UNITED STATES—I guess you’re never safe, thought Sam. That’s just the way it is and the numbers chased by all the zeroes were cold comfort. When had it started? September 1 a few years back when the barbarian leader took Poland, homeland of so many in the Allied Fruit World. And nobody in the semi-free world did anything about it, though The New York Times bellyached about the lack of moral fiber.

Within a fortnight the Poet had spoken:

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The worst of all for Sam was that he was exiled from the things that made him happiest, music and numbers—the stellar music of numbers. But nobody had to hear about it, he was going through the motions. All the great events happened in compressed time, they were seen remotely as events viewed through the wrong end of a telescope, a pale, refracted reality. The Battle of the Bulge, the landing at Normandie. The bombs were dropped on Japan. Sam noticed these things but did not see. The new history to be directly digested from the Times Picayune had lost its power to take him from himself, to be both horrified and amused. He was in a funk.

“What did you say, Sam?” Rebecca said, while washing the dishes. Calpurnia had already left for the day.

He was jarred and chagrinned. Did I say aloud what I was thinking, or my thoughts were so loud.

The Second War ended on August 14, 1945. It was V-J day, a few days after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In New Orleans Jackson square filled with soldiers. Men got drunk. Girls kissed their sweethearts before writing a ‘Dear John Letter.’ Mother’s cried happy tears.

“What’s all the celebrating about?” Sam asked Rebecca.

“The War is over. We defeated Japan and Germany,” Rebecca said.

“What?” said Sam. He looked old and sluggish. The first peacetime shipment of bananas arrived in New Orleans. it was no longer a luxury item, but an American staple again.

On one of the rare days he left the house, he saw on old friend on St. Charles.

“Hooray, Sam. We whipped Hitler,” he said. In turn, Sam stared foggily.

“It’s your old friend Sol brakeman on the train. From the old days of Chamelecón.”

He brightened. To meet somebody from the old days put the gleam in Sam’s eyes.

“How’s your daughter?”

“I’m a grandfather, Sam. Rene married a baker from Baton Rouge. Best bread in Baton Rouge. Now my grandson is going to get married.”

“Where does the time go?”

Rebecca had her own private answer, which she kept for herself in obeisance to Sam who always needed to keep his eye on the big picture. Rebecca had these fierce headaches now, like chisel trying to chip its way out of her brain. The doctor had even given the condition a label. Her private pain was publicly vindicated.

The brief meeting left Sam uplifted. It was really amazing what a meeting with somebody from the old times could do to enliven the moment. Sam knew that a primary element of life, and especially a long life, is being able to say goodbye to the past and embrace the present. It was time to cultivate new friendship and move on. Whenever Sam, at different times in his life, had been asked by a questionnaire what was his religion, he immediately came up with a blank. Then after a few seconds, Russian Jew popped into his mind. It was the Russian that preternaturally figured in his sense of self. He had a very weak notion of Jewishness.

“Sam, what do you think about the way you’ve handled the kids,” Rebecca said. “In religion?” We went to our share of Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitsvah.”

“None of it stuck.”

As he aged, Sam was losing a bit of the self-control that marked him as an imposing young man, and that still held him in good stead. When he ran into his old friend Sol, he made a point to suppress a retelling of his son, Sam Jr.’s plane crash in the War. If he’d asked, he would have told and realized that the idea of healing is much easier said than done. If he was given 1000 more years, he would never heal. But Sol hadn’t asked, and he saw no need to add to another human’s knowledge of sad things.

“All that training, it crossed my mind. Sometimes I think I devoted to much time to the Company.”

“Sam, don’t be hard on yourself.”

“It’s been my job to be hard on myself since I was a kid.”

He had failed to instill a fear of the going into his kids. They had married non-Jewish and did not embrace Jewish causes. When offered a new life in America, he grabbed it whole hog. The freedom America embraces is both freedom in the present, freedom of a new starts, and it is also freedom from heritage and the past. Sam welcomed this, a place where he could be irreligious as he could be.

To be continued…

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)