Far Gresham’s Dilemma: A Short Story

January 24, 2018

A Short Story

Far Gresham’s Dilemma


R.E. Prindle

 Pages torn from the memoirs of Far Gresham 12/25/1981

Edited by R.E. Prindle


My troubles had been increasing. I struggled to avoid what I knew would be the inevitable conclusion. I had seen the situation developing itself, had done my best to avert it by taking evasive actions years before, but the juncture and collision of the two forces were unavoidable. When the collision occurred I knew, I hoped that I wouldn’t, but I knew that I would buckle and collapse before the concentrated hatred of my enemies. My probable reaction had been impressed into my psyche decades before. I knew this, but I, as we all are, was powerless to resist this old imprinting. Coinciding with the objective phenomena had been the gradual disintegration of my personality. Self-analysis had cleared me of nearly all deleterious psychological reactions but now I was faced with trying to exorcise the central external factor which controlled my psyche; which compelled reactions in me which were irrational and beyond my control.

I was now approaching forty-two. Over the years as I had peeled back the layers of the onion seeking that core which would liberate me from my thralldom and allow me to face the world with a clear mind and cohesive purpose. I had resolved many aspects of my personality but this one remained beyond my grasp. All my efforts to convince myself to deal with this central problem had been rebuffed by my subconscious mind. I thought I had come close on several occasions, but fear always held me back. I had convinced myself that the event was of minor importance. I believed that, while this occurrence held me in thrall, that, while it had humiliated the child I had been, this terrible happening would turn out to be insignificant. I was both right and wrong.

I was too late to alter the outcome of my objective situation but I did find salvation for my subjective situation. The latter was of the greater importance to me. The period was one of very troubled sleep. I had had several successive weeks of disturbing dreams. They did not frighten me. I knew that negotiations were being undertaken by my conscious and subconscious selves. The violence of the dreams only indicated the significance of the matter under consideration. The dreams occurred every night and seemed to last through the whole night. Obviously a climax was imminent.

The revelatory dream, that dream that liberated me from the enthrallment to the traumatic circumstances was preceded by a brief little dream that set the stage for the major revelation. The dream was a quiet little dream, merely a vignette. It was a peaceful little dream set in a scene that was potentially terrifying. Strangely, it was not.

I became conscious of looking into a darkened warehouse filled with rows and rows and stacks and stacks of boxes. In the aisles there was a man searching frantically and desperately through the boxes in the gloom of the shadowy warehouse. There was no light. I didn’t know how he expected to find anything. But he continued to search in a manner approaching frenzy.

Aroused by the noise, a guardian appeared to investigate. I recognized him immediately; it was Death. Death had not the fearsome, ugly appearance as he is usually depicted. He was a kindly looking avuncular old man with an understanding expression on his face and a shock of gray hair. He had come out to investigate the noise. He found a Burglar in the House of Death. I recognized the Burglar too. It was me. I wondered what I was looking for.

The information was immediately forthcoming, for Death, without approaching the Burglar asked him what he was doing.

The Burglar was very distraught, his expression revealed a deep distracted anguish. He replied: ‘I’m looking for my dead self. My first personality was murdered and taken from me. I need him to make myself whole again.’

Death looked at the Burglar with some amazement: ‘Are you dead?’ he asked.

‘No.’ replied the Burglar, ‘It’s my original self who was murdered.   I’m looking for his ghost.’

‘If you’re not dead then you can’t be here. Death told the Burglar in a kindly manner. ‘You must leave now or stay forever.’

But the Burglar was too distraught to comprehend his danger and blurted out: ‘But you don’t understand, I can’t leave until I find my original self.’

Death seemed to be amused rather than angered by this impertinent reply. He emitted a low warm chuckle: ‘I don’t understand? Ha. Ha. I don’t understand! If you have misplaced it or allowed it to atrophy then you have come looking in the very wrong place. You should search your own pockets first.’ His voice lowered to a tone of stern rebuke: ‘Leave now and bother me no more until I come for you.’

Darkness closed in from the edges until the middle disappeared. When I awoke I enjoyed a certain calmness amidst my general disturbance. I relaxed in a state of excitement. I knew what to do but I didn’t know how to go about it. I actively tried to compel my conscious to vex my subconscious to make it give up the secret. It was very reluctant to do so. One night in this long period of stormy dreams my subconscious presented me with a new metaphor to see if I could interpret it correctly.

When the dream took form I found myself in the playground of a grade school with another boy who was looking to me for guidance. The ground rose in three slight equal gradients to the school building which was perhaps a hundred yards in the distance. It was daytime but there was no light. No grass grows on a playground and there were only a few tufts around the occasional tree in this one. In the distance just outside the building stood a figure pointing something in my and this other boy’s direction. Taking time to get a clear look at this figure, who was a mere shadow, I discerned that he was pointing a rifle at me. This other boy said: ‘What is that red spot on your chest?’

I looked down and saw the red dot from a laser rifle centered on my heart. I immediately leaped to the side to get the dot off my heart knowing that with the laser beam on me the rifleman couldn’t miss. He stood stationary, but, now aware of the laser beam I rolled around on the ground, adopted stooping and standing postures, but no matter what I did the laser beam remained on my heart. Although I was clearly in his sights the rifleman didn’t pull the trigger. All this time the other boy kept advising me to be calm, that the rifleman wasn’t shooting. Good calm advice but the laser beam wasn’t aimed at his heart.

Finally, convinced that no shots would be fired, I ran from the schoolyard and headed for some city streets lined with middle class houses. I rushed toward them and was actually among the houses when a sentry who was stationed in a guard house which I had already passed commanded me to come back to him. I was beyond his reach and ought to have kept going but the sense of guilt which had pervaded my life prevented my continuing. I returned to the sentry box. I stood before the sentry awaiting his decision. I had broken into a nervous sweat, as had been my habit, and stood twitching guiltily. He did and said nothing. Ignored me.

Astonished at his lack of interest in me I began to wonder what this dream might mean and how it was related to my central childhood fixation. While I was standing there in my consternation my subconscious, deriding my inability to grasp the meaning of the metaphor, decided to show me the central fixation of my life, the one situation that controlled my responses to everyday life and all personal relationships. But this was no easy task. For I resisted. For this intense shame, humiliation and debasement had encased the memory behind a stout concrete block wall, or so it was represented in my dream. Perhaps the method of penetrating this wall had been suggested to me by an old movie I had seen years before, the name of the movie was The Children Of The Damned.

In this movie several intelligences from outer space had been sent to Earth to assume control of Earthmen. They were in the form of babies, the movie was produced in the wake of the Nazi Era so the babies, soon to be children, were blond and blue eyed. Obviously a thinly disguised simile for the ‘Blond Beast’. They were very aggressive. As eight-year olds their intelligence surpassed all but the most learned Earthmen. Earthmen soon grasped their danger and set out to destroy the super intelligent aliens. But the children’s penetrating intelligence, which was able to read minds, detected every plot against them. Finally a noble Earth martyr carried a brief case loaded with dynamite, a few years later he would have been able to fill his pocket with plastique, into the classroom. In order to foil the intelligence of the alien children he concentrated his thoughts on a brick wall. The children, standing in a semi-circle around him, directing their intelligence to shattering his wall, which was graphically portrayed in the movie. As the wall was destroyed bricks flying everywhere the martyr’s thoughts of the briefcase shown clear, of course, the children were too late. The bomb exploded blowing eight space kids and one noble martyr back into outer space.

So, as I stood in terrific anticipation, my subconscious directed an energy against the wall which separated me from my dead self; the assassinated child of my youth, the murdered child of another time; the hope of another universe. The concrete wall was disintegrating before my eyes. Fragments flew in every which way. As the hole in the wall was enlarged the object of the search by the Burglar in the House of Death revealed itself. Its full horror was exposed to my view.

My mind’s eye received the image. It was a scene, a snapshot. I can see this still photograph of my degradation today, now, just as it was presented to me on that night, in that dream. I was unable for several weeks thereafter to comprehend the scene. I could see the picture but try as I might I could not actually remember the sequence of events. Still my mind began to slowly reconstruct the situation.

This period of my life, from four to eight, had always been jumbled In my memory. I had never been able to arrange events of that period into chronological order. I was now able to unfold those years and reconstruct my life of that period.

The picture I was shown was simply this. A group of twelve children, we would all have been six or seven in the second grade, were standing in a semi-circle around a child in frozen motion on one foot in mortal terror and a cold sweat. Elsewhere on the playground, this was during recess, stood twelve other children in disarray. This was the incident that shaped my reactions to life, that directed my responses against my will.

There was still no memory. The scene was not brought to life, converted from a single snapshot into a cinematic motion picture. Nor has it since. The memory was and is too painful. Yet I have been able to reconstruct that terrible moment and the steps that led up to it.

Partially I did this from memory; partially from research. I never contacted any of my former classmates. I went back to the Valley and collecting the name of my classmates from the school archives and examining the archives of the Valley Star around those years I have been able to reconstruct the following account. As in all wars there was an ante-bellum period. It begins actually, before I was born.

My mother had never wanted me. In her family the eldest female cousin was given the rights of primogeniture. As I was the first born child of my mother and her three sisters, she had desperately hoped for a daughter so that she could leap to being chief among her sisters. Her disappointment when I was born was severe. She never forgave me for not being a girl, nor was she prepared to assert my rights against my female cousin born four years later. It is just as well that she abandoned me for I can never forgive her for having abandoned my rightful role as eldest cousin in my extended family. My cousin, Danielle, when she was born had displaced me. This early abandonment in favor of my cousin has also left its mark on my character. My mother was no mother to me.

She, while in high school inadvertently set in motion the animosity directed at me in the second grade. Such is the unpredictability and uncertainty of life. She, while in the twelfth grade, accepted a date with a boy by the name of David Hirsh. David Hirsh was the son of Solomon Hirsh who owned Hershey’s Department Store. I do not know what my mother’s parents did but I do know that they were not well to do, nor were they ever of the social station the Hirshes enjoyed. Well to do boys only date girls from a lower social stratum for one purpose. Perhaps my mother was too naïve to know this, or perhaps she flattered herself that this rich kid might actually fall in love with her. He, on his part, being a rich kid, expected to score. Go all the way as they expressed it in those days.

Cars had not attained the universality in 1936 that they posses at the present. David Hirsh had a car of his very own which he could drive to school and park for all to see. His status at school was very high. Picking my mother up in his new automobile he employed a trick that undoubtedly antedated cars. He drove her a few miles out of town, parking the car in a grove of trees by the side of the road he quite bluntly told her to put out or get out. My mother would not be intimidated by a boy who threw off the disguise of a knight in shining armor and announced he was nothing but an arrogant rich cad in a shiny automobile. She got out. Dismayed at this rejection of what he considered a low class broad who should have been grateful for his attention, he shot off a few uncomplimentary remarks about my mother’s national antecedents. Now, from 1900 to, say, 1940 when immigrant nationalities were still in process of acculturation, national antagonisms were high. Even in the thirties, after immigration had been closed down in 1924, foreign accents were common and ethnic traits still persisted. My mother while not having an accent could still be identified as a Pole by her vocal rhythms. She still clung to certain Polish articles of dress. She still had a romantic attachment to the Polish babushka, or kerchief worn over the head and tied beneath the chin. Thus in this ethnic jostling racial and national slurs were commonly expressed. Fist fights occurred over national differences. Immigrants were stopped on the streets by natives and compelled to recite the pledge of allegiance of kiss the American flag.

Therefore the following passage in historical perspective should not be alarming. It is history. It is the way it was. Hirsh knew that my mother was of Polish ancestry. Everyone knew everyone else’s national antecedents. It was important. Now, irritated to the point of distraction by my mother’s refusal of his improper proposal, mixing nationalities freely he called a dumb Polack and a stupid Bohunk. Either he was ignorant of his geography or in is frustration he lost touch with who he was talking to. Perhaps in his sexual rut he saw double. I don’t know.

There is an old saying: People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. This old saying applies to everyone but it especially applied to David Hirsh. For, as his name indicates, he was Jewish. One of the many nationalities with representatives in the United States. In a world of immigrant antipathies there are pejorative nicknames for every group of people. My mother’s mind was well furnished against any contingency of name calling.

As David Hirsh inched slowly along just behind my mother shouting these derogatory national epithets, as well as others even more personal, my mother absorbed in her disappointment was oblivious to everything else. Then regaining some composure she began to hear what he was saying. Taking umbrage at this very unjust conduct, she returned a few sharp epithets. She used words like ‘kike’ and ‘sheeny.’ Words that have all but lost their meaning today.

Disappointed in love, his heart filling with rancor at what he later described as that ‘arrogant Polack bitch,’ Hirsh heard those words flung back at him and his heart in turn became cold. With that marvelous ability that human beings have of disregarding their own provocative words and actions, David Hirsh immediately forgot his insult of ‘Put out or get out’ and the ethnic slurs he had first hurled at my mother. Swallowing hard he decided that he had been rejected because he was Jewish and my mother was an anti-Semite. He gave the car the gas, drove off in a shower of gravel and left her to walk home.

The matter might have rested there except for the fact that Hirsh was prone to dig his own grave. He would always be an adept at self-embarrassment because of his vindictiveness. Hirsh had boasted to his friends who he was going to date, what he was going to do to her and where he was going to do it. In those ancient times before macadam and concrete had completely altered the landscape as we knew it, the roads were graveled, especially in rural and semi-rural areas. As the Valley is very wet, deep wide ditches ran along each side of the road to drain the fields. Three of Hirsh’s friends, out to watch the action and verify Hirsh’s boasts, witnessed the whole thing from within a ditch. The next week at school Hirsh was not allowed to forget or even accept responsibility for his action. ‘She’ had done it to him. She must pay.

Two years later my mother married my father. As they say, I was the result of that union. Four years later my mother divorced my father. We went to live with her parents. While we lived there I entered Kindergarten at Emerson Grade School. At five I had not yet heard of class consciousness. I was apparently the only innocent in the room. At Emerson the classes were all of about twenty-five students. My room divided into two social classes. There were twelve students in each group, that I will call after one of the two classes in H.G. Wells’ story of the Time Machine, the Eloy. There were twelve students in the group I denominate Morlocks, plus myself. I remain uncomprehending of class differences to this day.

Amongst my classmates was a boy named Michael Hirsh. Michael was the son of the same David Hirsh who had dated my mother. David Hirsh had not forgotten the consequences of his unfortunate behavior. Thus the biblical heritage expressed itself as the ‘sins’ of the Mother shall be visited on the son.

Michael Hirsh, as I now believe, on his father’s instructions, set about to humiliate me to avenge his father’s humiliation of himself.   Kindergarten was not a happy time for me. I was rejected by the Eloy and seeing the abject disposition of the Morlocks, I had no desire to take a place with them. Rejected by my mother because I was a boy, I was now rejected by my classmates.

I was a lonely boy and perhaps consequently a difficult one. Thus the year passed. I played alone in the schoolyard and remained ignorant of my situation.

Did I mention there was a war on? Yes, this was 1943 and 1944. Hitler and Tojo were out to conquer the world. Millions of men were in uniform. Industrial manpower was in short supply. Prior to the wars the Valley did not have a large Black population. Blacks were encouraged to migrate North to work in the factories as the White boys had been drafted for the war. Thus racial antagonisms were added to immigrant national antagonisms. I’m not bragging. Many times I have wished that I wasn’t that way, but I believe in equality before the law and fair play. Laugh at me if you will. It’s my way and I’m not going to change, can’t, won’t.

One day in Spring, just before summer vacation, as Kindergarten was drawing to a close three little Black kids were introduced into our midst. Here is where the direct meaning of my dream begins. A tremor went through the class. Today you can search the country over without finding a person who will admit that they were ever prejudiced against Black people. David Hirsh was no exception. Hirsh stayed as well informed as a busybody. Aware of the Black kids time of arrival he instructed his son Michael what to do when they arrived.

Michael, who had a habit of emphasizing his opinions with his projected index finger, shook it at each of us and told us that under no circumstances were we to fraternize with the Black kids. I thought this was wrong, but, already an outsider, I wasn’t going to make it worse for myself by objecting.

On the way to recess Michael Hirsh re-admonished us. Once outside, however, he added a new condition. He demanded that the Black kids sit on the edge of the sand box and not move during recess. This was going too far. I took offence. As I played alone I was not averse to the Black kids having to play alone, but I could not condone their not being allowed to play within themselves.

By coincidence I was standing between the Black kids and Hirsh who stood there shaking his finger at them. Hirsh stood before the Eloy who were gathered behind him. I have never been overly keen on fighting. I was always small for my age. Hirsh was a good two inches taller than me. I told Hirsh and the Eloy that I didn’t think it was right to make those kids sit there during recess. He told me that was the way it was going to be. I said, No, I might refuse to talk to them but I couldn’t allow this. I exhorted the Black kids to get up and fight with me against the injustice. Hirsh was dumbfounded. No one had ever challenged his authority before. I was not only challenging him I was offering to fight him. Those little Black kids left me hanging out to dry. They wouldn’t budge. Fortunately Hirsh was a coward. He had already stepped back into the protective pocket of the Eloy. I had envisioned Armageddon but now Hirsh and the Eloy had melted away.

I thought it was over. I had no idea of the seriousness of my crime. Michael Hirsh went home and bawled to his father. His father had not anticipated that his son would be challenged. He had failed to provide his son with the appropriate response. Michael Hirsh’s self-confidence was shattered. I had no idea what I had done. As my mother, by standing up for herself, had humiliated David Hirsh, so now I had likewise humiliated Michael Hirsh. David Hirsh was enraged. Failing to see the injustice of his cause, a second time, he determined on revenge.

After school the next day Hirsh padded up behind me and hissed into my ear: ‘We’re going to get you.’ I did believe he meant what he said. But the year was over and it would have to wait till next year.

At just this time my mother made her first attempt to abandon me. She arranged for me to go live with a family named Smith. The Valley straddles the River and is therefore divided into two distinct towns with two distinct characters; The East and West sides. The East Side was gradually claimed by the incoming tide of Blacks. The Whites moved out into the hamlets, or West Side. The Smiths lived on the West Side of the River. I transferred from Emerson to Thoreau. I was relieved, for I knew that had I remained at Emerson Hirsh and the Eloy would have their vengeance.

Except for the longer minutes with which childhood is endowed my relief was short lived. In May of that year the Smiths informed my mother that I could no longer stay with them. My mother, still unwilling to accept me, found room and board for me with a family named Johnson. On the East Side. In the Emerson school district. I was terrified. I returned to Emerson in the mid-First Grade. There was an electric shock amongst the Eloy as the message ‘He’s back’ flashed from mouth to mouth.

By this time I had forgotten the reason for my persecution. I was so concerned about the enmity of the Eloy that I never thought to reason why. My offense was certainly a justified one, or what I would have thought my so-called offence to have been. Actually Hirsh and the Eloy didn’t consider their action against the Blacks as unjust. Therefore, in their eyes, my offence consisted of an act of insubordination; a refusal to keep the place they had assigned me. The Eloy were unrelenting; I was harassed continually. The Morlocks either actively followed orders to interfere with me or were too timid to resist. The teacher acquiesced in the attitude of the Eloy. Perhaps David Hirsh put pressure on her after Michael informed him I was back. Authority is always week kneed. It will always accept the position of the stronger. Justice is not a factor in its decisions.

Taken by surprise, David Hirsh, his son and the Eloy could not obtain a revenge that would gratify their desires during the four remaining months of the first grade. David Hirsh thought long and hard on the matter. The Biblical answer was an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. The punishment must fit the crime. David Hirsh’s thoughts roved back to the celebrated Dreyfus Affair in France at the end of the nineteenth century. Dreyfus, a Jew, had been convicted of spying. Part of his punishment was a brutal degrading. He had been compelled to stand before his assembled brother officers as he was stripped of the insignia of his association with the French army; had them torn from his uniform and thrown in the mud. Ruminating on this famous cause celebre he associated it also with his son’s embarrassment. For as difficult as it is for me to conceive, Michael Hirsh took my objection to his injustice in the same manner in which I will describe my humiliation. In his mind David Hirsh sought to avenge both Dreyfus and his son on me.

Hirsh formulated his plan, instructed and drilled his son and the Eloy in the procedure. I remained with the Johnsons in a state of agony, fearing the approach of September.

I know that winter had not arrived as the leaves were still on the trees, so it is possible that I was gotten on the first day of school. I still do not know exactly what happened. I am only surmising from an interpretation of the photograph I was shown in my dream; or perhaps I am drawing up information reservoirs my subconscious still denies me access to. I have thought that my punishment was the requirement imposed on the Black children two years previously in Kindergarten. But in reality it was the ‘punishment’ I had had unknowingly imposed on Michael Hirsh. David Hirsh had instructed his son what to do. His son executed perfectly. At recess the Eloy arranged themselves in a semi-circle around me. The worthless Morlocks, who were excluded from all Eloy intercourse hung listlessly in the background where they belonged. In Kindergarten Hirsh had encountered me in the point position. Exposed, he had retreated into the protection of the Eloy behind him. His lack of character at that moment was the crime with which I was charged. Now, as the keystone in the arch surrounding me, protected deep within the pocket which enclosed me, from within which authority always works, coward that he was, all authority is cowardly, he was prepared to deal with me. I ha no problem with fear. I would have fought if challenged. I might have fought if Hirsh had been on point as in Kindergarten. Maybe the movie of the Alien Kids acted as a mild solvent, loosening the cover on my suppressed memory which decades later allowed me to recover a souvenir of this incident, for just as the Space Kids glared hatred at the Noble Martyr only to break his reserves too late, so the Eloy gathered around me and glared hatred into my soul. If they had all set upon me physically the result could have been borne, but I could not resist their cumulative concentrated hatred. I crumbled beneath the projected blizzard of hatred. David Hirsh achieved more than his goal. He not only humiliated me he killed my soul. Michael Hirsh, in the keystone was shaking the customary finger at me. He told me that I was to take a step toward him and stop when he told to stop. I raised my foot and he said stop. In that awkward position I was told to remain for the duration of recess. Thus I was substituted for the Negroes in Kindergarten.

I hope the reader doesn’t think badly of me. I don’t know that I am ashamed today although I resent myself for having complied. I know in my heart that they would have backed down if I had resisted.

Hirsh must have been the shadowy figure in my dream. His finger must have been the laser rifle, or perhaps the laser beam was a symbol of the hatred projected on me. The figure never fired because the laser beam represented a hatred that would never cease.

The memory of the event was immediately suppressed by me. I died at that moment. As Abram became Abraham and Jacob became Israel, so even though my name remained the same I became a different person, a stranger in a strange land. I therefore did not give an appropriate response to my punishment. David Hirsh had expected me to go the Michael Hirsh and the Eloy and beg forgiveness for my original sin, accept my punishment and go forth and sin no more. They were disappointed for I felt, not remembered, only their rejection. While I would never have asked their forgiveness, I might have tried to correct the matter.

Throughout the second grade I endured the active resentment of the Eloy joined with the passive acquiescence of the Morlocks, for they were forbidden to speak to me. They were powerless in their self-accepted mortification, useless in their ineffectuality. The symbol of authority, the teacher, without ever seeking my side of the story, said that I had been justly chastised. Authority lacks integrity completely.

I became a very distraught little boy.

As the second grade ended my mother informed me that I would be leaving the Johnsons. After the emotional wrench of leaving the Smiths I had prepared myself for further disappointment by making no attachment to the Johnsons. My only question was, where to next? I knew it was serious when she kneeled down to address me face to face. It’s always serious when an adult lowers themselves to a position of equality with the child.

She told me that she wanted me to enter the Children’s Home. The Municipal Orphanage. I went numb. First, I had a mother, or thought I did. Second, I had passed the back fence and stared horrified at the inmates. I didn’t know then that she meant to abandon me entirely but I subconsciously feared such a thing. I resisted stubbornly although I saw that no matter what I said she was going to put me there anyway. Finally, in an attempt to save face, I asked her if I would still have to attend Emerson. She said the Children’s home was in the Longfellow School District. Only have trusted this perfidious woman I severed myself from humanity and entered the House of the Distraught. The boys dorm was on the fourth floor. But my experience in the Orphanage is not germane to my story and I return to the war against me by the Hirshes.

Beset by psychological distresses before I entered the Orphanage, my emotional anxieties increased a thousand fold. I have often compared the sensation to an excess of electrical current passing through a transformer. All fuses blew. Wires broke loose and flashed fire to the skies. There was a loud hum, a boom, and then silence. I do not know how I survived and recovered even though that recovery would take forty years. As shattered as I was I received no mercy from David Hirsh.

I was now eight. The two wars, the European and Pacific had ended. The Japanese Empire and the Axis Powers had gone down to defeat. The enormity of the Nazi policies became apparent after the war. The impression of the American people was incalculable. The terrific inhumanity of the Nazis was difficult to comprehend. The wholesale slaughter of people for which they had no use, both within and without the borders of Germany the murder of as many intellectuals as they could get their hands on, the slaughter and debasement of the Polish nation, other Eastern and Central European Slavs and, of course, the attempted extermination of the Jews were staggering to the American mind. The single mindedness of the Nazis in the pursuit of their goals was incredible. The human mind changed from the shock of recognition.

The destruction of the Jews created a feeling amongst the Jews comparable to my own upon entering the Children’s Home. For the five years after the war, the American Jews were devastated. They had suffered no discomfort in the US but the ant colony had been disturbed, all ants were affected. They began to see Fascists everywhere. They trembled in fear that it might happen, would happen, in the United States. A Jewish writer, Ben Hecht, stated the feeling most poignantly when he stated the feeling simply as: The Jews struck out.

David Hirsh took it very hard. For the Jewish immigrants America had been a land of unexampled opportunity and freedom from the national conflicts of which they had been a part of in Europe. Their history had been one of conflict. Prior to the nineteenth century they had been in conflict with Catholicism. After the French Revolution when the influence of Catholicism had waned they began a pan national confrontation with the Pan Germans and Pan Slavs. As they butted heads with the Slavs in particular it became apparent that the Slavs would not bend to the Jewish will. By mid-nineteenth century the conflict had become bloody. A group of French Jews decided that the only recourse was to remove the Jews from Slavdom and colonize elsewhere. The Jewish Colonization Association was formed. Beginning in 1860 it was begun to transfer the entire Jewish population from Slavdom to colonies ranging from Argentina to Canada. The majority came to the United States. The difference between the Pale of Settlement in Eastern Europe and the United States was as between night and day. A transition from the rural routes to Coney Island. From medieval technology to a land of scientific marvels. From the attentive supervision of the Russian government to the complete indifference of the American government. They arrived as opportunity became a byword for America. Most stayed where they landed in New York City. Solomon Hirsh, David’s father, who was not without resources, or at least had contacts with men with resources, looked West, staked out the Valley as his personal duchy and built up a successful department store.

David Hirsh, born in 1918 in the Valley knew nothing of Eastern Europe. His life had been a life of plenty when plenty was enough for anybody. Good clothes, good food, good cars, good social position. David Hirsh had never known any more discrimination than Poles, Italians, Greeks, Lithuanians or any one of dozens of nationalities. He had known less. So in those fifty years or so of immigration he as well as a great many Jews had grown lax in their attention to the religion of their fathers. A great many would probably have become lapsed Jews but for the events in Europe during the thirties and especially in the wake of the European war. Nazi atrocities reversed the trend and confirmed them in their commitment to Judaism. David Hirsh was one of these.

It didn’t happen here. David was now twenty-eight heading into the power years of his thirties and forties. He was rich and influential in the Valley community. Always good looking, tall and well proportioned, the weight one always gains with age had filled out his form and features admirably. He had married well. He had married the former Linda Webster, an Episcopalian. By so doing he had joined two Valley fortunes. The Hershey Department Store money and the Webster Coal Yard money. He had three lovely children, well, two plus Michael. The Department store and the Webster coal yards still prospered, although the increasing chain store competition after the wars would undermine the base of the department store and the Webster’s assumption of the continued use of coal didn’t foresee the switch to gas and oil would see the coal yards and department store sit idle and empty. Still David Hirsh had everything. Family, position and the money to buy anything he could conceive. He was an American citizen in the best of all possible worlds.

Always of an imperious temper and a vindictive mind he now brooded over the European disaster of the Jews, as did all Jews and knew not what to do. As usual he wanted revenge, which meant against all the goyim; for he believed the whole world was responsible as he and the Jews believed it had sat idly by and let it happen. His grief distorted his perception of reality; although to a certain extent he was right. For, while no one but the Nazis would have attempted such an atrocious deed, still the world had been rather indifferent to the fate of the Jews.

But if all the goyim were guilty he was faced with too many targets. Unable to find satisfactory victims for his anger, he turned to child abuse and directed this additional hatred to me. He didn’t exactly remember why he believed it but he believed that my mother was an anti-Semite because of her rejection of his rude advances. He projected his own inadequacies on me and in his mind made me the future father of a nation of anti-Semites. The memory of his humiliation because of his frustrated designs on my mother still rankled in his mind. It mattered not whether he had caused his own embarrassment. Reversing responsibility came easy to him as it does to most people. It only mattered to him that he had suffered humiliation, and from an inferior bitch in his mind. He always sought to avenge his thwarted crimes, to heap injury on injury, to add insult to insult.

I had not begged for forgiveness after my humiliation so he believed that I had not been hurt, that I had stood there In jest. His natural vindictiveness now augmented by his rage against the world, Hirsh had planned a nasty reception for me as I entered Third grade. However I had evaded his net that year by transferring from Emerson to Longfellow. He was unaware that he had already hurt me as much as mortal man can be hurt; for myself had died of remorse on that September morn. He had murdered my self-esteem and I could not continue in life. I carried my dead self around with me and my walking body was half dead. It would be forty years before I could retrieve my dead self from the House of Death and begin to re-integrate my personality.

But the challenge to Michael Hirsh’s dignity by my rebellion had been severe; although I neither knew nor cared. He was being groomed to be an ever victorious man of affairs; for some reason my revolt had shattered his self-confidence and lowered him in the esteem of the Eloy. He was never to attain the same kind of self-confidence as he had enjoyed in Kindergarten again. For this I was blamed although Michael was only of mediocre talent and authority and would have had and did enjoy much lesser stature in a world larger than his Emerson class.

It didn’t take the Hirshes more than a month to locate me in the Orphanage and at Longfellow. One day in late October I saw Michael Hirsh conferring with a third grade classmate, one of the Websters, although I didn’t know the connection at the time. I knew I was in for more trouble. I was but it wasn’t that bad. The kids of the Children’s Home were kept a separate group at Longfellow. The old two class Eloy-Morlock division was broken up. The Orphanage insulated me from direct vengeance. David Hirsh watched, he stalked. He was unhappy and frustrated. He brooded and planned. A thirty year old man, acting anonymously, waged his war against a defenseless eight year old boy. The third grade passed. Hirsh planned his move for my fourth grade.

In the fourth grade I understood why the Eloy-Morlock division had disappeared. As I was turning nine the organization of the world began to become apparent. I began to see more tings. There were probably two third grade classes at Longfellow but if so I was ignorant of the other. In the fourth grade there were definitely two different class rooms. One upstairs, in a large bright airy room where the Eloy were assigned and another in a half basement, the windows level with the ground, to which we of the Children’s Home were assigned as well as others who were not fortunate enough to be assigned upstairs.

Our teacher was a woman named Miss Marks. She was a very old miss. Miss Marks was a Sephardic Jew. Her ancestors had arrived from Brazil in 1654 in the first contingent of Jews to arrive in the United States. Her name as she pointed out to us several times had been Marques in Portuguese. Her ancestor who had landed as Marques turned up several years later as Marks. She was very international in her outlook. Our study program revolved around readings about children of other lands.

As improbable as it may seem, David Hirsh devoted great gobs of time to divining his next plan to wreak vengeance on me. The plan he devised was complex, requiring the involvement of dozens of people and the complicity of hundreds. Thus, should it fail his reputation would be placed in jeopardy. David Hirsh started his campaign in the spring of my third grade, just before the humidity of summer. He was powerful amongst the Jewish community and very influential among goys. His wife Linda, nee Webster, was equally socially and politically active as her husband. She was of top standing among the women of the town. Enlisting supporters they, together, began a campaign to separate the kids from the Children’s Home from their own on the reasoning that as a class of social lepers or ‘white niggers’ we were detrimental to their childrens’ welfare. They worked hard to have a separate facility assigned to us. Failing that they wanted that, at least, we might be made to attend classes within the walls of the orphanage as, in fact, was the case with the Catholic Orphanage down the street. We were to be contained so that we might not contaminate their children. This separation might have occurred in democratic America except for the almighty dollar, God bless it. The expense could not be justified. There was seemingly no real objection to the deed.

Frustrated in their ambition, driven by their vindictiveness, the Hirshes foolishly adopted Plan B. Incredibly it succeeded if only temporarily. But for one woman its success might have been permanent.

Hirsh still thought that I had merely sloughed off my lesson in the second grade. Thus in his mind I had not only humiliated his son in Kindergarten but had done the same thing in the second grade. I had been accorded he dignity of a rebuke by Michael Hirsh himself. There was a certain dignity to that that ought to be appreciated. Handled properly by myself I might have gained honorary admission to the Eloy. Now I was to be treated to the same indignity that the Black kids had endured. I was to be their ‘nigger’ forever.

The Hirshes now sought to separate their children from we of the Orphanage within the class. Miss Marks made the orphans sit together along one wall. The Hirshes influence in town was so great that the School Board was persuaded to prevent us from playing, not only with, but playing on the same playground with the parented kids. During recess Miss Marks was compelled to separate the Orphanage kids from the parented kids. We were compelled to sit on benches and watch the parented kids play. If an additional participant was needed one of us was called up.

As we stood before Miss marks while she, suppressing her embarrassment, explained this to us, it all seemed vaguely familiar. I couldn’t remember my ritual murder but I did remember Kindergarten. For many years I thought the fourth grade incident was the only revenge attempted. I saw through the attempt immediately. The notion was repugnant to Miss Marks, as it should have been to any honest and fair person. She implemented the requirement but reluctantly. Inadvertently I defeated the Hirshes in a minute. My victories over them were always Pyrrhic.

As recess began Miss Marks instructed us in the new program. Whether I remembered Michael Hirsh and the Blacks or whether I was as indignant in the fourth grade at such nonsense as I had been in Kindergarten, I don’t know. The others from the Orphanage sat down obediently. I grabbed a ball and ran off to play by myself in another part of the playground. As I couldn’t quickly persuade any of the others to follow me, I left them. Immediately there was a chorus of ‘You’ve got to sit down.’   It came from both groups. My reply was a very aggressive ‘Make me.’   No one was riding point that day. They never do when a fair fight is in the offing.

Then a ruse was attempted. Someone of the parented kids left the field and a substitute was needed. One of ours was called off the bench to come and tell me that I was selected as the replacement. I wish I could say that I said a witty or trenchant thing but angry people seldom do. I was angry. I just said ‘no.’

David Hirsh and Michael Hirsh had been parked in a side street facing the yard looking at the scene through their windshield expecting to enjoy my humiliation. They both stared in disbelief as their efforts were foiled again. David Hirsh’s head sagged to the rim of the steering wheel. Mechanically he turned the key in the ignition and angrily shifted into first. Both David and Michael’s faces twisted into expressions of chagrin. Their brows hooded their eyes, their mouths gaped as the edges turned downwards. Their perfidious design had failed again. Another bitter pill.

Miss Marks was overcome with shame and remorse. She had tried to recover her self-respect by offering me the role of substitute. A role I rightly took as another insult. Her Judaism was offended by such criminal discrimination. Unlike Hirsh she suffered from the restrictions which had been placed on her people at other times in other far places. Her Portuguese ancestors had been lucky to escape the Inquisition. They had found a refuge in Brazil only during the short period of Dutch control of the colony. When the Portuguese regained Brazil her ancestors fled to the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, later to be called New York. She remembered, or knew this only too well. Rather than inflicting punishment on innocent others for remembered conflicts she sincerely wished to remove injustice from the world.

The second day of the segregation was too much for her. After school that day she informed the Principal of Longfellow that she would have to resign if the segregation continued. As the Hirshes, the instigators, were well known for their wish to segregate we orphans and they attended the temple together, so that David was well known to her, she then went immediately to him to whom she offered her unwelcome opinion. Nor was she kind or diplomatic. She vented her full indignation and threw her own guilt at his feet. David Hirsh was abashed. The next day the order of segregation was rescinded. She was a courageous woman. She acted as an individual, not as one of a collective.

The repercussions of the failure of their plan were very serious. The whole concept of what America stood for had been violated. In the aftermath the reflection on the consequences of their action caused many embarrassed faces in the Valley. As the prime movers, the Hirshes bore the brunt of the blame. The two lost some fair credibility. The concern was not so much the justice or injustice of their crime, for, in society the only concern is whether one succeeds or gets away with it. The credibility was lost because the Hirshes displayed poor judgment. While misjudging their own chances of success they had humiliated all the other people that they had involved. That is a cardinal sin. They never were to enjoy the same confidence again. Hirsh, as was becoming his habit, sacrificed a great deal to his vindictiveness. He was becoming his own worst enemy.

Hirsh was not one to learn from experience. Conscious of his loss of credibility which he now blamed on me, he now made two quickly and poorly conceived efforts to destroy my reputation, such as it was, and credibility, such as any enjoyed by orphans.

The far sides of the streets surrounding the Orphanage were lined with rows of fine mature maple trees. The branches spread over the streets and yards. There were a number of men, homosexuals and perverts, who stood near the tree trunks in the shade hoping for a little short action. We were prime targets. Deprived of love, denied respect, both sexes were susceptible to minor blandishments. My mother had always advised me not to talk to strangers so I always walked by them like they were not there.

Hirsh had determined to influence the direction of my future life. As the twig is bent, so the tree inclines, he said. So he got two social rejects, men who had made a life of doing dirty deeds dirt cheap in order to be associated in any capacity with the successful rich, to wait for me along the back fence. On that day I happened to be walking back from school with Richard Grainger. They mistook Richard for me.

One said to Richard: ‘Hey, you little bastard. Youi know where you’re going? You’re going to be a criminal and die in the electric chair. You’re a thief. God hates you and you are going to spend your life in prison.’

We were young and small, at the impressionable age for imprinting. Richard was terrified and took the man’s curse literally. I had watched. Now forming my opinion I began to curse them as old bums and failures. Just as I had begun the other man realized their error and said: ‘Uh, oh, I think you nailed the wrong one.’ They had. They had also destroyed Richard’s life for he believed them, took their suggestion in, and fulfilled their prophecy.

Hirsh had failed again. He tried once more. The fall and winter had passed. Spring burst out once again. Hirsh had learned my habits. In those days before super markets and convenience stores there was an old dilapidated rundown little grocery store every few blocks. There was one two blocks from the Orphanage. We used to take our money gained from the deposits of beer bottles and whatever there to buy candy.

There, one Saturday, I found Michael Hirsh and thee of his friends waiting for me. I asked Hirsh why he was out slumming. Badinage passed between us. I went into the store to buy some candy. I was followed by Hirsh and his friends. They jostled around me while I paid. I elbowed back. Taking my candy I left the store followed by the Hirsh gang. Outside they gathered around me. But Hirsh reaching into my back pocket pulled out a candy bar and said: ‘Hey, Gresham, what’s this?’ He had placed a candy bar in my back pocket while jostling me in the store. In later years he would have been astute enough not to have taken it out of my pocket himself. He was young and inexperienced.

I said, ‘Looks like a Butterfinger.’

‘Yeah? Did you pay for this? Looks like you’re a thief, doesn’t it Gresham?’

‘That candy bar’s not in my hand, Hirsh. It’s in yours. Looks like you’re the thief.’ The grocer, seeing the candy bar in my back pocket as I left had come to the door.

‘Hey, mister,’ I said, ‘Michael Hirsh here stole this candy bar from you. Better make him pay for it. He’s got lots of money.’

Hoisted by his own petard again, Hirsh turned shamefaced, threw the candy bar down and he and his friends stalked off. His witnesses witnessed against him and Hirsh forfeited his hoped for role of a leader forever. The Hirshes would never learn.

What might have happened next remains unknown. I turned ten. At ten we were farmed out to foster parents. The Wardens took me way to the other side of town.

The Hirshes had been instrumental in the formation of my personality. My character was beyond their reach.

My dream had revealed the controlling fixation of my life. In the process my personality had completely disintegrated. The personality that had sustained me in place of my dead self was gone. I stood exposed and naked to the world while I groped to re-integrate my personality. It was a long row to hoe before my subconscious released the past to free me by a dream.

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