Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Chicago Jewish South Side, 1959: Sunday Brunch Battlefield…by Robert M. Katzman

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

© February 16, 2014


Pots and pans flew

From my Mom toward my Dad

Grey metal whizzing through the air

Once a sharp ice tray shot by my small

Olive-toned nine-year-old face

Just missing me

Did she ever hit him?

He’d never say

Good thing she was a lousy shot

And he never returned fire

Our kitchen was No Mans Land

In 1959


8700 South

Down the street from Rexall’s Drugs

Where I stole Chunky candy bars

Where my Mom sent me

 To buy her packs of Pall Mall cigarettes

A mile west of CVS High School

A trade school

Where they taught kids to fix airplane engines

Three blocks east of Caldwell grammar school

Five blocks east of Stony Avenue

All the teachers: Irish

Many of the kids: Jews

Too many damn holidays

To get any kinda decent education

Fights on the gravel playground, daily

“No! No! I didn’t kill Christ guys! Honest!

But the tough pink-faced Catholic boys–

They were certain I was a lying Jew

A secret money-changer from the Temple

Conspiring to kill their God

Blood on my hands?

I couldn’t see it

But my Mom and Dad

They’d fight over a ticking clock

A smirk on a face

Cold sales and no customers

Dirty dishes stacked by the sink

My heart-sinking bad report card

A damn check for this/a damn check for that

Proving that I was an Evil Child

For every reason and for no reason at all

I’d take cover under the breakfast nook

My older sister Bonnie

A taller dark-eyed beauty

Her thick brown hair, sprayed into concrete

 Always fled the carnage

Searching for the normal people

Normal always just out of her reach

She never found normal

Half a century later

She died

Still wondering where it was

Then came the Sunday Cease Fire

In honor of the Jewish brunch

All four of us there

Thank God for the Lox

Yiddish slices of Nova

Pink and undulating on the long oval plate

Bricks of white cream cheese

Smoldering tan and yellow bagels

Aromatic Hill’s Brothers coffee

Real cream on the table

Real sugar in a bowl

Never any American cheese

What the hell was that, anyway?

A small school of smoked fish

Dark, golden and scaled

Swimming in fish oil

Black eyes unseeing

I had to learn to find the needle-like bones

To eat the treasure within

Worth the work

I was expert at it

Such a luxury

Grandson of immigrants

But I still knew what “good” was

My mother could cook

She could probably kill

But regardless, she sure could cook

I remember her fried eggs

Three big yellow eyes in a field of fluffy white

Sizzling in the pan, edges turning black

The chicken-y smell of schmaltz in the air

 Then a big plate to split up the bounty

A fresh rain of black pepper

Freckling those blind yellow eyes

I can still smell the exotic pepper


Salt on e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g


Beef-Fry crackling in a wide frying pan

Jewish bacon

But it wasn’t actual bacon

Bacon was a sin

The Christian houses

Crucified Christs hanging on their walls

Reeked of it

And we weren’t them

In 1959

We still colored within the lines

When it came to so-tempting

Crunchy crispy bacon


A mysterious Turkish treasure

Oily sesame halvah

Resting like a brown chocolate brick

On pale wax paper

Sometimes with pistachios

Sometimes with almonds

Always with heartburn

But also

Since we were Americans now

Red Jell-O

Yellow Jell-O

Purple Jell-O

So innocent looking

Until we found out how it was made

The Sunday Brunch Truce

Lasted all day

The edible Sabbath

All of us too full to fight

Each quietly contemplating our

Coming resumption of violence

I was the last to run

Five years later

Leaving my angry mother

Still raging and alone in her silent house

To curse God

Blaming Him for her misery

But even God was somewhere else

(more about the author)

www.oldzines.com — 100,000 magazines back to 1576 for birthdays, etc in Downtown Skokie, Il One of 4 remaining stores in the USA, and very cool to see. Incredible business gifts! 50,000 international posters, all $5 & $10 each

www.Differentslants.com — My non-fiction story site. I’m a Chicago writer with 5 books in print and over 6,000 sold. No charge and I get hired by organizations to read my stories and poetry. Currently seeking representation for more speaking oppotunities.

www.FightingWordsPubco.com — My book site shows all my book covers. Click on the covers and you can read the reviews.

Robert M. Katzman (Bob)
The Magazine Museum
(847) 677-9444
4906 Oakton St.
Skokie, Il 60077
M-F 10–5 Weekends 10–2
Yellow Line train’s first stop on Oakton St. (from Howard) and a block west of that station.


Comment by Sheryl Rak

February 21, 2014 @ 8:11 am

Helpful to know of your beginnings, Bob!!
Similar to so many others’, yet unique to your experience & perspective…

Comment by Bill Skeens

March 7, 2016 @ 12:29 pm

Wow! Another amazing story well told. Thanks for sharing.

Bill Skeens

Comment by Herb Berman

March 7, 2016 @ 2:03 pm

I don’t envy you your childhood. Perhaps the only similarity between your childhood and mine was Sunday brunch. In my family, it was almost a religious rite. When I played baseball on Sunday mornings in the summer, my parents patiently waited for me to return and take a shower. Then we feasted. It was a happy time, now bathed, of course, in nostalgia.

Your best line, maybe the one that should end the poem: “…God was somewhere else.”

Comment by Tory Shade

March 7, 2016 @ 3:13 pm

I love your writing. Very evocative. I can’t help but draw the contrasts with growing up in Hyde Park and going to school at Bret Harte. My school experiences were very different. I was in the Christian minority, one of only 5 left in class on Jewish holidays. I’d get invited to some Bar Mitzvas and Bat Mitzvas, etc., and sometimes adults would mistake me for one of the Jewish children present, instead of a gentile. I learned to “blend in”. There was a lot of dishware thrown in my kitchen at home growing up too; that wasn’t a Jewish prerogative. I wonder where that comes from. You’d think that a housewife would want to preserve expensive home items. Go figure. Maybe it’s just that the “missiles” were easy to hand and familiar. Our family did eat bacon and I still can’t stand lox. (grin) I spent 2 weeks in Lithuania awhile back and was startled to discover that many mannerisms and sayings I’d pegged as Jewish are actually Eastern European.

Otherwise…Best wishes to you and your family.

Comment by Charlie Newman

March 7, 2016 @ 5:35 pm

Well-done, Bubba.
As always…

Comment by anna kong

March 10, 2016 @ 11:05 am

Your writing are always so powerful. Some of them make me so sad and but always make me think and appreciate life even more.

Best wishes to you and your family.

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