box of jars

richard klin
The Tailor's Son

The tailor's son feels thoroughly ill at ease with these two old people. His grandfather is tall, stern, with ramrod-straight posture that the tailor's wife constantly mentions. The grandfather is a quiet, unsmiling presence, in contrast to the much more talkative grandmother, who sports a kerchief on her head and addresses her grandchildren in a rapid-fire Yiddish that is often difficult to decipher. Occasionally, sensing her grandchildren's incomprehension, she momentarily switches to Polish, and to everyone's amusement—including the grandfather-- the grandchildren pick up bits and pieces of the foreign language, bandying about random phrases: Do you understand? Would you like to take a nap? Where do you go to school?

The visitors from Belgium are treated with great respect, even some deference. The tailor's son and daughter are plied with horrible-tasting candy from well-meaning visitors, which they must pretend to enjoy for fear of giving offense. The tailor's son is fascinated by the grandfather's practice of expertly positioning a sugar cube between his teeth and slowly sipping hot tea. This is successfully emulated by both children and soon the three are sipping tea with sugar cubes together. Some of the grandfather's reserve melts away.

The grandfather takes his grandson out for a stroll. The tailor's son keeps sneaking glances at this old man, who, from certain angles, looks just like his mother. They stop at a shuttered store, glass strewn over the tiny yard. The grandfather's explanation is obscure: trouble of some sort with the goyim.

Faster than anyone could have imagined, the journey back to Brussels is drawing near. For some time the tailor's son and daughter have been enamored of the catchy rhythms of a popular, easy-to-sing Louis Chagnon song. On their last night in Poland, in a burst of uninhibited inspiration—reflecting a gradual feeling of closeness for their grandparents—the two children take the stage, performing the tune for their grandmother, grandfather, and mother, warbling the brassy intro, voices growing steadier as the song progresses.

And the three adults in the room cannot help but laugh. It is laughter without a hint of derision; in fact, quite the opposite. The laughter is for the novelty of this serenade, the incongruous foreign tempo, the perfect French rolling off the tongues of the Belgian grandchildren, filling the gray Czestochowa apartment.

To the surprise of the tailor's son, his grandparents cry when it is time to depart. Even the grandfather's eyes become wet with tears. The grandmother holds her grandson close, and his nostrils fill with the foreign scents of tea, dill, onion, old age, Poland.

Brother and sister, on the Brussels-bound train, resume their exploration of the corridors and compartments. The friendly dining-car staff ply them with cookies. They meet a brother and sister from Antwerp of corresponding ages.

On the train ride to Poland, the tailor's son must have been asleep when the train crossed into Germany. Now, en route to Belgium, he is wide awake for this border crossing. It is his first encounter with the imposing red Nazi banner and the bold, black swastika emblazoned on the flag, primal and threatening. A palpable current of fear pulses from their mother, flowing into the family's little compartment.

There are soldiers all around, masses of soldiers. What especially draws the attention of the tailor's son are the shiny, glistening bayonets, glittering brightly in the sun; daggers bearing supreme, threatening power.

The tailor's son intuitively comprehends that even the extraordinarily ingenious Tintin is no match for the soldiers' bayonets and the ugly scrawl of the swastika.

Tintin, when confronted by this, has no choice but to turn and flee in the opposite direction.. Milou yelps down the street in terror. Even Flint McKetchum himself, with all his strength and resourcefulness, cannot escape the clutches of these soldiers. A bayonet cleaves Pablito's sombrero in half. Flint McKetchum meets his doom.