Thursday, December 13, 2018

Pointy The Poinsettia



Once upon a time, there was a poinsettia named Pointy.

(His given name was Poindexter Poinsettia, but everybody called him Pointy for short.)

Pointy lived in a large greenhouse with his poinsettia family and other plant friends. He liked it very much.


The world was a wonderful place full of bright sunshine, all the water he wanted to drink, and dark rich soil for his roots. He thought that he couldn’t possibly be happier.

Then, one day in November, some of Pointy’s friends weren’t around anymore. Pointy wondered where they had gone. He also wondered how they got wherever they went. They were plants, after all, and thus only able to walk extremely short distances.

Pointy asked his uncle, Pedro Poinsettia, where his friends had gone.

"Oh, it’s a joyous time of year, Pointy!" said Uncle Pedro.

"What do you mean?" asked Pointy.

Uncle Pedro leaned close to Pointy and whispered in his ear (or, at least, what passed for an ear on Pointy) and said:

"In November, all the poinsettias who have grown big red leaves are taken from the greenhouse and sent all over the world to give joy to the people who celebrate Christmas. The people are very happy to have a poinsettia in their home or school or office. They smile and say things like, ‘What a beautiful poinsettia! How pretty it is, with its big red and green leaves! Merry Christmas!’"

Pointy was very excited. He had never considered the possibility of travel, but now he hoped that he might be able to go far away and see many interesting people and things. He enjoyed the thought of bringing great joy to people celebrating Christmas. He packed his bags and waited to be shipped.

(Well, OK, he didn’t actually have any bags. As a matter of fact, even if he did have bags, he wouldn’t have known what to pack in them. I'm sure you get the idea, though. He was excited and ready to go.)

Finally, the day came when Pointy was planted into a big pot, all trimmed with pretty gold foil.


He felt extra-special now! He was then loaded into a truck, along with about thirty other plants. As the truck was driving away, he waved good-bye to his Uncle Pedro.

(No, he didn’t, really. No hands, you know? He did what he could, though. Uncle Pedro understood.)

*********************************************

As they were bumping down the road, Pointy looked around. He appeared to be the only poinsettia plant in the truck. He struck up a conversation with the flower next to him, a girl. He knew she was a girl because... well, he just did, that’s all.

"Hi, I’m Poindexter Poinsettia, but everybody calls me Pointy. What’s your name?"

"Rose."


"You're really pretty, Rose."

"Thank you. You have nice big red leaves."

Pointy blushed.

(To be truthful, he didn’t actually blush; his leaves were already red. But he WAS a bit embarrassed. Rose really was pretty, and it was nice to get a compliment from her.)

Pointy asked, "Do you know where we’re going, Rose?"

"Yes, I think so, Pointy. My Aunt Petunia said we’re all going to office buildings in Newton."

"Newton? Where’s that?"

"I’m not entirely sure, but I believe it’s east of Worcester."


"Oh! Is that a good thing?"

"It’s better than being in Worcester," said Rose.

Pointy looked out the window of the truck. Having never been out of the greenhouse before, he was amazed at how many plants there were everywhere. He saw great huge trees, and big green hedges, and large bunches of scary weeds, and gigantic expanses of grass, and even a few pretty flowers, like his new friend, Rose. However, he didn’t see a single poinsettia anywhere. This worried him a bit.

He asked Rose, "Am I going to be the only poinsettia in Newton?"

Rose shrugged her shoulders.

(Nah, not really. She didn’t have shoulders. She did indicate she didn’t know the answer to Pointy’s question, but shoulders never entered into it.)

The truck turned off of the road and into a parking lot. After it stopped, the back door of the truck opened and a man reached in and grabbed Rose.

Pointy said, "Good luck, Rose! I hope you bring much joy to the people in this building!"

Rose blew a kiss to Pointy, and then she was gone. The man carried her inside of the building where they had stopped.

The man had left the door of the truck open, so Pointy was able to see Rose being carried by the man. The man stopped and handed Rose to a woman sitting behind a desk. The woman immediately became very happy, a big smile appearing on her face.


As the man who delivered Rose was walking back to the truck, Pointy saw the happy woman carrying Rose all around her office, showing Rose to all her friends. Everybody smiled as soon as they saw Rose, and Rose was very happy in her new home. Pointy was also very happy, for now he was extra excited about how happy he was going to make the people where he was going.

The man closed the door to the truck. Soon, the truck was moving again. Pointy imagined being carried into an office where all the people would smile and say, "What a beautiful poinsettia! How pretty it is, with its big red and green leaves! Merry Christmas!"

While Pointy was imagining this, the truck stopped in front of another building. The back door to the truck opened and suddenly Pointy was in the man’s hands, being carried outside.

"This is it!" thought Pointy, "I’m about to make many people happy! I can’t wait to see their smiles, and hear them say ‘Merry Christmas!’"

The man brought Pointy up some stairs and then through a glass door. There was a woman at a desk just inside the door. Pointy tried to make his big, red leaves stand up as straight and proud as possible. As he did so, he heard the woman say:

"What the hell is that?"

The man said, "Gift from your landlord. It’s a poinsettia."

"Duh! I can see it’s a poinsettia. What are we supposed to do with it?"

"I don’t know, lady. I just deliver ‘em. Merry Christmas."

Pointy didn’t understand. The woman didn’t seem happy at all. Had he done something wrong?

The woman yelled to someone, "Hey, come see what we got."

A man came out of an office, saw Pointy, and rolled his eyes. He said, "Ugh! Another poinsettia? Every year, we get a friggin' poinsettia and every year we have no place to put it. What in hell are we going to do with it?"

"Don’t look at me," said the woman at the desk, "I don’t have any room for it here."

Other people came out of their offices to see what the noise was about. As each one saw Pointy, they laughed and made faces and said mean things.

Pointy wanted very much to be back in his friendly greenhouse. This wasn’t at all as he had imagined it, or as Uncle Pedro had told him it would be. He wanted to just shrivel up and make himself as small as possible.

Finally, the woman at the desk took him and placed him on a wobbly table, near some stacks of old yellowed paper and bent paperclips and dried up pens that nobody ever used. Every so often, someone who hadn’t seen Pointy would walk by. At first, Pointy tried standing up proud and showing off his pretty red leaves. However, it was always the same story. Either the person just walked by without noticing him, or laughed and said something mean about him.

After a while, Pointy just gave up. He stopped caring what the people said. He started losing his big red leaves that he had been so proud of. As he did so, the people in the office started saying even worse things about him. They kicked at his fallen leaves and, when they picked them up, they threw them in the garbage, cursing. He could feel his roots drying out. Nobody gave him any water. Nobody cared about him. There was no sun; just a cold bit of light from some fluorescent tubes. As much as a poinsettia had a heart, Pointy’s was broken.


Pointy lost many more of his leaves. He was dying. He wanted to die. Life was a miserable thing. Christmas? It was just a cruel joke. He had imagined much love, and had received none.

**********************************************

One day, about a week after he had been delivered, a new person came into the office. Pointy hadn’t seen this person before, but he expected to hear more of the same insults and derisive laughter. He didn’t care. What could this person say to hurt him more than what he had already lived through?

The new person said, "Hey, who gave us the poinsettia?"

The woman at the desk answered, "Oh, the landlord gave us the damn thing. It’s been shedding leaves ever since it got here."

Pointy listened disinterestedly.

The new person said, "Well, heck, maybe he needs a little water. Has anybody given him a drink?"

Pointy’s ears perked up (or, at least, what passed for ears on Pointy.)

"Let’s give him a drink," said the new person.

"Knock yourself out," said the woman at the desk.

The new person went into the kitchen and Pointy could hear water running. As much as he thought he was beyond caring, he felt himself thirsting for a drink. The new person came back out carrying a cup full of water. He poured it into Pointy’s dirt.

Pointy was shocked by how good it felt.

The new person said, "There you go, guy. How’s that?"

Pointy wanted to jump out of his pot and give the person a hug!

The new person said, to the lady at the desk, "Hey, do you mind if I take him into my office? Maybe I can bring him back to life."

The woman at the desk said, "Give it your best shot, Jim, but I think it’s a lost cause."

Jim! That was the friendly man’s name! Pointy tried to make what leaves he had left stand up a bit for Jim, but he was too weak to do very much. He noticed with gratitude that it didn’t seem to matter to Jim. Jim was picking him up and taking him into his office anyway.

************************************************

Every day, Pointy waited for Jim to arrive. Every day, Jim did something nice for Pointy. He gave Pointy a drink of water, or put him where he could get a bit of sunshine. When one of Pointy’s leaves was withered and painful, Jim gently removed it, giving Pointy space to grow a new, stronger leaf.

Finally, it came to the day before Christmas. For all of the love Pointy was receiving from Jim, there was still the pain of knowing that what he had heard about Christmas was untrue. Nobody had seen him and said, ‘What a beautiful poinsettia! How pretty it is, with its big red and green leaves! Merry Christmas!’

Pointy had grown back some big, green leaves. The few red ones he had left were strong and bright now. He wished that someone would get to see them for Christmas. He wished that he could bring someone some joy. Of course, Jim liked him, but he still wanted to believe in what his Uncle Pedro had told him during that time which seemed so long ago now. He wanted to be a plant that made people smile at Christmas.

It was December 24th. There had been a party in the office and now Pointy saw lights being turned off and he heard people saying cheery good-byes, wishing each other happy holidays. Well, he had been lucky to find one new friend, he supposed. Maybe that would get him through the holiday. Jim would be back in a couple of days, and that wouldn’t be so bad. At least he made Jim happy.

He heard the door lock. It was dark and cold now. His leaves drooped a bit. Even though he expected to spend Christmas alone in the office, he had still hoped...

(*CLICK*)

Pointy heard the door to the office open and he noticed one light come on.

"Probably the cleaning people", thought Pointy.

But then, there was Jim! Jim bent down and picked up Pointy, carried him out of the office, down the stairs, and out into the... SNOW! Jim put Pointy down into the cold white stuff!

Oh, no! Was Jim tired of him, too? Was he leaving him to die in the snow? What a cruel world!

Pointy only had a few seconds to entertain such morbid thoughts. Jim picked him up again, put him into the front seat of his car, put a seat belt around Pointy's container, and turned on the heat. Then Jim started driving. Jim was taking Pointy home! For Christmas!

And so Jim DID bring Pointy home for Christmas, and Pointy saw Christmas lights and Christmas trees, and he had sunshine and warmth and as much water as he wanted to drink. He had a seat of honor by the fireplace, where the stockings hung, and he was given some lovely ribbons to wear. And love. Pointy was given love. And on Christmas morning, Jim (and JIM'S WIFE) said to Pointy...

"What a beautiful poinsettia! How pretty you are, with your big red and green leaves! Merry Christmas!"


Pointy was the happiest poinsettia in the whole entire world!

THE END

**************************************************

Text by Jim Sullivan, who wishes to thank Meghan Wilson for her wonderful illustrations.

Remember, if you get a happy poinsettia for Christmas, it doesn't have to be thrown out with the old tree and discarded wrapping paper. With a bit of love, it can keep growing for years. It probably won't have big red leaves all that time, but green is a nice Christmas color, too!

Soon, with more better stuff.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Solomon The Milkman




In honor of Hanukkah, a combination of two tales from my life.

Solomon The Milkman is about my grandfather. He wasn't Jewish but he pretended to be in order to do a favor for some real Jewish people. Oddly enough, as I relate in the second story, he was married to a woman who was Jewish but he probably had no idea that she was. Even more odd, she probably had no idea that she was, either. It was only through DNA testing of their offspring - my uncle - that our Jewish roots were discovered. Still later, DNA testing on My Mom also found Jewish roots.

Anyway, here are both stories, told in the order in which I originally told them. Solomon was published in the Boston Herald. The other tale was submitted for publication to many places, but rejected by every last one of them. I couldn't possibly tell you why. I think it's wonderful (but, of course, it's about ME, so I would.)


Solomon The Milkman



Let me tell you about my ersatz Jewish roots.

My grandfather Sullivan was a milkman for H. P. Hood. He told this story, which took place during the long-ago 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 heavily populated with 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 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 it as "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 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?"

My grandfather was sharp enough to know what they were talking about. He had been delivering milk in that neighborhood for many years, 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 his wagon and joined the minyan.

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, bowed when they did, and so forth. Afterward, the old men thanked him. He then 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.

So, 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)

Unexpected Roots

You might assume, from my name, that I have Irish blood in me. True. But let me tell you the rest of the story.

What you likely wouldn’t guess, either from my name or my looks, is that I am of 25% Spanish blood; what some would term Hispanic. My grandmother, on my mother’s side, was Spanish; somewhat dark-skinned, whereas I am pasty white. And I’ve had folks make disparaging remarks about people with Spanish roots in my presence because they were ignorant fools and they assumed I couldn’t possibly have that blood in me. Even if not meant as an insult to me personally, I took it as one. If I let it slide without punching you, it’s because I gave you the benefit of the doubt that, deep down, you weren’t just a reprehensible bigot with no redeeming value.

I have a nephew, Darian. He’s a sweet kid. I love him. His mother is white, his father is black. So, I have black people in my family, too. I don’t suppose I have to tell you I’ve heard lots of nasty jokes about black people told in my presence. I’ve usually let them slide, too, much to my discredit. I may not be as forgiving in future, so consider yourself warned.

Now let me tell you what my uncle, my father's brother, told me on the phone last night.

It seems he has done some genealogical research. During the course of that, he decided to get a reading of his DNA. By doing so, it can be determined what ethnic groups are in your bloodlines.
He told me what we already knew – lots of Irish. There were some other Northern European folks among our ancestors; nothing surprising there. Then he dropped a bombshell.

His results came back as 18.6% Ashkenazi Jew, with that blood from his mother’s lineage.
This means that I am, one generation further along, at least 9.3% Jewish.

Well, when he told me this, I had to laugh. This is because I grew up among family who were not averse to making jokes about Jews and who had no compunction about dragging out the most reprehensible generalizations concerning them. They didn’t hate Jews, per se; they weren’t mini-Hitlers who wanted them destroyed. Many of them actually had Jewish friends for whom they would have gladly gone to the wall. But they weren’t known for gracious use of the language when it came to them, either. When I was growing up, I heard many a derogatory term for Jewish people thrown around. Never, in my wildest dreams, did I imagine they were talking about themselves. Or about ME.

My father, God rest his soul, went to his grave believing he was purely Irish, Scot and French. Never once did it enter his mind that he could have been one of The Chosen People.

For my part, I now feel a whole lot better about being circumcised when I was a baby. I was kind of mad about it before yesterday, but now I realize it’s part of my cultural heritage.

The serious point here is that science is proving most of us are interrelated in ways we may never have imagined. And if you’re the type to indulge in racial slurs or ethnic jokes, you may not only be insulting the guy next to you without knowing it, the joke may also be on you.

*****************************************

And, as I said earlier, I've since found out that Jewish blood also flows in My Mom. Therefore, getting it from both sides, I am the most Jewish living person in my entire family.

L'chaim!