Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

On Emotional Cruelty and Loss at Christmas Time…by Robert M. Katzman

by Robert M. Katzman © Sunday, December 22, 2019

Written in response to Peggy Boyce’s letter of pain on Mike Stickler’s Facebook page: No, Peggy, I don’t know you but I decided to respond. Perhaps it will give you something you want.

I am Jewish, not into ritual, but deeply spiritual, and now old enough to have experienced the loss of so many people that I have forgotten some of their names.

A village of dead friends and relatives scattered across many towns, this country and other countries. I see their faces, can hear their voices in my mind, some of them locked in an endless loop of a certain holiday scene where I was less, to them, then whatever I might ever aspire to be. Yes, I can hear their voices. No volume control to the–endlessly anticipated–onslaught of the daggers they pierced me with when I wasn’t allowed to respond:

“Bobby! Respect your Elders and be quiet!!”

But the good ones remain, as well, Peggy. Always so quiet, with their dark eyes still so bright across a century. Their lips don’t move and silence surrounds them.

But they talk to me, Peggy. Not in words, but in helping me navigate morally ambiguous situations over my nearly seventy years. They seem to nudge me. No one screams at me any longer. No one can. I have become the Eldest of the Elders. The gift of revenge? Such a thought reinforces my sense of the existance God, of balance and justice. Maybe God is actually…fair?

I don’t know.

Maybe not in many other’s lives, but in my life of irrational violence, it rings true.

The worst of my family have evaporated, freeing me from their seemingly endless holiday tyranny. Not smart enough. Not successful enough. Not religious enough, and on, and on. I am certain any Christian or Muslim or someone of many other faiths and creeds understands this situation. Cruelty has no ethnicity, no saints, no prophets…and when it happened, no Divine intervention, either. Or so it seemed to me at the time, small and with no defenders.

But Peggy, the good ones, the kind ones, the ones who held and hugged me, transmitted love without words; perhaps because of their own fears of retribution, they remain. I can feel them. Especially when alone and in my kitchen. Perhaps cooking invokes their spirits. Perhaps they miss the wonder, the delectable fragrance of the old recipes from Europe. Who knows?

My kitchen seems to expand to accommodate the body-less crowds. I see Celia from Poland, her father Moshe, her sister Shirley who hid behind the barn with her when their father was beheaded in a Pogram. Maybe because I am the namesake? Nathan from Byelorussia who was halfway across the Atlantic in 1914 when World War One began, and who was alone among his family to survive, because they all were too timid to emigrate.

I see my mother, Anne, my father, Israel, my sister, Bonnie. They came from different paragraphs already written above. A thorned-thicket of anger here, but I’m deciding not to enter it. I can choose. I am not compelled to slash myself to express complex emotions in my letter to you, Peggy.

I see Mollie, and Milton, and Sylvia and Foster and the other Milton and Herman — the first immigrant to die — and Adele and Ziggy and Diana and, and…? Oh, I am sorry. But there are so many and I am older now.

I see orphan Rose from Lithuania who was sent off alone to America by cruel relatives because she was too plain to marry off. I see skinny Jacob, the carpenter from Megilev-on-the-Dnepr River who escaped from Poland in a hay-wagon, as family legend has it, because when the border guards slashed the hay with their bayonets, he was too tiny a target to kill. One of five brothers and not handsome, he made it to America, too.

The richer established German Jews in New York City didn’t want illiterate, stinking, impoverished, unsophisticated and Yiddish–speaking Jews from Eastern Europe to diminish their centuries of hard-won social standing in America. So, under the illusion of charity (to themselves, perhaps) they sent off these masses of ragged rabble across the United States, far far away from New York City. Thus were these two souls, Jacob and Rose, to meet and marry in the cosmopolitan center of Yiddishkite-culture, of Newport, Kentucky.

Those who believe that their superior educations, accumulated wealth and secure social status bolsters their illusions of their sophistication and makes them imagine that they are more valuable in the Eyes of God than lesser others. I believe that my own antagonism toward such people who think this way has been firmly and genetically transmitted across Time, space, oceans.

Grandma and Grampa, your fierce spirit survives in me; and I believe, it also lives on in the kindness and decency of my children.

I see Agnes and Jim, my Irish immigrant neighbors who kindly gave five-year-old me their dog, Smokey, to play with in their house when no pet was allowed in mine. Because of them whom I met at age five, Gaelic voices and music endure as rich poetry within me, from 1955 on. Yes, I can still hear you Mrs. Gelin and see your snug shanty.

The pets? Oh, the pets. The canaries and parakeets and dogs and cats and newts and mice and turtles and…ok, mostly the dozen dogs I slept with across my life and theirs…well, they are everywhere in my kitchen, on the walls, on the ceiling and snuggling up to me when I need them. Oh, man, I think God gave us furry dogs so we could withstand all of the insanity among our families, Peggy!

Can any of you reading this understand me?

The good intermingling with the bad?

To say this as essentially as I can; my kitchen, that warm embracing glow of my kitchen…my kitchen is Joyce in another form. During our 42 years together, she made me kinder, better, more accepting of the monsters within and without my/our families, because whatever was wrong with me, she needed me in hers. Together, we kept our Legions of Demons at bay. If I was, maybe, a hero to her, she was my shield and sword. She looks after me, still.

And, well, not so silently, either. Her own blue eyes have drawn more blue eyes into my quiet orbit. Funny, how they both look so…Blu-ish.

Advice from the Eldest, Peggy?

Imagine the missing child present.

Find someone living to sit next to who has a warm heart, and I hope it gets you through another difficult Christmas.

No, Peggy, to me there is no Santa Claus; unless, perhaps, Kindness is another name for him.

Merry Christmas to you.


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: http://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.


Comment by Lynda Rosemark

December 22, 2019 @ 2:20 pm

Great story…yes, surround yourself with love and kindness

Comment by Bob

December 22, 2019 @ 3:03 pm

Herb Berman
2:38 PM (1 hour ago)

(to me)

Hi Bob,

This was a moving recollection of good and bad times, good and bad people. You and I are alike in some ways, far different in others. I’m also a child of eastern European Jews who came to America because life in the old country—Lithuania, to be precise—was so intolerable they had to flee from everything they knew and once loved. My grandparents made their way in their new world, and their children, among them my parents, prospered and were happy. My many relatives treated me with kindness and respect, some even with love. The pioneers’ grandchildren—me, my sister, my many cousins—did well…financially and otherwise.

Most would say my life has been easy—a happy marriage, happy and successful kids, happy and successful grandkids so far. I’m prosperous, and did well in my chosen profession. I also experienced minimal antisemitism, and knew how to deal with it when I did encounter it. For example, I left a corporate executive position after three months when it became clear that I was the “smart Jew” who’d never quite fit in. The VP who hired me was a good guy who’d chosen me to ultimately (quickly actually) replace my immediate supervisor. It was untenable. I quit, and joined a Chicago law firm—the best move I’ve ever made.

Your life has been so difficult, so fraught, so tragic that it’s difficult for someone who’s been fortunate, very lucky actually, to understand how you’ve managed to navigate through and around all your many obstacles.

Your piece brought tears to my eyes, especially this cri de coeur:

I believe that my own antagonism toward those who believe that their superior educations, accumulated wealth and secure social status has been firmly and genetically transmitted across Time, space, oceans, and the illusion of their sophistication makes some people more valuable in the Eyes of God than others. Grandma and Grampa, your spirit survives in me, and I believe, also lives on in the kindness and decency of my children.

Despite being a Jew from a background probably much like yours, I haven’t had to envy goyim, or anyone, “their superior educations, accumulated wealth and secure social status.” I too have a good education and I’ve accumulated some wealth to pass on to heirs. I’ve always believed in the “American Dream”—that education and hard work lead to material success. In my case, at least, the American Dream became reality. I realize that there are those who’ll never “fit in” because of race or other irrelevant considerations. I’m surely not naive enough to believe there aren’t social boundaries I’ll never breach. Fortunately, I don’t care, and, as far as I know, these limitations at the upper income level haven’t hindered me professionally or socially.

All my best,

Comment by Brad Dechter

December 23, 2019 @ 6:39 am

Well said and done Bob.The only thing I would add to in your advice to Peggy is that she needs to be grateful for the good in her life. The brain is wired so you can’t be both grateful and sad at the same time, so find her reasons to be grateful.
Great story- thank you. Entertaining yet thought-provoking and filled with interesting thoughts.
I enjoyed it much- thank you!
Happy Hannukah!

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