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
hang on to things. If I like something I insist on more and more and more of
something and nobody can stop me from accumulating whatever it is that hooks me.
This type of behavior began very early when I became addicted to hugs and
kisses. I just loved it when anyone would take me in his arms, put me on his
knee and rub his cheek against mine. My mother was horrified. I also loved it
when anyone would take me in HER arms, put me on HER knee or rub HER very rouged
cheek against mine, but this didn’t worry my mother as much. The result of this
addiction of mine was to cause my mother to be a bit more controlling, and a bit
more demanding than other mothers. She was certain that if she left me alone for
one moment, I would be raped. If she turned her back for a second, I would be
kidnapped. I was two years old at the time, and my compassion had not developed
sufficiently to feel her pain.
“Don’t talk to strangers, “ my mother would hiss from the window as I romped
down the street rushing to grab the hand of anyone approaching the corner of
Islington and Fulton or stopping to tie his shoe somewhere near our front walk.
My mother would gallop out of the house and grab me just as the nice man reached
in his pocket for what I was certain was a piece of fudge, and she was equally
sure was a noose, and my eyes would fill with tears. “He wath thutch a nithe
man,” I cried (my teeth were not all in)”
“You let me decide who’s nice and who isn’t Lynn Ruth Miller,” my mother said as
she grabbed my arm and sent me soaring into the house, my feet never touching
the ground. “What am I going to do with her?” she screamed at my father shaking
me like a sack of potatoes before his newspaper.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” I said.
My father peered out from behind The Toledo Blade. “Take her to the toilet,” he
said. “And be happy she is toilet trained.”
I could always count on Daddy. He KNEW no one would kidnap me. I was a very
unattractive child. My mother however was not about to lose me to some lecher
who fancied an ugly kid with two front teeth. I was an exceptionally difficult
birth and she had invested a lot in bringing me into the world. My mother was
not one to neglect her assets.
My first real huggers and kissers were the ladies that drove their electric car
past our front door every day at 3 p.m. when my mother set me outside to play.
She would dress me in my best pinafore, try to braid my curls into something
tidy and put me out on the front porch. “PLAY,” my mother would shout at me. AND
DON’T GET DIRTY.”
I was terrified. What if I stumbled and got dirt on my knees? What if I wet my
bloomers? “I have to go to the bathroom,” I whispered.
“NOT NOW,” my mother screamed. “I HAVE TO COOK DINNER AND I DON’T WANT YOU
I crossed my legs and tried to walk with whatever a two year old considers
dignity and there they were, chugging down our street at 2 miles an hour! I
loved them immediately and I knew they would hug and kiss me until I gasped for
breath if I could only get them to notice me. I uncrossed my legs, forgot about
my bladder and skipped as fast as I could to the curb in front of our house. I
smiled. I waved. I smiled harder.
It worked. The lady at the wheel slammed on the brake and said to her sister.
“Give that child a bon-bon,” but my mother was too fast for them. She galloped
out of the house a wooden spoon in her hand, her apron spotted with eggs and
flour and grabbed me by my ruffled bottom. “Time for milk and cookies.” she
said, and whisked me into the house. “They were going to give me candy,” I
sobbed and my mother shook me until my third tooth erupted from my gum. “There
were going to take you home and cook you for their dinner.” she said. “Now go to
“How did you know I needed to?” I asked.
When my father came home that night, my mother confronted him with my
misbehavior. “This child will talk to anything that moves,” she said.
“I think that is very precocious,” said my father from behind his newspaper.
“She is only two years old.”
“Today,” said my mother with righteous indignation (which was her very best and
most effective kind of indignation), ”She stopped those two old ladies with the
1920’s electric car.”
“So what?” said my father.
“They might have run her over,” said my mother. “You know they can’t see the
road in front of them. Just yesterday they ran that thing into an elm tree.”
My father peered out from behind The Toledo Blade. “Well, it looks like our
daughter saved them from another accident,” he said. He reached out to pat my
curls. “Good work, Lynnie Ruth,” he said.
They say that conflicted messages from a child’s parents, causes addictions to
recur in later life and obviously that is the cause of all my compulsive drive
to grab what fascinates me and make it multiply.
The only pet I ever considered was a pair of rabbits when I was three years old.
“We cannot have rabbits in this house, Lynn Ruth. They poop,” said my mother.
But Carol May Reinstein has two of the cutest bunnies and she cuddles them,” I
said. “They KISS and HUG her all the time.”
(Key words of this conversation: kiss; hug…I obviously still was afflicted with
my first addiction, as well)
“Then go hug hers,” snapped my mother.
I said not a word, but immediately charged past her and out of the house, my
head held high. I ran down the endless trail to Carol May Reinstein’s house.
Carol May was my ideal and if truth be told I wouldn’t have minded hugging and
kissing her along with her rabbits. Her mother dressed her in velvet and satin
pinafores clothes and bleached her hair blonde so she wouldn’t look Jewish. I
knocked on her door and when she opened it. I whispered “May I please hug your
Carol May frowned at me and pulled herself up to her full 28 inches (which was
two inches shorter than I was) and said, ”Put out your hand”
I smiled, overcome with joy. “Are you going to GIVE me a bunny?” I cried.
“No I am not,” said Carole May and she slapped my hand…hard.
I was stung. “What did I did?” I asked the closed door but it ignored me.
I trudged down the steps and walked back toward my house defeated and deprived
of hugs, kisses or even so much as a bunny. Blinded by an avalanche of tears I
bumped right into a very tall (to me) gentleman with a black briefcase and a
classy bowler on his head. He surveyed the crumpled parcel that was me, drenched
in tears, hugging my body with my own hands because no one else would do it for
me. He put down his brief case and his newspaper and picked me up in his arms.
He held me tight and I rested my head on his shoulders while he stroked my head
and said, ‘Now, now, darling what ever it was that hurt you will get sweeter I
I raised my head and looked at his beautiful (to me) kind face through my tears
and I said, ”Pwomise?”
He nodded and kissed the top of my head. He opened his briefcase and took out a
package of tootsie rolls and pressed it into my small, sweaty palm. “”There,” he
said. “Whenever you feel very sad, you just take out this roll of candy and pop
one in your mouth. You’ll feel much, much better.”
I gave him a smile that bathed him in sunshine and ran back home where my mother
was waiting with a tight mouth and an “I am going to kill you” expression in her
eyes. “Where WERE you?” she screamed.
“Getting hugs and kisses “I said and skirted around her into the house and on to
my Daddy’s lap. “Want a tootsie roll?” I said.
He smiled. “Why, thank you, darling,” he said.
And I got to sit on his lap until bedtime
That kind of thing could really happen to little girls in 1936 and they didn’t
even get pregnant.