box of jars

richard klin
The Tailor's Son

The tailor's light brown hair is streaked with prominent, striking hues of red. The tailor's wife, on the other hand, has a gypsy complexion and coal-black hair. This combination has yielded a son with classic blond hair and light blue eyes. He looks like a goy, the tailor's wife often says, half proud, half bemused. She is increasingly anxious to take her children back for a visit to Czestochowa. They have never met their aging grandparents. The tailor feels his wife is out of her mind. If Czestochowa was across the street, he tells her, he would not enter.

The tailor's son, like many of his peers, is an avid follower of the adventures of the intrepid Tintin and his dog, Milou. Even more interesting is the ongoing saga of Flint McKetchum, the American import appearing regularly at the neighborhood movie house. The tailor's son, along with practically every boy within walking distance, sits enthralled at the onscreen action, glued to the goings-on in this faraway land called Arizona. Flint does battle with hostile Indians, drunkards, land speculators, card sharps, liars, and the un-chivalrous. As Tintin has his Milou, Flint is accompanied by the trusty, sombrero-wearing Pablito, whose entire existence revolves around Flint McKetchum and from time to time—usually around a campfire—breaks into song.

The tailor's son is a full participant in the joyous, chaotic street life; the free-form games of soccer and tag, endless re-creations of Flint McKetchum and Pablito pitted against redskins and rustlers. The tailor's son gets a turn at playing Flint and conceives of a brilliant strategic gambit: he perches on his very own balcony. From this vantage point, the rustlers coming through the valley below have absolutely no chance. The balcony becomes a prized spot until the tailor's wife gets wind of this.

He is also the first on the block to possess a shiny, brand-new bicycle, and basks in his sudden fame, generously—but judiciously—assigning turns to the other children. The tailor himself, an increasingly remote figure in the household, takes a rare, active interest in his son's new possession. The case could be made, however, that his excitement over his son's bicycle is basically one of self-interest. A brand-new bicycle casts a favorable light on the paterfamilias. This display of largesse is a tangible sign of prosperity.


Summer is the highlight of the family calendar: an entire season at the Blankenberge seashore. The tailor, as a matter of course, remains behind in Brussels, attending to the sartorial needs of his many customers. He also has no liking for the beating sun, the sand that seeps in everywhere, and unrelenting contact with his wife.

A sense of relief settles into the household as the departure to Blankenberge approaches. The son is especially aware of the tension between mother and father; the open bickering, the hushed quarrels. When the disagreements are aired in front of the children, the tailor and his wife quickly switch from Yiddish to the harsh, entirely incomprehensible Polish. It seems best to leave the tailor at Rue du Lavoir.

Even the air on the train to Blankenberge feels lighter, sunnier. The tailor's son imagines that he can actually detect the smell of the beach as soon as the journey commences. The tailor's wife sits a little taller, a little straighter, assuming an uncharacteristic air of command. A good deal of this newfound confidence is the carefree prospect of an entire summer vacation, but probably the most salient factor is a linguistic one. Flemish is spoken in Blankenberge and there, unencumbered by French, she can regain some measure of her lost dignity. In Blankenberge she is more adept, less the foreigner. The tailor's son and daughter spend much of the summer gobbling ice cream. How much ice cream can two children possibly consume? The tailor's son, after a few disappointing forays into other flavors, remains steadfast in his preference for simple chocolate, which his more adventurous sister views as a deficiency of imagination. Both are overjoyed by the introduction of the hitherto-unfamiliar Italian ices, with their teeth-chattering chill. The maternal reins are loosened here. In Brussels, of course, excessive ice cream consumption—not to mention running around all day—would be frowned upon, to say the least.