My parents found the house that they were to live in for twenty-six years on the corner of Lorraine and East Lincoln Avenues in Mount Vernon, New York. Moving day was December 7, 1941 and at suppertime, we all sat in the kitchen surrounded by packing boxes as we ate scrambled eggs and toast. The move exhausted everyone; neither my brother nor I was much help, and our dog, Whitey, was a hindrance. On the way to the new house, he jumped out of the car and ran away. As the movers continued unloading furniture and boxes under my mother’s direction, my brother and I cried and cried over our lost dog. Finally, Mom had the bright idea to call our former next-door neighbors; they told her that Whitey was lying in his favorite spot on the porch of the old house. He was still there when my dad and I arrived to capture him, and we drove back with my holding him in the back seat —with the windows closed.
When things were finally in place, and the moving men left, my parents realized that something more shattering than our move had taken place that day. The Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, and the United States would soon be at war. Over those war years, we did our part, flattening tin cans on the kitchen floor for the scrap drive, saving bacon fat in big cans on the stove although we had no idea what it would be used for. We tied newspapers in the basement and kept ration books in a kitchen drawer.
Unlike our previous Spanish stucco, this house was not in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. When my mother got a chance to look around the neighborhood, she realized we were the only Jews on the block.
If you counted both sides of the street, there were twenty houses, but not one person from those twenty houses came knocking on our door with a “welcome to the neighborhood” pie or cake. There was also no rock throwing, egg splattering, or burning crosses. The only thing approaching an “incident” was perpetrated by the Tibbetts family who lived in the middle of our side of the block. Every morning Mr. T. walked to the corner to catch a bus to the train station and when he passed our house, he crossed the street. If my mom was outside with Whitey, he never looked up at her with so much as a feeble wave.
One day, my mother was staring out the window, arms akimbo. I came over to her and she pointed out at our mid-street neighbor and said. “Mr. Tibbetts crosses the street when he passes our house. What’s he afraid of?”
Then came a wintry morning with a surprise. The doorbell rang, and Mom opened the door to see Mr. Tibbetts. Thinking a miracle had happened—it was right before Christmas, she put on one of her dazzling smiles.
She told us later she didn’t get that smile back from him. Instead, she heard, “if your husband doesn’t shovel that walk before dark, I’m calling the police.” With those words, he turned around and left.
My mother called my father at his office, and he came home early to shovel. The episode was never forgotten, and Mom who didn’t believe in miracles anyway stopped trying to make friends with the Tibbetts family. No nods. No waves. For twenty-four years, both husband and wife continued to cross the street as they approached our house.
Two years before my parents sold their house, Mr. T died and his wife moved into a nursing home. Well before that time, my mother had perfected her habit of looking through them whenever she had to pass either one of them in the street or in a store. My dad and Jerry, when he was old enough, kept the sidewalk clear of snow.
Retired from teaching literature and writing at Western Michigan University, Clare Goldfarb is the co-author of Spiritualism in 19th Century Letters. Her work has appeared in academic and literary journals including South Atlantic Quarterly, American Literary Realism, SN Review, Still Crazy, Lilith, and The Lowestoft Chronicle.