© Copyright 2019 by Kathryn Lynch
Stories About My Dad:
Negro Mens' Beach
My Dad was born and raised in Saco, Maine, a town run and ruled by Irish immigrants and their descendants. French persons were allowed to do business there in the daytime, but never stay overnight. Across the river, Biddeford, Maine, was a French enclave where English was seldom spoken except to conduct some daytime business. The Irish left town as the sun set. Both the Irish and the French feared and “hated” the Jews. That fear was common to all because the Jews were “loud talking, aggressive, shrewd business men who came into a town, bought up businesses, hired other Jews to run them, and left other citizens without property or employment”.
At the age of six, I knew the following certainties: 1. I was a mixed child because my Dad had sneaked across the River to woo and wed my Mom. 2. I couldn't see much of anything beyond two feet (profound, uncorrected nearsightedness. 3. I was afraid of Jews.
In 1946, Dad used his Military Severance Pay to open a large tire shop on a busy street corner in Tacoma, Washington. It was a true precursor of the Les Schwab stores of today, offering tire sales, tire repairs and balancing, tire rotation, analysis of brake, drum and other wheel problems, as well as referrals to other garages for more complex problems. Dad ran the business in the garage and Mom took care of billing and telephone inquires in the office. My sister and I were too young to be left alone, so we spent many hours wandering around watching the action in the shop.
So it was that one day when all of the shop and office employees were eating their lunches together in the bay, a horn began to blast over and over—a signal to open the service doors. Loud music oozed from within as a large cadilllac entered, then limped to a stop. A short, somewhat squab man emerged from the vehicle, waving his arms frantically in the air and shouting.
“What does a guy have to do to get a tire in this place?”
Now, I thought this was the silliest thing ever asked because pallets of new tires surrounded the bay. More than 200 tires were neatly displayed in stacks ready to roll out of their confines at the slighest nod of approval from a buyer. These stacks were large enough for me to see. It was later explained to me that the man, whose name was Andy Bageson, did see them but this was his way of introducing himself. In fact, he was the owner of Bageson's Jewelry across the street and the Cadillac had been driven from the storefront where it was ordinarily parked. Finally I was enlightened that this extraordinary performance was halfway to be expected because Andy Bageson was a JEW!
Every day after that Andy Bageson walked across the street at lunchtime to chat with my Dad. An unusual friendship began which often led to my wide eyed younger Dad reacting to some new idea that the middle aged Jew put forth. The two men discussed a wide variety of topics, while I absorbed every word with my highly developed hearing. I soon lost my fear of Jews, especially when Mr. Bageson arrived with a small toy or exotically wrapped chocolate candy. Dad and Mom now spoke about Mr. Bageson in friendly terms.
So it was, that in due time, a visit was scheduled for Andy and Anna Bageson to come to our home. It is possible that Mr. B scheduled the visit himself, but regardless of the circumstances, this was big, as big as it gets. We were under strict orders not to mention this visit to school friends. not to make messes or speak during the visit,
As the Cadillac with one shiny tire pulled up, the couple was just what I expected. Anna Bageson was a small, somewhat shriveled woman, who stood silently by her husband's side while he chatted happily nonstop. When Mom served French crepes for dinner, I wondered how Mr. B. was able to swallow food and talk at the same time. After dinner the chat continued for about an hour when our guest suddenly made an announcement:
“Do you want Anna to play?”
I pictured this woman picking up the checker game, or a deck of cards to play solitaire or rummy. Instead, Bageson went out to his Cadillac and removed a musical instrument case, a music stand and several large, flat music books. In fact, Anna Bageson was an accomplished classical violinist. After an area was cleared. She threw back her head, and eyes closed shut, she began to play. Sheets of music were before her but she played from memory. This woman was lost in the music and so were we all. I had never heard anything so beautiful. I was staggared that I didn't know about classical music. I know now that she played Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D. And there developed in me a lifelong love of classical music.
A few weeks later, Dad noticed that Bageson had not stopped by for a shop visit for three days. Dad sent two employees across the street to check on him. The store was darkened and appeared closed but the door was unlocked. Bageson lay on the floor, with his hands and feet tied together. He had been robbed by two men who trashed his store before making off with of some of his nicer pieces. Police were soon everywhere but too much time had passed for much evidence to be found. Bageson was transported for the night to the hospital. Upon release he arrived at our shop, telling everyone who would listen about his adventure across the street.
Life went back to normal for a few weeks Then suddenly one morning, the street was again clogged with police. Something had happened at Bageson's Jewelry Store. A large contingent of police finally emerged with Andy Bageson, arms handcuffed behind his back, He was being arrested for insurance fraud by staging a fake robbery. . .
I don't know
what happened later to Andy Bageson or to the birdlike, sensitive
woman he clearly adored. I do know that the two of them taught me
how to accept differences in others, Jewish or otherwise.