READ AND LISTEN TO OUR SAMPLES
Listen to two stories from Alfred Ewald. The first recording is an audio version of the Good Samaritan narrative below the recordings.
The Good Samaritan
When I was in college, my dad worked at Mr. Boston Distillery in Readville, Massachusetts. He worked from 4 o'clock in the afternoon until midnight. I often took the streetcar to Readville, walked down to the distillery, and borrowed his car so I could take Agnes, my future wife, on a date. I returned to the distillery to pick him up after work, and we always stopped at his favorite watering hole, the East Dedham Cafe.
The East Dedham Cafe was a congenial little place. Everyone knew everyone there. My dad started frequenting the bar when he worked at the paper mill and continued to meet up with friends when he worked at the distillery. The owners and the patrons always took care of Pops at the cafe.
Pops was Mr. Boston's "still master", the brewer of the alcohol. Corn and potatoes, the main ingredients, were mixed in huge 13,000-gallon vats, fermented, cooked, and distilled. The product was 200 proof alcohol, clear as water, but potent. Interestingly, government inspectors guarded the brewery round-the-clock to prevent pilfering of the distillate.
Occasionally, Pops not-so-secretly tapped the still to bring home a gallon jug of 200 proof raw spirits. Pops's friends invited my parents to their parties before any other guests; they knew my dad would bring the whiskey. He cut the raw spirits with distilled water to produce clear, 100 proof alcohol. Even though Pops didn't drink whiskey at home, he usually kept some on hand at the house to entertain his brother-in-law my Uncle Fred. I'm sure he brought some to the cafe, and they served it as their house liquor, but he didn't sell it himself. Pops drank a bottle of beer every day and made no excuses for it, but I never saw him drunk.
Most of the time, I would go into the cafe with him. I didn't drink alcohol, but frequently on Friday nights, the owners would treat us to a free plate of steamed clams. Pops and I loved steamers! Pops would enjoy his beer and a ball—a glass of beer with a shot of whiskey—and then I would drive us home. He usually offered a friend, or even a stranger, a ride to West Roxbury or some other part of Boston, so I never knew when we would get home. Many nights I still had homework to finish.
People at the cafe would say, "You know Felix?"
Of course, I'd reply, "Yes he's my father."
Without hesitation, they'd volunteer, "Oh, what a great guy, such a great guy." Nobody at the cafe ever had a bad thing to say about my father. Those were some late nights, but I wouldn't trade them for anything in the world. Since that was the only free time my dad had during that period of his life, I'm thankful that he shared those special nights with me.
Pops worked all of the time and never complained. One day Pops started spitting up blood. I took him to see our family physician, Dr. Harrison, who ran a few tests and told Pops that he had cirrhosis of the liver. At that time, everyone thought cirrhosis of the liver was the same as cancer. Eventually, I learned that he didn't actually have cirrhosis. He had scarring that prevented his liver from functioning properly.
In addition to his daily beer, Pops smoked cigarettes. Dr. Harrison said, "Felix, I think we caught this early. I might be able to help you live a little longer if I insert a liver shunt, but you'll have to stop smoking and drinking beer."
Pops looked right at him and said, "If that's what I have to do, then I'd rather not be around." My dad died six months later.
Since I was the oldest male in the family, I made the funeral arrangements. Although it was customary for me to assume this role, our family dynamics made my assignment more difficult. Years before my dad became ill, my parents and I—well, really my mother and I—had a falling out. Consequently, I didn't spend much time with or know my younger siblings. We all attended the wake and funeral, but I don't remember any details about my brother or sisters during either of the services.
I chose the Cannon Funeral Home across from St. Mary's Church in Dedham on High Street. Hugh Cannon was the funeral home director and the assistant administrator for St. Mary's Church. I met Mr. Cannon when I was 15. He recruited me to pass the collection basket at a mass. Over the years, my relationship with Mr. Cannon grew to the point that he insisted I call him Hugh. My parents taught me to respect my elders, so it was hard for me to honor Mr. Cannon's—Hugh's—request. By the time Pops passed, I knew Mr. Cannon so well that it was only natural for me to choose the Cannon Funeral Home for my dad's wake.
Mr. Cannon asked me how many friends and family members I expected. I said, "Possibly 15 to 20, but no more than that." We had a small family.
He said, "Okay. All right. We'll put him upstairs in the parlor. He'll be ready for you at 1 o'clock on Monday afternoon."
I arrived at 12:30 p.m., and the parking lot was packed. I drove around for 15 minutes looking for a space and finally parked in the church parking lot across the street. When I walked to the front door of the funeral home, I found 200 people waiting. Mr. Cannon was at the head of the line, and he didn't look very happy. I asked, "Did somebody important die? What's with all of these cars?" His answer shocked me.
"These people are all here to see your father. I moved him to the main parlor that holds about 50 people."
I greeted the mourners, asked how they knew my dad, and requested that they sign the guest book. I recognized no more than 20 of the 200 people who came to pay their respects to their friend. For the next four hours, I listened and learned. My dad was an amazing man.
One fellow said, "You know, your dad was really something special."
I replied, "Yes, I guess he was."
He said, "I got here, and I saw such a long line of people. I wondered if the chief of police died or something." I agreed with him.
Numerous people related similar stories of kindness, "You don't know me, but I want to tell you how much your father helped me. I had a flat tire, and your father stopped to help me fix it."
Others would say, "I was walking home. Your father stopped and asked where I was going. He drove me 10 miles out of his way to Hyde Park."
If a neighbor needed a tool and dad owned one, he loaned it—no qualification, no questions asked—just "bring it back when you're done with it."
My father was the head of our household, but he did not control the money; he lived off the meager allowance that Mother reluctantly gave him each week. He had enough to get a beer and a ball, that's it. One of the fellas told me, "Your dad gave me two dollars to buy my wife a ring for Christmas." I can only imagine what my mother would have said!
Aside from meeting my wife, that day was probably the most incredible day of my life. By the end of the wake, I realized the relationships with his friends and acquaintances kept my dad alive. More than 200 people had a genuine, absolute affection for him, and they made him feel like he mattered.
Pops was a true German, who had the most beautiful piercing, blue eyes. (My granddaughter Tiffany and I are the only two with blue eyes in my lineage.) He smoked cigarettes and loved his beer, but I never saw him drunk or even close to it. Both vices led to his liver failure and eventual death.
Pops tried to meet the demands of a good father. He loved kids, and they returned his love. He used to play on the floor with us and balance us on his belly. He wrestled with our kids when he came to visit a few times. Oh, he would think that was wonderful! He enjoyed listening to Red Sox games. He liked to take us to the beach or on a picnic, but his time was limited.
He was a strict disciplinarian. He expected his children to tell the truth, respect their elders, and in general, "be good". To this day, I find it difficult to address elder friends and acquaintances by anything other than Mr., Mrs., or Sir. When he was home, he never took sides between my mother and me. He didn't take sides for her or against her. He just went about his work and fulfilled his responsibilities with as little drama as possible.
Aside from his family, Pops valued nothing more than friendship. He was generous with his time, his effort, and his paltry weekly allowance. When he came into the East Dedham Cafe, he reaped what he sowed. I think helping people was my dad's cuddly bear or his blanket—something that comforted him. His friends appreciated him and allowed him to "be himself".
Some people might wonder why my dad was willing to leave his family if he had a choice. Some people might think that he deserted us, but I don't see it that way. Until I was an adult, I didn't realize how much he suffered. The only pleasures he had in life were cigarettes, a bottle of beer, fun with his children, and companionship with his friends at the East Dedham Cafe. If a shunt would take three-quarters of his relief away—the cigarettes, beer, and the cafe—then he saw little reason to live. My dad was a friendly, generous, hardworking man and a great father. I can only hope to leave that kind of legacy.
Nothing Could Stop Me
My parents both immigrated to the U.S. when they were teenagers. They each passed through Ellis Island as German-speaking strangers in a strange land. Over the next few years, life forced them to learn American customs and the English language. They were proud and grateful Americans who could not afford to live a sheltered life. In order to assimilate in the melting pot, however, my parents had to take initiative and independently create the life that they wanted in America. I inherited their confidence and initiative and began expressing my independence at an early age.
By the time I was four years old, Mom let me travel half a block down Marcella Street to a small grocery store that sold milk, bread, and of all things, a wooden box of codfish ready for cooking. The bread cost one cent for day-old bread and two cents for fresh bread. Milk cost 10 cents per quart, the fish cost 15 cents a box. My mother gave me a quarter and penny wrapped in a piece of newspaper, presumably so I would not lose it on the way to the store.
I was 11 when I attended my first Boston Red Sox game. I bought a 75-cent ticket and watched the game from the bleachers surrounded by people, but essentially by myself. I had to laugh when a nearby fan threw a lemon at Bob Lemon, the Cleveland Indians' third baseman. That lemon made more of an impression on me than the Red Sox players did. I didn't see another professional sports game until the fifties when I caught a Celtics game with a few guys from my Middlesex County co-op job.
As a young teenager, I helped my parents pay the bills. I would hop on my bike, ride over to the Dedham Savings Bank, pay the mortgage, and return the receipt to my mother who was working at the bakery in Dedham Square. In those days, the insurance man came to your house to collect your premiums. One time, while my mom was working, I was about to give him 37 cents for the premium, but he wouldn't sign our insurance book, our receipt. He was trying to pull a fast one on me. I told him, "I'm not going to give you my money until you sign the book. My mother said to make sure you sign the book." Finally, he took the money and autographed the book. I wasn't afraid to demand what was right even if I had to challenge an adult.
Since I was German, kids used to call me a kraut; they called me all kinds of names, but mostly Kraut. I ran the mile home from school every day just so I didn't have to deal with the bullies. One time, Charlie Cash chased me down and skidded his bike right in front of my path. I looked him square in the eyes and said, "Yeah?"
With a sneer he fought back, "Yeah, you're gonna wait here til the rest of 'em get here."
"I don't think so." "Oh really?" He didn't believe me. I kicked the spokes of his back tire so hard that he couldn't ride it, and I ran like hell! No one from Charlie's pack ever bothered me again.
I drew inspiration from Marcus Aurelius Fortunatus Tidd, a character in a series of novels I read outside in our grape arbor. Secluded by vines on all sides, somehow I related to a street-smart, stuttering, fat nerd with glasses. If Marcus—the ten-year old baseball manager, gardening club leader, editor, and overall fixer who figured everything out in the end—could do it, so could I. I didn't let anything stop me, not even hard work.
The Ewalds and the Kipps, my eventual in-laws, were never afraid of hard work. Regardless of their skills, their education, or the economy, the Ewalds and the Kipps always found a way to fend for their families. In 1942, the U.S. government changed the work permit regulations to accommodate people who were too young for military service but were willing and able to work. Since I was entering senior high school, I applied for a job at the local supermarket, Finast Grocery, about the size of today's convenience stores.
I landed a part-time, after-school job. The store was open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturdays, and closed on Sundays. I worked about 22 hours a week and earned 12 cents per hour. Even at 12 years old, I had to join the Local Butcher and Amalgamated Meat Cutters Union, Local #42. I paid them dues of 10 cents per week! At the time, gas cost 10 cents a gallon; cigarettes cost a dollar per carton; movies cost 25 cents per person. It didn't matter to me—for the first time in my life, I was rich! . . .
If you'd like us to write your memoir for you, contact us for a Save a Life Story Conversation.