The Beautiful and The Ugly
On November 3, my wife and I with a few other people from Concord and Carlisle, Mass. were holding signs for political candidates on Monument Square in Concord under the great US flag; my sign was for Jay McMahon. It was a beautiful afternoon around 3 pm, a warm and dry, absolutely lovely autumn day for which New England is rightly famous.
Soon after we arrived, Mr. L from Chelmsford joined us with his son. Mr. L was holding a couple of hand-written signs about taxes, gasoline prices and such; his son was not holding anything for he was seated in a wheelchair that his father was pushing. I only met Mr. L a few times at various political events, and on one occasion he told me that his eldest (?) was severely handicapped needing 24-hour care. Having seen his son for the first time, that need was obvious.
The son – I do not know his name – was quite agitated when they arrived but after a few minutes in that beautiful afternoon sunshine he calmed down and Mr. L placed a couple of other political poles by the wheelchair.
As cars were driving by and seeing our signs some people honked at us approvingly, especially the ones driving big trucks, while others just pointed their thumbs down or ignored us completely.
Around 4 pm or so, a woman walked across the street towards us and within a few feet of me not very subtly she exclaimed “how embarrassing,” to which I replied “what?”
She again said “how embarrassing” – looking at me, while pointing at Mr. L’s son, after which she walked away fast.
Mr. L did not see nor hear this for he was adjusting something on his signs and poles. I walked after the woman who was around 50 or so (she of a face with a lot of mileage, so to speak), and I asked her again what was it she said to me? And she repeated “you are an embarrassment” but before answering her I remembered something from my childhood.
In the city where I grew up, two blocks from us, an old woman lived selling vegetables from a bodega the size of about 5 feet by 10 feet. She used to get up around 4 am to go to the farmer’s market and buy fresh vegetables with her son and sold them in that tiny store that could only accommodate one customer at a time. Daily, except for Saturdays, she bought five bags of vegetables and fresh fish, each bag about the size of a standard paper bag here, two for her to carry and two for the son to carry who also had a backpack. The old woman, Mrs. Reizinger, had a severe case of spinal deformity that was the result of tuberculosis she acquired during the war. Her son was physically strong but could barely speak and obviously had a mental handicap, he had Down syndrome, not the worst but bad enough.
In 1944, when her son might have been 8 or 10 years old, they were deported together to Auschwitz, she had the tattoo, but the son did not. Somehow the women in the camp saved the boy by hiding him first from Mengele and then from the rest of his kind, and they fed him and saved him. Men and women were separated, the husband disappeared and presumably died there. By the time they were liberated Mrs. Reizinger caught tuberculosis, but she survived that too with her son. After the war she received German reparations from which she opened that little store two blocks from where we were living and where my mother used to buy vegetables.
I tried to avoid her shop because Mrs. Reizinger was a grumpy old woman and I was afraid of her and also of the grin of her son; she did not like children because they were cruel, made fun of her and her son, but both are long dead, and so is my mother.
The reason why I am saying all this is because as I looked at that rich bitch whose aesthetic enjoyment of the afternoon, we seemed to have disturbed, I remembered my mother who told me when I was a child of about 8 that Mrs. Reizinger was the bravest woman she had ever met. What made her say this was my asking why that arm was tattooed for “body art” was unknown those days, and this was the first time I was told of the camps. I did not understand her comment about bravery then, but I understand it now. I looked at that woman who was standing off the curb on the road and told her I would be embarrassed if somebody saw us together. Indignantly she retorted “what did you just say to me” and I repeated myself after which she turned around and left without a word. I
would be honored if Mr. L called me his friend.