While Walking the Dog
Memories of a Jewish Childhood
By Lynn Ruth Miller
While Walking the Dog
Memories of a Jewish Childhood
By Lynn Ruth Miller
Remember, all men would be tyrants if they
could.Abigail Adams. My mother was an unwilling
golf widow and she punished my father for his prolonged absences by insisting he
appear at our dinner table at six o’clock sharp if he wanted to be fed.
When he arrived, as he often did, well after our meal was over and the dishes
washed, he had to rummage around in the refrigerator for his dinner.
“That’ll teach him,” said my mother but she was very wrong. My mother,
whose favorite sport was gossiping on the telephone, could not possibly fathom
the magic spell golf casts on its players. My father would have much
rather starved than leave the course on the seventeenth hole. Golf gave him
precious hours outdoors after being cooped in his office all day; it afforded
him good companionship and escape from the pressures of being the sole provider
of a family of four.
This was the late forties when
most women’s only glimpse of the world beyond their backyard was when their
husbands gave them an evening out. During golf season, my father
never appeared before nine at night unless there was a hurricane or death
threatening electric storm no matter how much he knew he would anger his
wife. Her bitter words couldn’t dull my father’s euphoria when he returned
triumphant from eighteen holes on the links.
The night that my father pulled
in our driveway at 10:30 p.m. transformed my mother’s passive resistance into
fierce assault. The dinner dishes were done and my mother was on the telephone
complaining to my Aunt Hazel when Daddy greeted her. He smiled. ”How’s my
honey?” he said and leaned over to kiss her. My mother bent her head so
his lips grazed her shoulder and continued her conversation. “Fine,
Hazel,” she said. “Be here at ten and we can drop the girls off at the
pool after we go shopping.”
She hung up the telephone.
“What’s your excuse this time,” she asked my father.
My father cleared his throat and
pasted a concerned look on his face. “Joe Aronson had a heart attack on
the twelfth hole,” he said.
“I see,” said my mother.
“And you continued playing while you dragged Joe along with you until he died on
My father looked shocked.
“How can you say a thing like that!” he exclaimed. “Joe is my dearest
friend. We called an ambulance immediately.”
My mother opened a bottle of nail
polish and began her nightly manicure. And she waited.
“They had to clear the course
before we could look for someone to complete the foursome,” he continued. “By
the time we got started again, it was after seven.”
My mother glanced at the
clock. “It is almost eleven o’clock,” she said. “Your dinner has
“That’s okay, honey,” said my
father. “I ate at the club.”
The next morning, after Daddy
left for the office my mother called my sister and me into the kitchen.
“Get dressed,” she said. “We are buying all three of us tennis
“Why?” I asked. “I hate
competitive games and Marsha is only three years old. I’ve never
seen you do anything more athletic than vacuum the living room rug.”
My mother ignored me and left the
kitchen to get ready. In about a half hour, my Aunt Hazel walked into the
kitchen. She was laughing. “I don’t know where you get your ideas,
Ida,” she said. “But this one is pure genius.”
My mother blushed. “I
thought so,” she said. “You won’t mind having us over all
“Not at all,” said my aunt.
“I thought we were planning to
play tennis,” I said.
My mother winked at my
aunt. “I haven’t told them yet,” she said.
We all got in Aunt Hazel’s car
and drove to the most exclusive shop in Toledo. Their price for a pair of
stockings was more than my mother had ever spent on me for a winter coat.
In a shockingly short time, Marsha, my mother and I had tried on at least one
hundred different tennis costumes, each more expensive than the one
before. The sales lady fitted me in a short skirt, little half socks with
tassels and recommended we buy several crisp, white middy blouses, “One
needs to change often if the sun is hot,” said the sales lady. ”Sweat is SO
My mother’s outfit was a one
piece cotton shift with ribbon embroidery, several pairs of sheer hosiery and
white leather shoes that were so pointed they would mangle her toes should she
attempt to chase the ball. Her bodice was so tight, her face turned a
bright purple when the sales lady zipped it up. “You look smashing!” said
“Good, “ said my mother. “We’ll
take three outfits for each of us,” she said.
“Three?” I exclaimed. “Are
you planning to enroll us in the Labor Day Open?”
“Of course not,” said my
mother. “We are going to spend all week at your Aunt Hazel’s teaching you
“I see,” I said but of course I
didn’t see at all. I was far too young to understand that my mother had
declared war and we were purchasing her weapons. We never wore our fancy
garb on any tennis court. We put them on to return home after an evening
of parlor games with my aunt and her two daughters.
The first night, we got home at
nine and Daddy arrived a half hour later. The kitchen was dark; the
bedroom door was closed. “Where is everybody?” called my
I heard his steps on the stair
and went back to my book.
The next evening, Daddy’s car was
in the drive when we came home. My mother was a fast learner.
The following Monday, my father
was waiting for us when we arrived home. “I was here at six,” he
said. “Where were you?”
My mother smiled. “We
stopped at Hazel’s after our game,” she said. “The girls are getting quite
good at this. You ought to stop at the courts to watch them.”
“I didn’t want to be late for
dinner,” said my father. “You know how angry you get if . . .”
“That was before tennis,” said my
“I haven’t eaten,” said my
“There’s peanut butter in the
cabinet,” said my mother and disappeared into their room.
“Are we going to eat at Aunt
Hazel’s all summer?” I asked my mother the next day.
My mother shook her head.
“Just the rest of this week,” she said.” That should do the job.”
“What job?” I asked but my
mother didn’t answer me.
That Friday, my mother nodded to
my waiting father and said, “I’ll bet you’d love a decent dinner, for a change.
They don’t make anything but fast food at the club.”
My father smiled and
nodded. “Oh boy would I!” he exclaimed.
My mother nodded. “I’ve
decided to stop our lessons for a while,” she said. “We’ll be eating at 6
And at 5:30, my father was
home. “Did you leave the game early?” asked my mother.
My father nodded. “I was
“I bet you were,” said my
Later, when the two of us were
doing the dishes, I said. “It looks like you won,” and she shook her
“This is only one battle,” she
said. “But I will win the war when I show your father the bill for our
And she thought victory was
indeed hers when my father began leaving the house at 5:30 in the morning to get
in a game before his office opened at nine. “I’m not getting up to make
breakfast at that hour,” warned my mother.
“I don’t expect you to,” said my
father. “The chef at the club does eggs Benedict and his pancakes are
“I didn’t know you liked eggs
Benedict,” said my mother.
“I don’t, the way you make them,”
said my father. “Yours are too runny.”
He kissed my mother’s angry face
and shouldered his golf bag. “Dinner at 6?” he asked and my mother
“Have a good breakfast,” she
hissed as my father exited whistling. “I will!” he said and drove to the
club. Heat not a furnace for your foe so hotThat it do
singe yourself.William Shakespeare