Saturday, December 12, 2009

Solomon The Milkman



The first night of Chanukah is tonight, so I'm re-printing this piece.

(In case you haven't figured it out yet, I'll clue you in. My goal is to write 365 really good pieces. Once I've done that, I'll keep trotting them out in perpetuity and never write anything new again. So far, I've got about six. Your count may be lower.)

Anyway, without further ado, here's Solomon The Milkman.


I'm going to tell you about my Jewish roots.

My grandfather Sullivan was a milkman for H. P. Hood for many years. He told this story, which took place during the days when he did his route on a horse-drawn wagon.

His route traveled through the Mattapan section of Boston, which at that time was almost exclusively populated by Jewish families. Now, some of the people to whom he delivered milk thought he was Jewish. They thought his name was Solomon, not Sullivan.

I'm not positively sure how this assumption came about, but it's not a stretch to imagine what might have happened. Someone in the neighborhood probably asked what his name was and he (or, more likely, one of his customers with perhaps an Eastern European accent) said, "Sullivan", and whoever had asked the question, with the idea already in mind that he might be Jewish, heard "Solomon". That person told someone else, and so on.

It was possible. My grandfather didn't have the map of Ireland on his face like I do. He could have passed. Since he delivered milk in a Jewish neighborhood, his customers might naturally have assumed that he was Jewish, too. I don't suppose he would have had any reason to disabuse them of this notion. He probably figured it wouldn't hurt business to let them keep on thinking it.

Anyway, one day while he was doing his route, some of the older Jewish men called for him to come down off of his wagon so that he could help them meet the required numbers for a minyan; that is, so that they could have enough for prayer service, which required at least 10 men.

They yelled to him, "Solomon! We need another for a minyan! You got time maybe?"

My grandfather was sharp enough to know what they were talking about. He had been delivering milk in that neighborhood for some time, so he was familiar with words and phrases and customs that an Irishman might otherwise not be expected to know. The question was, what should he tell these men? Should he spill the beans and let them know that he wasn't really named Solomon, but Sullivan? That he wasn't Jewish, but Catholic, and that his ancestry was Irish and French?

Well, my grandfather figured it this way: Who did it hurt if he helped them out? As long as they thought he was Jewish, God wouldn't be mad at them for including an Irishman in their prayer service, and he also figured that God would probably look kindly on him for doing the old Jews a mitzvah. So, my grandfather parked the wagon and made the minyan for them.

He faked his way through by following the lead of the others. Having attended Catholic mass for many years, he knew he could probably get by with indistinct mumbling as long as he did the right body motions, so he kept his voice low and bowed when they did and so forth. Afterwards, the old men thanked him and he got back on his wagon and finished his route. Of course, from that day forward there was little doubt along Blue Hill Avenue that Tom Sullivan (that is, Solomon The Milkman) was Jewish - and a fairly devout Jew, at that.

Therefore, if someone calls me "Solly", instead of "Sully", I won't complain. My grandfather wasn't really a Jew, but he played one on his milk route.

Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam shehecheyanu v'kiyimanu v'higi'anu laz'man hazeh. (Amein)

Happy Chanukah!




33 comments:

Michelle H. said...

Ever a wonderful story! Thanks for the repost!

Hilary said...

What a great story! I'll think of you when I light the menorah tonight. :)

Chappy Chanukkah and chugs to you, my friend.

Chilary

Uncle Skip, said...

Uh, oh! Now you have reminded me that I remember the milk being delivered in horse drawn wagons when I was a kid... and we had an ice man.

Eva Gallant said...

What a delightful tale! Thanks for the smile!

Brian Miller said...

a wonderful tale suldog. thanks for the smiles and happy chanukkah!

Jeni said...

A story of which you can be rightfully proud that you are a descendant of this man! I think that was quite a good deed he did and a tribute to his ability to mimic too if he was able to pull it off like that. Also says that a good deed sure does no harm too, doesn't it?
All too many people would shirk from doing something like that or worse, would have been offended too for others having thought the person was Jewish. Kudos to Solomon, the Milkman!

Karen said...

I love this post! Nice to read it again :)

Expat From Hell said...

Priceless. I hope the brothers in the b'rith left ol' Solly a bottle of Bushmills for his trouble. More likely it was Mogen David. EFH

jinksy said...

I love this! God by any other name, like the rose...

Eddie Bluelights said...

Shalom (שָׁלוֹם), Jim

If the name did originate from Solomon then he and you spring from the Tribe of Juda which may account for you puncing on everyone who gives you an award, quack! quack! LOL
Great story Jim - enjoyed it very much ~ Eddie

Eddie Bluelights said...

Spelling again!!

Puncing = Pouncing

Bruce Coltin said...

This one is truly precious. He was a character.

Mr. Knucklehead said...

According to my count, you're at eight really good posts, but I think I enjoyed the pink dildo one more than most people did.

Kidding, of course. You've at least got a solid six months in the books.

Nanny Goats In Panties said...

I like your idea of having 365 posts to just run through every year. It's brilliant!

Teacher's Pet said...

I'm fairly new to blogging, so I hadn't read this one, Jim.
I love your grandfather! I can imagine his wondering if he could get through the service without giving away that he wasn't Jewish. What a wonderful thing for him to do...as we worship the same God. (I'm not Catholic....I'm actually a Southern Baptist...but our God is the same God.) I have been to two Bar Mitzvahs...my students have invited me. I went to the first one without knowing anything about what the service entailed....but came away quite blessed and honored to have been a part of Jacob's Bar Mitzvah.
Thank you for re-running this post. I love your roots!
Warmest smiles from Jackie

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Jim...this needs to be included as one of your six!!!! I loved this! What an absolutely terrific story, and told with your usual panache! You are such an expert storyteller! And so thoughtful of the faiths of others and their holidays!!! A brilliant post, my friend...I LOVED it!!! Hugs, Janine

Anali said...

I still love this story! Happy Chanukah to ya! ; )

Shrinky said...

Oh, that is such a wonderful and totally credible story - so lovely. He had a lot of courage and a good heart, that grandad of yours, thanks for retelling it and for giving us a smile.

Joan said...

You have alot of niceness in your family. Great story!

lime said...

this one is definitely worthy of repeat. it made me smile the first time i read it and just made me smile again. :)

David Sullivan said...

Sounds like Grandpa was one funny bastard!!!

Chris Stone said...

lol. great story!

Jazz said...

Great story Solly.

Craig said...

Sweet story; thanks.

I've got my own 'Jewish roots', which I maybe oughta bog about sometime. . .

Buck said...

Yup... you're closing in on 365 a lot quicker than you think. Or want US to think.

Sarah said...

How did I miss this before!?

What a great story!!!

Cricket said...

Well, and if it isn't Jacob Johanan Solomon himself wi'a post o' t'week. Great story, Suldog. I thought so last time too, but I'm glad to see it recognized.

word veri: afspomp. Hm. Don't like the sound of that.

Land of shimp said...

Aw, well your grandfather may not have been Jewish, but it does sound like he was a mensch.

Lovely story, and I particularly like the fact that he knew how to fake it because of Catholic mass. I've been to a few of those (and been to Synagogues too) and truly, most religions have a tremendous amount in common: Stand when everyone else stands, kneel when everyone else kneels, and remember you're all there talking to the same concept.

It'll go well for us all if we can just keep that in mind, always.

Janet said...

Another seasonal favorite. (And you've got more than 6, but I don't have time to go count them all right now.)

Mental P Mama said...

I love this! And your grandfather;) Congrats on being POTW!

Cabo said...

I completely LOVED that! Ha! Thanks for sharing. Congrats on POTW!!

Kathleen said...

Oh, Sully, I mean Solly, er Sully--what is it about Irish milkmen? We homestayed a brilliant lad (Seamus) from Derry one year during a international youth soccer tournament. He told us about his grandfather who was known as Johhny One Gear. He, too, delivered milk in a truck that had, yep, one gear. Apparently, quite the beloved character as well--and he could be heard coming from quite some distance.

One can't help but fall hopelessly in love with your grandfather. And your telling of the story was perfection.

Congratulations of POTQ

gaelikaa said...

I'm an Irish Catholic myself, but I have a great love and respect for Jewish culture - after all, that's the root of my Christian faith.

I just loved this story. Thanks so much....

...and congrats on the POTW mention.