box of jars

richard klin
The Tailor's Son

The beaches are the grandest, most amazing playgrounds ever conceived. The tailor's son and daughter take on a permanent red sheen. The tailor's wife refers to them, affectionately, as her two little Indians.

The tailor's son is keen on reenacting a Tintin adventure with his sister as Milou. She balks, and remains immune to the allure of cowboys and Indians. Yet they both share an equal enthusiasm for the puppet shows and occasional concerts.

By now the usual contingent of pasty English tourists have decamped. To the amusement of the tailor's son, they take great care in traversing the hot sand and undergo elaborate precautions to shield themselves from the summer sun.


The end of summer and the advent of the school year return the household to its usual rhythms. But then all are electrified by the tailor's startling, expansive new plans. He has been in frequent contact with his Czestochowa landsman Prostak, late of Rotterdam, currently a denizen of New York City. Prostak's letters contain strong, irrefutable evidence that Brooklyn is in need of skilled, hardworking tailors. Prostak himself badly needs a trustworthy partner with known skills, someone he can absolutely rely on. And the United States is still, after all , the land of opportunity.

The tailor's son has never seen his father so consistently happy and animated, full of plans and assurances. He will sail aboard a big ship—like Noah's Ark, he tells the children—and then establish himself in Brooklyn, New York, work hard for a year or two—three at the most—and then they too will board Noah's Ark and join him for a new, prosperous life in New York City. That new bicycle? In America, like everything else, the bicycles are bigger, shinier, and ride faster. The apartments in New York City are more spacious, the beaches far superior to those of Belgium's.

The tailor's wife listens to the detailed logistics, the complicated plans, with what looks like both pleasure and resignation. What does the pleasure signify? Does she, after all, harbor dreams of becoming an American lady, living in a larger apartment, enjoying the bounty of America? And what is the look of resignation?

The labor and sweat of tailoring has never really been that much to Prostak's liking. He is more than happy to pass on the bulk of the actual physical labor to his new partner. Prostak's attention is more focused on the stock tips he picks up and some minor real estate transactions. Soon the shop on Kings Highway—just as at Rue du Lavoir—has a steady, reliable clientele. Both men have made a smart move.

The tailor is ensconced in a simple, yet pleasant apartment in Sheepshead Bay. Just as in Brussels, his adaptive capacity is astonishing. The English comes in leaps and bounds and he is proud to differentiate himself from those greenhorns who sound as if they just stepped off the boat. Nobody will accuse this tailor of being a greenhorn! He studies the intricacies of the Dodgers with an intensity and zeal akin to those yeshiva boys back in Poland. The radio is on all day long at the shop and he takes to reading the daily newspaper. The tailor meets many of Prostak's convivial friends, frequents the automat, samples a hot dog at Nathan's. His latent card-playing skills blossom to near-expert level.

It is only natural that here in the new world he garners a snappy new nickname: Red, in honor of the streaks of reddish-gold that still grace his hair. In his custom-made suits, he cuts a dapper figure promenading up and down Ocean Parkway. Some of the ladies begin to take notice. And why not? The tailor is still a young man. There is nothing like a few well-turned French phrases to draw some favorable attention. And in this vast sea of Yiddish, the tailor's French even softens up the famously taciturn Sephardic baker on Avenue M.

The tailor, quite faithfully, sends generous, punctual remittances to his wife in Brussels. He is still, after all, a husband, a father. This is more than many men in similar situations have done. He has seen it himself: new arrivals, suddenly unencumbered by familial responsibility, turn their backs on their wives and children back home. The tailor is not this type of person. At some point, a few years from now, his wife, son, and daughter will board Noah's Ark and come be with him.

Coinciding with her husband's prolonged absence, the tailor's wife is gripped by an overwhelming, almost urgent determination to finally journey back to Czestochowa with her Belgian children. With a confidence and steely will rarely seen outside of Blankenberge, the tailor's wife plunges into the detailed, complicated logistics of the trip to Poland.

The tailor's son is both excited and filled with trepidation. The prospect of missing a good deal of school, the lengthy train excursion—these are all intriguing. But gnawing at him is an anxiousness of the unknown, of spending time with grandparents he's never met.

The tailor's wife and children are comfortably situated in a private train compartment, which goes a long way to ease the monotony of travel. The son and daughter sleep, sing songs, play games, read. Varied landscapes whiz by the train window. Brother and sister explore the corridors, peek into other compartments, investigate the dining car. They scout around—unsuccessfully—for age-appropriate children. A waiter makes funny faces at them. A friendly priest entertains them with a card trick and offers them some apple.

In Czestochowa the tailor's wife—to the great joy of her children—hires a taxicab. Evidently, a taxicab is a rare thing here in Poland, as what looks like the entire block comes out to gawk. Word has spread that the Belgian family has come to visit.