Tuesday, October 2, 2012

One Summer with Mrs. Stahl

A twitter friend recently pointed me to an article in a local paper regarding a book being written about Knishes and featuring Mrs. Stahl's Potato Knishes - a store that was once owned by my great uncle Morris and his brother Sam. It was a family business and everyone worked there - at least for a little bit. This is a story about the few days I worked behind the counter. It is as I remember it, and I'm absolutely positively sure that my memory is flawed.

It may have been my first time flying alone - that summer of '81 when I traveled (from San Diego) to Brooklyn for a few weeks to be with relatives and work at the Knish Store. Towering over my friends at 5 feet, 2 inches, I was tall for a 6th grader, and the most ... developed. I looked to be closer to 15, and was treated as such by strangers - flight attendants, shop keepers, distant relatives - who didn't know different or see me too often. 

The "work" I did at the store those weeks was filtered through the love of my Great Uncle ... I didn't mop floors or even wipe tables but I could make the coffee - light, sweet, black, everything - and hand over a knish while someone else rung up the orders. I vaguely recall glances full of angry resentment from my colleagues ... I don't think I understood exactly what the problem was and wasn't concerned enough to ask how to change it.

A boy - maybe 18 - who worked at the shop asked my great aunt if he could take me out. They loved this kid (I don't remember his name) and I think they were happy for me to have a chance to hang out with someone my "own age" (after all, the difference between 12 and 17 is only five years and that's nothing ... right?) 

We went to the Coney Island Board Walk and rode the roller coaster. As we whipped around, the boy began stroking my arm with his thumb. An act meant, I'm sure, as a gesture of comfort (this is why boys take girls on carnival rides, no?), but it was overwhelming and absolutely confusing to me: the 12 year old who may have liked (or even been attracted to) this boy but wasn't really ready to be stroked.

I don't remember any more of that day - which I suppose, was my official first date. But what I DO remember - in hindsight that is seeped in years of therapy - I find quite fascinating.

The next day (or a few days later, I'm not sure) arrangements had been made for me to go to the movies with the boy. He was due to arrive when something - I have absolutely no recollection of what - set me off, and I had the tantrum of all tweenage tantrums. Acts of rage on my part were not unheard of (I was a depressed and difficult child/teen) but this one was different because I remember having to be physically contained. There was a fear the upstairs neighbors would call the police. My grandmother became desperate and I was locked in the TV room (completely air conditioned and comfortable) until I calmed. 

By that time, of course, the boy had come and gone. I asked my aunt what had transpired, what he said, I wanted to know everything. They'd told him I wasn't feeling well and couldn't go out. He had been a little disappointed and left.

I didn't go back to work at the store after that.

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