Grandpa David Solomon

Written By: Irving  Mandell

I am one of the few two-sewer stickball-hitters from the East Bronx who is still around. The game was to hit a spaldeen ball with your mother’s broomstick handle as far as you could. If you could do so, you were highly respected.

In those days, the guys were named Blackie, Nucky, Lefty, Chink, Turk and the like. I was called Brownie in the schoolyard where the game was played or Sonny by my parents. I lived in a three bedroom railroad apartment on Daly Avenue with my parents and my older sister. My maternal grandfather, David Solomon Boardman, and my mother’s young teenager sister moved in with us when my mother’s mother died unexpectedly. My sister and my aunt Bella, later changed to Belle, shared one bedroom.

I shared a bedroom with my grandfather, and my parents had the third bedroom. My parents were in their 20s when this tragedy happened. My grandfather, then 57 years old, assured my parents that his stay would be short-lived and he would soon find a place for himself and Aunt Belle. It never happened. I shared a bedroom with my grandfather for seventeen years before I enlisted in the army in World War II. When I returned from service three years later, I resumed living with him for another two years before he died. During all these years, I never heard my grandfather speak English. We spoke to each other only in Yiddish, which was spoken in our home, although my parents spoke English as well. My mother asked me not only to share the room with my grandfather but to go to shul (synagogue) with him for Saturday morning services. I still don’t have a clear answer as to why I agreed to my mother’s request and continued to do so.

Grandpa David Solomon was a feisty bantam weight. He never cut or shaved his beard. He wore black clothing all of the time. He walked ramrod straight which he attributed to his four years of service in the Czar’s army before coming to the United States. While I was growing up, I did thirty push-ups every morning. He joined me and kept pace. He attributed his ability to do so to his military service.

I never had a picture of my grandfather who refused to be photographed because of the interdiction in the bible against worshipping graven images. Many years later after coming to Amagansett, where my family spent many happy years in a house on Meeting House Lane and Bluff Road which led to Asparagus Beach, we decided to attend Friday night services. But where? We had previously been members of a reform temple in Forest Hills until the rabbi retired and moved to Sag Harbor. Inquiry led us to the temple, which was housed in a building with a spire looking more like a church. When we entered the bare synagogue, there was a large painting on a wall of a whaling captain with a full beard who reputedly also served as the part-time rabbi. The picture reminded me of my grandfather.

When my Grandpa was about seventy-five and doing reasonably well, he was struck while crossing 180th Street by one of the few automobiles that we saw on the streets in those days and his leg was broken. It took him many months to recuperate. When he started to walk with a cane, my mother asked me to take a walk with him so that he could get some fresh air. I was about fifteen years old. We walked on 180th Street which was the center of all the merchant stores in our neighborhood. As we were walking, I suddenly was aware that two teenagers who were not from our neighborhood were coming toward us. About fifty feet from us, they split ranks, one passing on each side of us. Each intruder grabbed my grandfather’s beard and started pulling it. Grandpa started swinging his cane, all the while shouting every curse word I had ever heard and a few that I had never heard. The pulling, swinging and yelling went on for about a minute or two until our burly fruit man whose store was on the corner saw what was happening. He rushed out and punched the attackers into the gutter. He helped Grandpa retrieve his cane and hat and told me to take him home but not to tell my mother what had happened. I took Grandpa’s arm and we started walking home. After a few moments, I turned to him and said in Yiddish “you told me that you could not speak English but you were yelling those terrible curse words while we were fighting.” My grandfather stopped walking, turned to me, and looking into my eyes said in Yiddish, “what words?” I never again challenged his ability to understand or speak English.