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My Stolen Diaries – Chapter 11: Mem’s Boss at Remington Arms

CHAPTER 11

MEM’S BOSS AT REMINGTON ARMS

February 1963

Mem has been desperately trying to get off the 3-11 pm shift at Remington Arms. Mem’s boss Adam has been trying to switch her to the 7 am to 3 pm shift for over six months, but so far, he hasn’t been able to pull it off.

Both Mem and Mom are saving every penny they can, working five jobs between them so they can get us a better place to live and move Mere Germaine back in.

Mem says that Adam has been awfully good to her and gives her extra shifts whenever possible. He also taught Mem the value of money and helped her to open her first bank account many years ago.

Adam appreciates how hard Mem works, and according to Mem, he agrees with her that we need to move off White Street because it’s getting more dangerous by the day. Mem says that’s why Adam gives her so many extra shifts.  Mom says it’s because Adam has a crush on Mem.

Last month Adam called Mem and asked her to stop by his office the next day after church. Mom raised an eyebrow at that. Mem was up the whole night, tossing and turning, convinced that Adam was going to fire her. Mom was convinced Adam was going to ask her out on a date because he found out about her butcher boyfriend.

The Sunday after Adam’s call to Mem and after church services, I walked home with Mom and Mere Germaine while Mem hurried over to the factory.

Mem came home crying, which was a big deal because Mem never cries. I was praying she didn’t lose her job. Mem said that when she walked into Adam’s office, he told her he had good news and bad news.

The good news was that Adam pulled some strings and got Mem the 7 am to 3 pm shift, which was the shift she’s been wanting for years, so I wondered why she was crying.

The bad news — the horrible news — was that Adam was leaving Remington Arms. He had bad lungs, he told her – from working with all the gunpowder at the factory, and the doctor told him he didn’t have long to live.

Through her tears, Mem told us that Adam’s parents are both dead, and since he was never married, he’s all alone, and she’s worried about who is going to take care of him when things get bad. Mom told Mem that Adam shouldn’t be her concern, but Mem replied that all of God’s souls should be our concern.

Soon after Mem started working the day shift, Adam left Remington Arms. His house is on Barnum Avenue, right across the street from the factory, so with Mem’s new work schedule, she was stopping by during her lunch break to keep him company and make him something to eat.

He’s been getting weaker by the day, so in addition to going there for lunch, she’s also been going back to Adam’s house after her shift is over at 3 pm to clean his house and make dinner.

Last week, Adam insisted on paying Mem a very generous salary, even though she told him she would be happy to do it for free. Mem told me that she reminded Adam if it wasn’t for him, she would have never gotten the factory job in the first place or the extra shifts.

The salary Adam is giving her is so generous that Mem will be able to quit her waitress job at Woolworths in a few weeks. The only thing I like about Mem working at Woolworths is that she gets a discount and has been buying me the Nancy Drew mysteries — one book a week. I have 1-36, so I hope before Mem quits Woolworths, I get the 37-40 that Carolyn Keene has written so far.

The best part about the books is that I have been reading them to Mere Germaine and Mem. Mere Germaine is a lost cause and barely understands what I’m reading, but I’ve been pointing out the easy words to Mem, and she’s been trying to read them along with me. Since Mem can’t read or write English, the books are helping Mem to learn how to read, although I don’t think Mem will ever be able to write more than her name and address and maybe a few words and phrases.

Until last week, I was still hanging out at Steve’s Market with Rib and Yolanda every day after school, and it was obvious to me that Steve was not happy about Mem working for Adam.

“Adam, Adam, Adam. Your grandmother is always talking about Adam.” I wanted to remind Steve that Adam was half dead, but I decided to keep my mouth shut.

Adam is getting sicker and weaker, so now every day after school, I walk home, pick up Rib, and then walk to Adam’s house, where I meet Mem after her shift is over. Adam helps me with my homework while Mem cooks and cleans and then helps him with his bath.

Steve is very upset that I’m not coming by his store after school anymore and told Mem the same. Mem got all nerved up by Steve’s stupid behavior, and she warned him not to boss her around — or else.  I feel bad about Steve, but I also like spending time with Adam, so I don’t feel that bad. But Mem telling Steve “or else” makes me nervous because Steve means a lot to me; plus, we’ve never eaten better.

Even though Mem warned Steve, he’s still upset about Mem working for Adam, so yesterday, when Steve surprised Mem with a stereo console radio and record player, she was suspicious. I think Mem loved it, but she warned Steve if his gift had anything to do with Adam, she didn’t want any part of it.

♪ It was an itsy-bitsy teeny weenie yellow polka dot bikini ♪ was blaring on the radio, and Mem kept yelling at Mom to lower the sound. But Mom ignored her and grabbed Mere Germaine and me off the couch to dance with her, so Mem let us have our fun until supper time.

Jack Kennedy is President, and while we were eating, Mem told Steve that Kennedy is a sign from God, “him being an Irish Catholic and all.”  But then Mere Germaine reminded Mem that Pere Germaine’s accident was all because of Kennedy’s bootlegging father. I wanted to ask what a bootleg was and also get the details of my great-grandfather’s accident, but the sadness in Mere’s face kept me quiet.

After supper, Steve showed Mem an ad for a GE Daylight Blue Television set. He was telling Mem how he wanted to buy her one for Christmas. Mem scolded Steve, saying, “You can’t afford no television, so don’t put crazy thoughts in the girls’ heads.”

Plus, Christmas is ten months away, and Mem says that the expensive gift Steve is promising us is because of Adam. Mem doesn’t think Adam will make it to Christmas, and once Adam is dead, she says Steve won’t have to buy us a television because that’s the way men are. Mem sure has a lot of bad things to say about men, but never Adam.

I’m going to pray to God tonight that Adam lasts way past Christmas because I don’t want him to die. I’m also going to pray that Steve isn’t like other men because I really want a television set.

Say tuned for Chapter 12: JFK’s Assassination

The Legend of Us

You and I

have history.

Are we a legend,

or did we merely

live out a

predetermined

sequence of events,

which resulted in

the sad story of us?

We’ve both had

our fair share

of slips

and

poor decisions.

Perhaps we will reunite

somewhere out there,

somewhere other than

this bitter-sweet earth.

But probably not.

When we danced

in that crummy kitchen,

it was transcendent.

Yes, transcendent

because

beautiful you

pulled me in so close.

So close, I was able to

breathe in all of you.

If I knew our

best moments

and random triumphs

were fleeting,

I would have cherished

them more than I did.

There were moments

I wish we could relive,

moments I wanted to

last forever.

And then there were others

I’ve spent a lifetime

wishing away.

I couldn’t keep quiet,

because the telling

kept me sane.

And yet the truth

did not

set me free.

Instead, it set

in motion

a roller coaster

of cruel denials.

Set in motion by not

one,

not two,

but three.

I cared not for

two and three.

Just the one.

I’m sorry,

I couldn’t change

the moments

that destroyed us.

As you know,

those moments

were in someone

else’s hands.

We crisscrossed

in and out

of each other’s lives,

a few times.

In all but one of those times,

something always told me

we would see each other again.

But not the last time.

In dance,

you chose me.

But in life, I know

you did not choose me.

What I don’t know

and what I never asked

is if you wanted me.

I imagined over the years

that you did not.

I wonder now,

If you regret me,

and I wouldn’t blame you

if you did.

Because we both

got tangled up

in all of it.

And you know what

it is.

Because it

happened to

you too.

We are more alike

than you or I

care to

admit.

So many times,

out of anger

you did not choose

your words wisely.

If it wasn’t for you…

You probably didn’t know,

but those five words stung.

The stinging was real

and as painful

as getting a tattoo,

although I never got one.

Or maybe I did.

A tattoo of us,

etched forever

on my broken heart.

My Stolen Diaries – Chapter 10: Steve the Butcher

CHAPTER 10

STEVE THE BUTCHER

July 1962

After that day in the Panik, I stayed away from the project, the lot, and my so-called friends, but not Steve’s Market. I’d walk with Rib to see Steve and Yolanda almost every day. Steve would give Rib a treat, grab some candy and sodas, and the four of us would sit out in front of his store.

Steve was from Hungary — and despite what Mem said about men, I trusted him, and so did Yolanda. Steve had some weird numbers on his left arm, and when I asked him about it, he said that the numbers were branded on him by some evil and wicked men. When I asked him if it hurt when he got branded, he said it hurt more mentally than physically.

He told Yolanda and me that he was sent to a camp in Poland with his baby brother. Yolanda asked him if his brother also got branded by the bad guys, but he sadly shook his head no. I could see that all the branding and brother talk was too much for him, so I asked Steve how he got into the meat business, which seemed to perk him up.

Two Saturdays ago, after working at Woolworths, Mem got ready to go to Steve’s Market, and I jumped at the chance to go with her — something that puzzled her since I wasn’t big on grocery shopping. But she welcomed the company, so I tagged along while Steve showed her the specials.

He went into a freezer behind the meat case and brought out a huge steak he wanted to show Mem. She was impressed but told Steve she couldn’t afford no steak and bought her usual chopped meat, liver, and hot dogs.

Steve offered her a free Hurka sausage, but she refused and said her usual about not taking charity. He insisted and said the sausage would have to be thrown out if it wasn’t cooked right away. So, Mem, who never threw food out, agreed to take it off his hands, and we had a feast of sausage and onions that night.

Every week is the same old food — hot dogs with baked beans on Monday and Tuesday and liver and onions on Wednesday and Thursday.  Mem has a rule that whatever she cooks has to last us two nights, which is tricky because there is barely enough food for one night.

On Fridays, we eat fish. No meat is allowed on Friday nights because it’s against our religion. When I asked Mem why she explained that Jesus sacrificed his flesh for us. I don’t know what His flesh has to do with fish, but every Friday night, we walk over to Joseph and Mary’s on Seaview Avenue and pick up fish and chips. And every single Saturday and Sunday night, we eat hamburger casserole, so Steve, the butcher’s sausage, was a delicious change and a special Saturday night treat.

Last Saturday, after working at Woolworths, Mem did her usual shopping at Steve’s, and I was right there beside her. Steve was helping another customer, but I could see that he was excited to see us.

When it was our turn, he asked Mem if everything was okay with the Hurka sausage.  Mem told Steve the sausage was delicious and that she fried it up with some onions. Then Mem turned to me and asked if I thought the sausage was delicious, and I nodded my head yes while wondering where all this sausage talk was going.

“And the hot dogs? How were they?” Steve asked. “Oh, they were good. We had them Monday and Tuesday,” Mem answered.  Steve smiled from ear to ear. “And the liver?” “The liver was good too; I cooked it in bacon grease,” she replied. And then Steve said, “Bacon grease gives the liver a real good flavor.”

I thought their conversation about meat and bacon grease was weird, but who cared? Because Mem was talking to a man! That was a first for me, and anyway, Steve is a good guy and knows his meat. My neck was twisting back and forth between the two of them as they yacked away about hot dogs, liver, and Hurka sausage.

“Maybe I could suggest something for tonight?” Steve asked, and Mem replied, “We always eat hamburger casserole on Saturday night.”

“I’ll tell you what,” Steve said to Mem. “I got no family — I eat alone every night. How ‘bout if I bring you over this steak tonight, and I’ll show you how to cook it?” He presented the slab of beef he pulled out of the meat case like it was gold.

My mouth hung wide open, and I whispered, “Mem, please say yes,” while tugging on her dress. Steve was nice, but that steak was something else.

I couldn’t help but notice Steve rubbing the numbers on his branded arm.  “I hate to waste a good steak on just me, and I hate eating alone.”

Mem stood there for what seemed like forever. I was still tugging on her dress when she finally said, “Well, okay, but it’s not charity, right?  Because Mon Dieu, we won’t take the charity.” Steve assured her that it wasn’t charity, and they made plans for him to come over after he closed up shop.

We hurried home, cleaned up the apartment, sprayed Raid all around the kitchen, baked some potatoes, and steamed the broccoli. Mom was working and always came home late on Saturday nights, so it was just going to be the three of us, which was fine with me because Mom would have made a whole stink about Steve, and I don’t think Mem would have ever had him over if she knew Mom would be home.

Mem didn’t say anything to me, but I could see that she was nervous. I never saw Mem with a man before, so I was happy for her. Mem kept checking herself out in the bedroom mirror and even put on lipstick and rouge! It occurred to me that she probably only had the one boyfriend, who ended up being her jerk of a husband, so I was hoping this would be a good night.

Steve came right on time, and Mem jumped up when he knocked. She straightened her hair, adjusted her false teeth, and smiled the most beautiful smile at me before opening the door.

Without his white butcher jacket with blood stains all over it, Steve fixed up pretty good. And that steak, oh boy!

Mem lit a fire in the broiler at the bottom of the stove, and the two of them talked nonstop about — you guessed it — meat.  I didn’t even know we had a broiler!

By the time we all sat down for dinner, they were like old buddies, laughing and gossiping about the local people. Steve warned us to be careful going out at night because the neighborhood was going bad.

Mem replied that the neighborhood was already bad but that we were getting out soon and that she was saving her money for a decent place with a yard. I didn’t care if we had a yard or not, just no bugs and rodents.

After we ate, Steve helped Mem clean up, and when he asked her if he could come back for supper another time, Mem said she would like that. I was wondering what Mom was going to think about all this Steve stuff.

Then he asked her what we were doing on Friday night, and Mem told him we always order fish and chips from Joseph and Mary’s. He asked if it was okay to join us — but only if he could make his famous fish and chips. He told Mem he doesn’t do anything on Friday nights, and in his humble opinion, his fish and chips are way better than Joseph and Mary’s.

Mem reminded him again that “we don’t take the charity from nobody,” and he assured Mem that she was doing him a favor by getting him out of his house. They shook hands and said goodbye.

After that steak dinner, Steve became a big part of our lives, and our meals of chopped meat, hot dogs, and liver were pretty much over.

And Steve was right when he said he made the best fish and chips, so our Friday night pickup from Mary and Joseph’s was also over.

Now, all we had to do was get rid of the snapping traps and shoeboxes, move Mere Germaine back in, and our lives would be perfect.

Stay tuned for Chapter 11: Mem’s Boss at Remington Arms