled a radio mechanism which produced the deadly moaning shadow.
Except when the final episodes drew near it was not the serial chapters that most held our attention but the cowboy movies. Different cowboys were featured each week: Ken Maynard, with his palomino horse Tarzan; Colonel Tim McCoy, who rode a white stallion; Johnny Mack Brown, who had been a football star at the University of Alabama; John Wayne, likewise a onetime football player; Hoot Gibson; and Bob Steele. My favorite was John Wayne, who later graduated from the cowboy movies into technicolor feature films.
There was another category of cowboy stars whose exploits were not to be seen on the screen at the Majestic. The films in which Tom Mix and Buck Jones starred were shown on Monday and Tuesday afternoons, and by no means every week but only occasionally, at the Gloria Theater, a considerably more elegant movie house. To see a movie starring Tom Mix or Buck Jones cost not ten but twenty cents.
It was a Tom Mix movie that was the occasion of the first incident that I must tell about. There had been word at school that it was coming to the Gloria Theater the next week, and the movie advertisements in the Sunday News and Courier confirmed the report. The Hairston brothers announced after they came home from church that they were going to see it; their parents were younger and more willing to give them money to go to movies during the week.
At supper that evening I introduced the subject of the Tom Mix movie, but no offer of the money needed to go was forthcoming. “You shouldn’t have spent all your allowance Saturday,” my mother said. The next day, however, coming home from school I encountered my Uncle Edward, who was a reporter on the Evening Post, and he gave me a dime. On the strength of that I was able to persuade my father to come forward with the remaining ten cents. Meanwhile Ronald and Markham Baker had also secured permission to go to see Tom Mix, as had Buddy Westendorff. So we were all going together, except for Jack Marcussohn who had other business.
We headed downtown on our bicycles, pretending that we were on horseback. We were all wearing holsters with toy pistols. We pedaled up Rutledge Avenue to Wentworth Street, down Wentworth to St. Phillip, up St. Phillip, which was harder to bicycle on because the pavement was brick, turned into George Street, and into the driveway behind the Gloria Theater. We chained our bicycles alongside the high concrete side wall of a large gray wooden building abutting the parking lot, and sprinted back out onto George Street and up the sidewalk to the theater entrance, where we bought our tickets and went inside. The Hairston boys stopped to buy boxes of popcorn in the lobby, then we found seats in an empty row near the front of the theater.
I do not remember anything about the Tom Mix movie itself; this happened, after all, 58 years ago. When it was over, we emerged onto King Street, blinking as our eyes adjusted to the late afternoon light, and walked up George Street to where we had left our bicycles. Charlie and Johnny Hairston in particular were still excited by the action of the movie, and were shooting at the cars on George Street. “Bang! Bang!” they shouted.
“Hey, Rubin, look here!” Charlie Hairston called, and when I turned around, fired a round of bullets at me. “Pow! Pow! Pow! Pow!” I clutched at my stomach and staggered, then whipped out my pistol and fired back.
With Ronald Baker leading the way, we walked toward the bicycles. “Hurry up, boys!” Ronald declared. “We got to head them off before they cross Wentworth and St. Phillip!”
It was while we were unfastening the locks and removing the chains from the bicycles that I became conscious of an odd sound. It was like crying or howling, as if someone were in pain. But it rose and fell too sharply and at too frequent intervals for that. The sound seemed to be coming from the building alongside which we had leaned our bicycles. The building was high sided, with no windows on the first floor, which itself was well above street level. I gazed upward, where there was a row of open second story windows. The sound seemed to be coming from there.
It was as if someone were singing, though to no tune and to no regular rhythm or beat that I could identify. It seemed more like crying than like music, an ululation, drawn out and uneven, a male voice, not a female. The voice went up and down, rising and falling, and as if it were singing words, but in a language that was unknown to me. Or was it not singing at all, but the groaning of someone in pain?
We looked at each other in puzzlement. Then after a moment, astonishment gave way to amusement. “Aw-whooah-whoo-aw!” Johnny Hairston called out in imitation.
“Ah-eee-eye-aw-woo!” Ronald Baker responded, and then, “O-leee-o-lady-o!” as if yodeling.
“Come on, let’s go!” Charlie Hairston said. By this time we had unlocked and unchained the bicycles and were ready to leave. “O-leee-o-lady-o!” He yodeled again, as he climbed on his bicycle. “Turn on your ra-di-o!”
“O-leee-o-lady-o!” Buddy Westendorff and Johnny Hairston echoed. One after another we followed, pedalling down the driveway and out onto George Street. “O-leee-o-lady-o!” everyone was yodeling and laughing.
I was the last to leave, and I could hear the strange crying and wailing, still sounding from the windows high above. It was a peculiar sound, and one that I found disturbing—so much so that as I rode off in pursuit of the others I ceased to yodel and became silent.
After a little while, as we pedaled away on our bicycles the novelty of the yodeling wore off, and we began playing cowboys again, firing our pistols at each other and at nearby targets as we headed for home.
The thought of the peculiar, tuneless, but rising and falling singing—if that was what it had been—remained with me, however. At supper that evening I told my parents what had happened.
“That’s the Jewish Community Center,” my mother said at once. “Someone was practicing canting. That’s what you heard.”
“What is canting?” I asked. I had never heard the term before, nor of the existence of a Jewish Community Center.
Canting, my mother explained, was a kind of half-reading, half-singing recitation of prayers in Hebrew that took place in Orthodox Jewish synagogues. When Orthodox Jewish boys became 13 years old, she said, they studied for what was known as a bar mitzva, in which they joined the rabbi on the altar, read from the Bible in Hebrew, and sang, or canted, several prayers. It was probably someone who was being instructed by a cantor in how to do this that we had heard.
“Why don’t we have canting?” I asked.
“Because we don’t believe in it,” my mother said. “We hold our services in English.”
That summer something else happened. We played much of the time underneath the Bakers’ house, which was set well back from the street—all the other houses on the block fronted the sidewalk—and was elevated seven feet or so off the ground. The area beneath the house went far back, and there was one portion, back toward the rear, which for some reason had been walled off on three sides, with the front open but so far underneath the house that it was in deep shadow.
We had toy soldiers, cars and trucks and other things, and we built a town in the white beach sand under the front of the house for playing in. Ronald Baker was good at woodwork, and owned an electric jig saw. For the town we were constructing he made little bridges and garages out of plywood, and we also used building blocks, planks and other objects, so that we had a fairly elaborate little community with streets and stores and buildings and parking lots and other objects, spread over an area of perhaps a dozen feet wide and as many deep. Mr. Baker, Ronald’s and Markham’s father, was vice president of the local Plymouth dealership, so we even had an automobile dealer with a repair shop, which Ronald worked on. My building, which I made out of pieces of wood and cardboard, was the newspaper office.
The Bakers had a cousin, a girl named Pauline, younger than Ronald and Markham. She lived several blocks away, over on Lenwood Street, and would come over sometimes to play with them. The area with the walls on three sides located further back under the house was sometimes used by the girls to play at keeping house. There was another girl who also played under the house with us from time to time, named Peggy Magwood, and my sister also played sometimes, though generally she preferred to be with some other girls who lived down the block.
This was the summer of 1934, when the Chicago World’s Fair was taking place, with the famous streamline train on exhibit, so we had a railroad, with a locomotive made out of a wooden block which Ronald Baker planed off at one end so that it looked streamlined, and with other, smaller blocks for the coaches, which we fastened together with tacks and string and pulled behind the train along the sand. What I did most of the time when we played was to work on the train, smoothing off a separate roadbed for it with a length of board, making grade crossings, a station for it to stop at, and a roundhouse and train yard. I made a viaduct for the right-of-way to cross over, and semaphores and grade crossing arms.
One afternoon, perhaps a week or so after we had been working at building the town and its various installations in the sand, I went over after dinner, which was always eaten in early afternoon. Ronald and Markham were already down under the house playing, as were Johnny Hairston and Buddy Westendorff. Pauline Baker and Peggy Magwood were busy at something back in the enclosed area. I had made some little train warning signs on pieces of cardboard, and I began attaching them to the grade crossings along the railroad line. Ronald was working on the automobile dealer building; he had cut out a number of small blocks which he was arranging as cars on a used car lot. The others were engaged in various projects.
After a while, Peggy Magwood came over to where we were playing in the sand, and whispered something in Ronald’s ear. Ronald got up and went back to the enclosed area with her. A few minutes later I looked over to see what Ronald was doing. He had tied a length of clothesline across the open front of the enclosed area, and he was engaged in draping what appeared to be an old bedspread of some sort over it, to close it off. His brother Markham went over to join him. A little later Ronald and Markham came back to the sand where Johnny Hairston, Buddy Westendorff, and I had continued with what we were working on, and rejoined us.
“What’s all that?” I asked Ronald.
“They’re going to give a show,” he said. “They wanted to have a curtain over the front, like it was a stage.”
I thought no more of it, and we resumed our projects. Then after a time Peggy Magwood came back over, and again whispered something to Ronald, who got to his feet. “Come on,” he told us, “we’re going to see a show.”
In front of the enclosed area, which was curtained off, there was now a plank, stretched across two cinderblocks. Peggy Magwood went back behind the curtain. “Sit down on the bench,” Ronald said. We took our seats, Johnny Hairston, Buddy Westendorff, Markham and myself, and Ronald handed little pieces of pasteboard to each of us. “They’re tickets,” he explained. Then he went inside the curtain.
We waited, and after a minute he stepped back outside. “Ladies and gentlemen I” he said. “Presenting Sally Rand and her famous fan dance!” First Peggy Magwood came out from behind the curtain and collected our tickets. Then Ronald thrust his head inside the curtain. “Are you ready?” he asked.
He pulled the curtain to one side. Pauline Baker was standing at the back of the three-sided area, in semi-darkness. She had taken off all her clothes, and was holding a piece of cloth, apparently an old pillowcase, in front of her. She stepped forward, though still well back in the enclosure, and began to dance, moving the piece of cloth back and forth in front of her as she did, at times holding it entirely away from her body long enough so that we could see everything.
She continued for perhaps a minute, swinging the pillowcase back and forth, then stepped back into the shadow at the rear of the area.
“That’s all,” Peggy Magwood said, and Ronald pulled the curtain back across.
Johnny Hairston giggled. I felt embarrassed. We got up from the bench and went back to where we had been playing in the sand.
The next morning I was under the Bakers’ house alone, working on my train station. After a while Ronald came down. He reported that Pauline’s parents had learned about his cousin’s Sally Rand fan dance, and that she had been given a spanking.
“How did they find out?” I asked.
“Markham said something about it at supper. They said it was very bad to show herself naked to boys. Especially to you.” “Why?”
“Because you’re a Jew.” I said nothing, and continued building my train line.
During the winter following, when I was in the sixth grade, my parents decided to build a house, up in the far northwestern part of the city at the foot of a street called Versailles, on a bluff overlooking the Ashley River. In later years I was told that the decision to build a house through a loan from the new Federal Housing Authority came because it would give my father something to do. He had recovered from the paralysis on his left side and had not needed to wear a bandage around his head for several years, but he went to the doctor frequently and experienced what were called nervous spells. His enforced idleness, after he began recovering physically, was an ordeal for someone who had been active in business and community life before his illness, and his doctors had forbidden him absolutely to go back into business. The nervous strain and financial anxiety, they warned, would kill him.
I remember waking up once late at night to hear my father out in the hall, and the thought crossing my mind that perhaps he might kill all the family and commit suicide. I can only suppose that I had read in the newspaper of some such incident having happened somewhere. There would have had to have been awareness of my father’s unhappiness, in order for so bizarre a thought to have come to a ten or eleven year-old child. It was inevitable that I would know. On the day before he went to the hospital to be operated on for mastoiditis, for example, I had heard him crying in pain even though the door of his bedroom upstairs was tightly closed and we were being kept outside the house with a nurse. There are things that you cannot keep hidden from children.
We moved into the new house in June, once school was out for the summer. After having lived in a neighborhood where there were numerous other children, I found the new house strange, even though there were woods and fields to explore and, across a grove of oak trees in front of ours, the edge of the marshland, with the river several hundred yards beyond it. The nearest built-up area was a half-mile to the east, up Versailles Street. The day after we moved in a boy named John Carmody, who had been in my class at the James Simons School before we had moved downtown, came down to play with me, and thereafter we were together almost every day. Soon I made other friends as well, over on Hampton Park Terrace.
It was at this time that I began to develop the obsession with sports, and above all baseball, that characterized much of my childhood and my teens. I call it an obsession because it went well beyond an ordinary interest in playing games. We had played baseball a little in the downtown neighborhood, on a vacant lot across the street from my house, and I had begun following the major league news in the newspapers and over the radio, but it was only when we moved uptown to Versailles Street that baseball became important.
What I did not realize at the time that we moved was that there was a class distinction involved in where one lived in Charleston. Uptown, where we now lived, the children were from middle class families, with many verging upon working class. This social division had its counterpart in the sports they played, in particular baseball. For baseball was not a downtown but an uptown sport. The boys I now found myself playing with all had baseball gloves, and played baseball all the time.
What I wanted very much, and did not have, was a left-handed baseball glove, for the baseball gloves and mitts on sale in the five-and-ten-cent stores on King Street were all made for use by right-handed persons, and I was left-handed.
My father always drove downtown on Friday mornings, and I went with him. Usually my mother came along, and we dropped her off on King Street to do her grocery and other shopping, and then my father took care of any business he might have before picking her up at an agreed-upon time and place and returning home. One Friday morning in midsummer my mother did not go with us. My father made several calls downtown, then on the way home he stopped at a hardware store on upper King Street to buy something. While with him in the store I discovered a left-handed baseball glove, on sale for $1. 25. Somehow I persuaded him to buy it for me, on the pledge that I would earn the money and repay him.
I think that he advised me when I brought it home not to show it to my mother until I had acquired the money to pay for it. If so, however, my pride in the new glove was such I could not resist displaying it, and at dinner that afternoon I placed the blue box containing it under my chair at the table, and soon brought it out to show.
My mother was furious. The glove was immediately confiscated. I had no right to own such a thing until I had saved up the money to buy it.
I can see now that her response was reflexive, for I was able to earn the $1. 25 within a few days by using my weekly allowance, due the day following, preparing a new edition of the typewritten newspaper I wrote and selling carbon copies to my aunts, uncles, and family friends for two cents apiece, and performing what must have been chores manufactured for the occasion, and thereafter the glove was mine. Yet the shock of having had the left-handed glove taken from me and made into an emblem of my extravagance and frivolity, has remained with me. Over the years I have pictured in my mind the new glove, in the box with Hutch imprinted on it.
That fall I reentered the James Simons School for the seventh grade. I had started school there, and after spending much of the second and all of the third grade at other schools I had returned for the fourth grade, only to transfer to Crafts School when we moved downtown before the second term was over. So I knew some of my new classmates. In the spring I organized a baseball team, and several times we went over to Hampton Park Terrace, where I had once lived, and played the team there.
It was in May of that year, when I was 12, that the party that prompts these recollections took place. It happened on a Sunday afternoon. The boy for whom it was given, Stanley Kirstein, was a year older than me. I did not know him very well. We had played together when I was six or seven, then after that we moved away for the first time and although I occasionally saw him thereafter I had spent almost no time in his company. His parents and mine were friends, however, so when the time came for his Bar mitzva I received an invitation to his party.
It was to be held in the annex to B’rith Sholom, the Orthodox synagogue, which was located on St. Phillip’s Street, around the corner from the Jewish Community Center on George Street. Except for Stanley Kirstein and several boys at school, I did not know any Orthodox Jewish children. No Orthodox families lived anywhere near us in the Versailles Street area, nor had there been any on Rutledge Avenue.
On the afternoon of the party I drove downtown with my parents and my brother and sister. My mother was a little late at washing the dinner dishes and putting them away, and then getting dressed. The plan was for them to let me off at the party, and when it was over I would come home on the trolley car. When we turned off Calhoun Street there was considerable traffic on St. Phillip’s Street. The annex to the synagogue was halfway to George Street, across from the campus of the College of Charleston.
We drew near, and I got out of the car up the street from the building, crossed St. Phillips Street through the traffic, walked up to the front of the building, and went up the steps and into the entrance. The room was crowded with people.
I stepped inside. There were people standing about everywhere, not only boys but girls, my age or a little older, talking and laughing, and a few adults as well. I could see no one that I knew. As I entered the room their eyes were upon me, staring.
Suddenly I turned, bolted through the doorway, and raced down the steps onto the sidewalk. Down the street I could see our car, which had not yet reached the stoplight at the corner of George Street. I ran along the sidewalk, out into the street, opened the door, flung myself into the back seat of the car next to my sister and brother, and began weeping hysterically.
The traffic light changed, and my father drove on.
“It’s all right,” my mother told me. “You don’t have to go to the party if you don’t want to. We’ll send Stanley his present tomorrow.”
The entire episode could have taken no more than a couple of minutes. My parents’ car had traveled only a block or so in stop-and-go traffic; at most there could have been no more than two changes of the traffic light. It was a long time, however, before I could make myself stop weeping.
Later I tried to understand just what it was that had caused my panic on that day. Prior to the immediate event itself I had felt no uneasiness or anxiety. I had in fact thought little about it. I would be going to a party that afternoon; that was all. The sudden fright, the bolting had come without warning.
For years the explanation that I gave for it was that it was an Orthodox Jewish gathering, a bar mitzva party, that I was attending, and that as a Reform Jew I was confronting, for almost the first time, the fact of my Jewishness. From childhood on we had been taught to consider ourselves superior to the Orthodox Jews. So that my panic and precipitate flight had been an effort to deny the evidence of my Jewish identity. But now I realize that, while there may have been something to that, it is not a sufficient answer. For if I had set out to attend a similar party for one of my non-Jewish playmates, I would doubtless have done exactly the same thing. It was the fact that I did not know anybody there that was important.
The party for Stanley Kirstein took place in late spring. That summer, when I was still 12, 1 did something that seems in retrospect amazing, the more so the older I get. I organized not merely a team but a city-wide baseball league.
I did this entirely by myself. Two other boys in our neighborhood were supposedly vice-president and secretarytreasurer, but after the first week or so both lost interest. I wrote a news story and sent it in to the sports page of the morning newspaper, announcing its formation, and after the story appeared I began getting telephone calls from various groups of boys wanting to place teams in it. Eventually there were teams in each of two divisions, one for players 12 or younger, the other for players up through the age of 14.
Many of the players on the various teams were older and bigger than myself, as well as considerably tougher. No adults were involved; none of the teams had coaches. The games were all played at the far end of College Park, beyond the centerfield area of the diamond where the Municipal League games took place. I not only kept a scorebook but umpired most of the games from behind the pitcher’s mound, and afterward called in the line score, the pitchers and batters, and the leading hitters to the News and Courier for publication the next morning. The season was in two halves, and the winners of each half played for the championship.
When the season was over, I gave an afternoon party for the winning teams in our yard. My parents did help with this, serving lemonade and cookies, and my mother cut out enough block letters from a piece of felt to present a P, for Palmetto League, to the players on the winning teams. Several of the players on the 13— 14-year division winners brought their girlfriends to the party. There were two girls who had been in my seventh grade class at school. I found it awkward to have them present. The high school to which I would soon be going in September was for boys only. The afternoon newspaper sent a photographer up to photograph the winning teams, and their pictures appeared the following day.
Why did I do it? I have asked myself that more than once. The city playground department had a baseball league. Across Cleveland Street from College Park was Hampton Park Playground. Yet I did not try out for the Hampton Park team. I felt out of place on the playground and I knew that I was not a good enough player to compete for a place on the team. The boys who played on it could run faster, hit better, and throw longer and far more accurately than I could. The baseball league that I organized was for boys who were not good enough to make the playground teams—although, as it turned out, many of those who played in it were on the playground teams as well.
What the undertaking shows is the urgency that was involved—that, and the enormity of my ambition.
It is this, I think, that lies behind the incident with the left-handed baseball glove, and why the memory of it can still bring tears to my eyes after all these years. 7 was left-handed. I was different, set apart from others; so far as playing baseball was concerned, I was handicapped, crippled, because the gloves that I could afford to buy at Kress’s or Woolworth’s were all right-handed, designed for use in a predominantly right-handed world.
My mother could not understand. My father, who might have, was too wrapped up in his own problems. The incident with the baseball glove happened during the first summer that we lived in the new house, no more than a couple of months after it was built. I have no doubt that the bills were coming in; unexpected expenses involved in moving into and living in a new house had cropped up; the excitement of having taken the risk and built the new house was receding, and the financial liabilities were becoming clear. When I arrived home that day with a baseball glove for which my father had advanced me the money to buy, it must have exasperated my mother beyond endurance. So she confiscated the left-handed Hutch baseball glove, in its blue cardboard box, as the emblem of everything that was wrong with myself, my father, and the family’s situation in general.
How could she see, or could ever have seen, what I myself could not have articulated at the time or recognized for what it was—that far from being frivolous or irresponsible, it represented on my part a desperate effort at conformity?
I have been a baseball fan all my life. When my own boys grew old enough to play Little League baseball, I helped to coach the team, and then set up an American Legion team so that they could continue to play after they became too old for the playground teams. Both were much better players than ever I was as a youth. I made friends with the baseball coach at the university where I taught, and through him got to know the professional baseball scouts who came to watch certain players. I enjoyed sitting with them at games in the seats behind home plate at the university stadium, and listening to them talk about baseball, hunting, and fishing. As I write this the Atlanta Braves have just won the western division championship of the National League, and I shall be watching every minute of the league playoffs, and the World Series after that, on television.
There is one question that I sometimes ask myself, however. It does not have to do with the Bar Mitzva party from which I fled so precipitously. I have long since understood what I think was involved in that. I was once again being thrust into an unfamiliar social situation, an alien among strangers—including girls—with whom I would henceforth have to get along. Rather, it relates to the incident several years before that, when we went to the movies and afterward heard the wailing sound, as if someone were in pain. At one time I thought that the answer had to do with being Jewish— that I had somehow intuited that what I was hearing was chanting—but now I am not so sure.
The question is this: why, when my playmates, amused by the strange sound coming from the open windows overhead, began yodeling as we rode off on our bicycles, did I suddenly grow silent?