Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

1958: Chicago Grass-Cutting Story…by Robert M. Katzman

Robert M. Katzman’s Amazing Story:  http://www.differentslants.com/?p=355

© February 2, 2012  (Groundhog Day) 

(Note: An old friend reminded me about this story, unwittingly, since there were no other witnesses to the pivotal incident with my father.  I sometimes imagine my memory as a house with a million closets, each holding a moment, a girl, an emotion, a terror.  The doors all look the same.  I don’t know what’s behind them.  I wish I knew which doors not to open.
This story just fell out of one of those closets, all 1,153 words. I wrote all there was to say and not a word more.  Now that closet’s empty. I can turn out the light and shut the door. How many more doors will there be for me to open before my own light gets turned out? 
Funny what you can forget.) 

In the summer of ’58, my father told me to mow the lawn, front and back, at my house on 8616 S. Bennett, where  all the fruit trees were. We lived on the South Side of Chicago in a Jewish/Irish neighborhood.

My grandfather, Nathan, who came from Minsk, Belorussia in 1914, planted them.  He loved trees and kept a small Lemon tree as a “pet” in his house.

I would visit him when I was a child and I was amazed by the heavy, fragrant, grapefruit-sized lemons that his pet tree produced. When he grew too old to keep living in his large house and had to leave the, by then, really large tree that managed to fill most of his basement, he cried bitterly.  His three middle-aged children, including my mother, were shocked by this.  I later overheard them whispering to each other that they thought “he loved that damn Lemon tree” more than he loved them.

Jealous of a tree.

A hard thing for me to understand.  Adults were strange.

I had already learned that I was severely allergic to newly cut grass, a situation so unbelievable at a time when Dwight Eisenhower was president of the United States and allergies were still not well understood,  that my telling my father a story like that was too ridiculous for him to take seriously.

I was also allergic to all the fresh fruit growing in the back yard, but that was never a subject leading to conflict. But my gradually discovering, one by one: all the fruits, vegetables, pollens, animals, kinds of fabric and molds– exactly what I was unable to eat, or be near, was a nightmare.  It took years for me to learn them all.  And then, shockingly, that allergies can mutate. That something I could eat with no problem would one day become toxic to me.

People who are blessed without allergies won’t understand any of this.  How could they?

Knowing what I knew about newly cut grass, however, gave me good reason to resist my father’s insistent instructions, and resist I did, leading to a loud and threatening argument. He lost his temper and I took off down the block to 85th St. and then west toward Caldwell School, my red-brick public grammar school.

I could run like a son-of-a-bitch. My father couldn’t catch me.  I was certain of that.  In the summer of 1958 he was forty-five years old, an age which was considered pretty old back then.

We both kept running.

After three blocks, I began to worry that he might suffer a heart attack because of how far we had run and I was very concerned about him, even at eight years old.  I had a real conflict going on within me.

Deciding in his favor, but bracing for what would inevitably come next, I gradually slowed down. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings that I thought he was too old to chase me.  I pretended to be winded and let him catch up, finally stopping about a block from school, and I waited for him.

In a minute, he caught me–or thought he had–and I got walloped right there on the street. Not a good moment.

Gripping my upper arm in his strong hand, he dragged me back home where I accepted that I had no alternative to mowing our extensive lawn. I saw that there was no way out.  Either he would suffer, or I would. He stood on the sidewalk, watching me pushing the lawnmower. He didn’t want to have me take off again.

But then, after about ten minutes, I began coughing, then wheezing and my face turned red and my eyes and throat filled with tears and saliva, my nose running uncontrollably and I stopped mowing, unable to see clearly anymore and stood there in the middle of the yard, my face a mass of uncontrollably flowing fluids.

My father witnessed all of this.  Though he was uncomprehending about what was happening before his eyes, coming from unsophisticated working-class immigrants from the tough West Side of Chicago, he had no concept of allergies–except for one.


Cats, and only cats, did to him what just about everything growing outside did to me. He instantly understood I couldn’t possibly be faking. He also became filled with remorse that he forced me to do something that was so vividly harming me. He also realized I hadn’t lied to him. An important characteristic in the world he came from.

He walked over to me and embraced me, very upset that he had “picked on somebody not his own size” contrary to what he had always told me was the proper way to conduct myself.  We didn’t speak—I wasn’t able to speak—and he helped me climb the cement steps into our kitchen.  I was a mess and felt disgusting.

I immediately washed my face with soap and steaming hot water, which I’d earlier learned would make most of my allergic symptoms stop. He sat at the kitchen table and watched me.  He had no idea what he should do.  After a while, I dried my face and my father got a clear view of my swollen, red, bloodshot eyes, and he could hear the hoarse wheezing as I was breathing. I went into our bathroom and stared into the mirror. I looked terrible.

The incident changed our relationship for the rest of our lives. Forty-two years. He learned the hard way that I wouldn’t lie to him. He could trust me, no matter what.

We sat there  in the kitchen a while longer, not talking, and then he stood up, quietly said he was sorry, and went out the door to finish cutting the grass by himself.

I recovered.  We never again discussed the incident.

Our pattern.

And I never told him how he was able to “catch” me, that defining summer of ’58.

In my view, even at eight years old, I felt he had already suffered enough and I didn’t want to add to it.

Oh, and he never, ever spanked me again.


Publishing News! 

Bob Katzman’s two new true Chicago books are now for sale, from him!
Vol. One: A Savage Heart  and Vol. Two: Fighting Words

Gritty, violent, friendship, classic American entrepreneurship love, death, heartbreak and the real dirt about surviving in a completely corrupt major city under the Chicago Machine. More history and about one man’s life than a person may imagine.

Please visit my new website: https://www.dontgoquietlypress.com
If a person doesn’t want to use PayPaI, I also have a PO Box & I ship anywhere in America.

Send me a money order with your return and contact info.
I will get your books to you within ten days.
Here’s complete information on how to buy my books:

Vol 1: A Savage Heart and Vol. 2: Fighting Words
My books weigh almost 2 pounds each, with about 525 pages each and there are a total together of 79 stories and story/poems.

Robert M. Katzman
Don’t Go Quietly Press
PO Box 44287
Racine, Wis. 53404-9998                                                                                                                    (262)752-3333, 8AM–7PM

Books cost $29.95 each, plus shipping

For: (1)$3.95; (2)$5.95; (3)$7.95; (4)$8.95 (5)$9.95;(6) $10.95

(7) $11.95; (8) $12.95; (9)$13.95 (10)$15.95 (15)$19.95

I am also for hire if anyone wants me to read my work and answer questions in the Chicago/Milwaukee area. Schools should call me for quantity discounts for 30 or more books. Also: businesses, bookstores, private organizations or churches and so on.

My Fighting Words Publishing Co. four original books, published between 2004 and 2007 are now out-of-print. I still have some left and will periodically offer them for sale on my new website.

 Twitter handle: bob_katzman


Comment by Cynthia Andersen

February 3, 2012 @ 1:01 pm

Great story Bob, I really enjoyed it. Well written, engaging, you have a great talent.

Comment by Gargi

February 4, 2012 @ 2:09 pm

O.K. Bob, I took this commentary ‘out of hiding’ and re-posted it here (only observation to ad to it at the moment is: For a mostly ‘non-allergic’ person, I AM allergic to…Ivory soap! [truly, it makes my eyes, skin burn]. To each his/her own remedy, I guess)!

‘Bob, I can see now where your ‘Rabbit’ story arose from. Well, I soon recognized you yourself had the compassion gene within you, but to have a parent– your parent–your Dad, not only admit error in punishing his child, but then apologize for his actions, and never again physically punish you again, was clear (and rare) proof that your father had It too (the compassion gene).

For, as you said, during that time-period (and up until then), punishment and child ‘hard knocks’, in the guise of “upbringing” was almost a given. For your Dad to show you otherwise– to show you the face of humanity–instead- he clearly revealed too, that he could be trusted as a parent from then on in– by all his above responses (i.e. he paid attention, he took responsibility, he protected–you–thus future-presnet-day Rabbit story…(and a big hop from ‘sonny’ to ‘bunny’ that was born of compassion);~}

Yes. I liked this story and its major realizations; (and I like your Dad now even more)!’

Comment by Don Larson

June 19, 2016 @ 10:52 am


Happy Father’s Day!

I never read the story previously. It’s a great story of tough ways we bond with a parent.

Warmest regards,


Comment by Dave Gourdoux

June 21, 2016 @ 10:25 am


Comment by Brad Bliss

June 23, 2016 @ 4:25 am

I just visited my dad (90) and my wife’s stepdad (97) in AZ. It’s well designed how the roles reverse. If a parent does a good job training their child with love, at some point that bond of love and safety (especially for the aged parent) will be a concrete manifestation that they made the right (responsible) decisions in life.

Comment by Brad Dechter

May 18, 2020 @ 9:49 am

Great story. Thanks for sharing!
I had a couple of those “aha’ moments with my dad prior to his moving out. I never forgot them. Rexall Drugs and a Flash Gordon magazine will always be a bad memory for me…

Be safe!

Comment by Jean Rudy

May 18, 2020 @ 9:58 am

You were a neighbor of ours, although I didnt know you. We lived at 8454 S. Bennett, til I was 10 years old , in 1952, when we moved to 89th and Dante. You must have been running toward Caldwell school! Went there thru 6th grade!

Comment by bruce matteson

June 20, 2020 @ 1:00 pm

you are so right on in your observations! especially about late onset of allergies.as i have aged, i find myself suddenly allergic to mowing my lawn, but my symptoms are different from yours. i suddenly go into a zombie like state wherein i usually jump into my truck and go through the jack-in-the-box drive up window and get a bag of the worst tacos known to man and wash them down with cheap beer. this makes me feel worse than you look. i can’t wait for you to visit again so you can mow my lawn for me as only a true friend would…

Comment by Lucille nash

June 20, 2020 @ 1:37 pm

Born in 1942. Allergies changed my life. Was allergic to spic and span the cleaner of choice in our house. I used to cry when I had to scrub the floor. Fast forward my mom was in the hospital dying. They were scrubbing the floors with something similar to spic and span. I closed the door to hall to cut down the smell. My mom finally got it and remembered my crying it was such a strange moment for both of us. Nobody knew anything about allergies back then.

Comment by Jim Payne

June 20, 2020 @ 9:07 pm

Bob, a delicately told story with friendly comments on the trusting of and by a parent. Is there also a soft example of how at 8 you knew how to fake it to avoid danger/harm to you or someone else?

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