Monday, December 10, 2012

Solomon The Milkman



Here's something to break up the endless parade of Christmas reruns. Since Chanukah began Saturday evening, here's a rerun about my being Jewish (which I'm not, but my grandfather... eh. It will become clearer - at least bissel - when you read the story.)

(By the way, 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 again write anything new. So far, I figure I've got about forty-six, but your count may be lower.)

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






Let me 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 positive concerning 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!


26 comments:

Ami said...

I love this. I can't tell you precisely why it touched my heart, but it's making me smile thru a little bit of tears.

I think it's reminding me of my grandfathers.

Have a wonderful day!

Stephen Hayes said...

Lovely story. And your grandfather DID help them out after all.

Pearl said...

You can add this one to your count. :-)

Reminded me of my dad, who, dark skinned and black-haired, is continually thought to be of different ethnicity than what he really is. "They want to think I'm Italian?" he once told me. "Good. Suddenly I'm Italian!"

Good one, Solly.

Pearl

Daryl said...

love this post .. and as a quasi practicing Jew i think that what he did was a mitzvah (blessing) and I don't think YHVH (aka God) minded at all that Solomon was really Sullivan ..

Craig said...

Heh, heh. . . Good ol' Tevye (the Milkman) Solomon. . . If only he'd been a rich man. . . I bet yer Grams loved him, tho. . .

Wonderful story, Solly, uh, Sully. . . Yer Gramps was a Righteous Gentile. . .

My birth-mother converted to Judaism, long after I was born and adopted, and gone from her life, but, you know, before we were reunited. So, as far as I knew, the first time I met her, she was Jewish. And, you know, Jewishness is 'inherited' through one's mother (as she tells it, they might know who your father is, or not, but your mother, they can be pretty sure of), so. . . I can make my own case for being Jewish meself. . .

Tim King said...

Jim, this is one of my favorites of your stories. I think of it anytime we ask whether we have a minyan. -TimK

haphazardlife said...

I like this one. A good man your Grandpa.

Buck said...

From yer sidebar: אנשים נפלאים, ברוך

You left out "you," according to Google Translate.

Signed,
Resident Picker o' Nits

Suldog said...

Well, my Hebrew is a little rusty.

OK, it's utterly non-existent. According to the translator I used, it means. "Wonderful People, Welcome!"

What does it say according to YOUR translator? Nothing obscene I hope.

Bear Walker said...

Love this story, he did a good thing. My brother delivered milk for West Lynn for years. He had a lot of routes on Blue Hill Ave, etc.. and delivered to a convent somewhere in the area. The nuns lived in poverty and did mighty good work. Tom (my brother) would grab a few milks and oj's from some of his more wealthier clients and add to the nuns order, telling them he didn't know how that happened! They loved him and one day he asked that they pray for me. It seems I was "living in sin" with a Jewish fellow, nice but not the Irish catholic our family would expect. I got a nice surprise that night a dinner when I learned there are a bunch of nuns lighting candles and praying for my soul. Forever a jokester, I miss my brother and love those old milk delivery stories!

Jackie said...

I love this story, and like Ami, it brought tears to my smiles too.
I am Protestant and my father-in-law was Catholic. I have very good friends who are Jewish. I taught both their sons. Their name is unmistakably Jewish: Schindler.
Isn't is a wonderful world in which we can live and love as one.

Chris@Knucklehead! said...

I can't wait for the sequel, "Morrie the Butcher."

Not to be confused with "Vinnie the Butcher," which is a different story entirely.

Joanne Noragon said...

Hello. I've dropped by from time to time, but not left a calling card. I remember horse drawn milk wagons on my Grandmother's street on the west side of Cleveland. They were all Germans there. I believe you can put this story in your keeper file. Thanks for writing it down.

OldAFSarge said...

Bubala, what difference does it make? Solly, Sully, both are good names.

And a good man was your Grandfather the Milkman. A very good man indeed!

מזל טוב (Mazel tov)

messymimi said...

My whole family is smiling over this one. Your grandfather must have been one for the record books.

Saz said...

hey Jim, just dropped by to say thank you for your kind words of support and advice..and yeah pray for me, cos every little helps...am not an unbeliever like Mum, I'm a sit on the sidelines, open and searching kinda gal.

xxx

Lowandslow said...

Catholic, Jewish....he was a good man either way. :)

S

Hilary said...

Aww I loved this. It's a great story and your grandfather sounds like he was a fine man. You come from good roots.. pseudo Jewish or otherwise. :)

Michelle H. said...

Loved this story! Another fine one that I don't mind reading every year.

rhea said...

I remember when you ran this a few years back. Love this column!

joeh said...

Sullivan isn't Jewish?

Jenny Woolf said...

Lovely story! I didn't read it the first time round but wouldnt have minded reading it again.

Barbara Shallue said...

Oh, I love it! I think he did the right thing by helping them out. Great story!!

lime said...

i always enjoy this story. it just makes me smile. did i ever tell you about when we took our kids to a purim festival with a jewish friend who invited us? they did a little puppet show of the story of esther and we cried and banged and blotted out the name of haman as well as we could along with everyone else there. we went around to all the little activities and listened and explaind and had a great time. later on our friend told us some of her friends from the synagogue were so impressed with how well we were teaching our kids they wanted to ask her to invite us to join their congregation because they needed more families who cared to teach their kids. she let them down gently explaining we were not jewish and said they dabbed their eyes when she told them we wanted out kids to understand and respect judaism.

ellen abbott said...

That would never happen today and we are diminished for it.

Dianne said...

this is so wonderful
congrats on POTW