At one time, my father invested heavily in weaving looms, which he sold at a profit. And dry goods, which he did not. That he had acquired the dry goods from a tenant in lieu of back rent makes me feel a little better about how badly he did. At least it hadn’t been his dream that had gone awry.
The store occupied a building he owned at 1551 Milwaukee Avenue. I hated that building, and I hated the store. I remember spending entire days with him waiting for customers who never came.
The merchandise was laid out on tables or in wide bins. There were piles of blue and red cowboy bandanas and stacks of cheap floral handkerchiefs decoratively bound by small satin ribbons in thin white gift boxes. I thought those handkerchiefs were wonderfully pretty, and I couldn’t figure out how anyone in the world could resist them. To my very young eyes, they were as alluring as the spun glass figurines displayed on a cabinet top in the apartment of the tenant who lived behind the store.
These are the same spun glass windmills, unicorns, sailboats and ballerinas on display today in shopping malls, novelty stores, at carnivals and at state fairs. Slender stalks of glass deftly manipulated into Cinderella slippers, medieval castles, fire breathing dragons, and merry-go-rounds…fanciful shapes that affirm the existence of beauty in the abstract, as it existed in the heart of a ten year old still capable of being entranced by cheap handkerchiefs and cheap glass swans.
The grown-up version of the child I once was still has a secret weakness for spun glass unicorns, and to this day, I adore handkerchiefs. Light airy wisps of chiffon. Delicate florals. Embroidered satin. Lace-edged silk. They are no more useful in the cosmic scheme of things than lipstick or hair dye, but they smack of an old-fashioned femininity that I miss, even though it was gone before my time.
Samuel Reuben sold that kind of handkerchiefs.
Eventually, he sold the building and the dry goods store.
As to the tuxedo rental business, my Uncle Jack likes to tell how one June, at the height of the busy season, when rentals were brisk for grooms, ushers, and graduates going to their senior proms, my father put a “Gone Fishing” sign in the window, closed up the store and went to Cuba.
Because that was the kind of thing he did.
When he was just a schoolboy, it was he who organized all of the violinists in his music class to go on strike.
He who argued most vehemently in support of atheism.
He who bought a new car every year.
He who wore bold, geometric ties, custom-tailored suits, and broad brimmed hats in which he looked so dapper, any woman with the least bit of common sense would have to feel her heart resonate with a loud “pit pat”.
But all of those peccadilloes occurred before he fell in love with Ghita Hurwitz and found his true vocation in life – that of being the most wonderful father in the world.
Shelly Reuben is an Edgar-nominated author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit shellyreuben.com
Copyright © 2008, Shelly Reuben.