But I miss the old times. Every Thursday night I would clean out the shop window. And every Friday morning Papad set up the new one. While Brooklyn slept Papa turned the window of Michtoms Novelty Store into a candy fantasy. Thats Michtom, rhymes with "victim," which is what Papa was in Rus sia, where the po liti cal bear was always at the throat of the Jews, but is not what he is now. In the Old Country all Michtoms were victims but here in Brooklyn we found the land of gold. In Brooklyn we got everything. Well, nearly everything.
Papa, all he has left of his entire family is three sisters. The Queen, Aunt Beast, and Aunt Mouse. Thats not their real names. Its just what my sister, Emily, and I call them. The oldest, Aunt Golda, The Queen, shes like a mother to Papa. He would like if she would come to Brooklyn to visit once in a while, but she never does. Papas sisters, they live on the Lower East Side, in Manhattan, and they dont cross the river. Aunt Beast hates the river. Hates it. Well, Im not crazy about it, either. No one in our family is. But at least we cross to visit them. The aunts, they never come to see us.
In my opinion Uncle Meyer more than makes up for our lack of visiting Michtom aunts. Uncle Meyer is Mamas brother. Mama pretty much raised Uncle Meyer on her own. Now he lives a seven- minute walk from here, down on Fulton. But hes over at our place all the time.
Uncle Meyer is a free thinker. He, Mama, Papa, they sit around the kitchen table. Yakita, yakita. The world twists its ankle in a pothole, Uncle Meyer calls a meeting. I stick around when Uncle Meyer comes. I keep my mouth shut and my ears open, packing stuffed bears, or cutting mohair, what ever needs doing. I dont even think about slipping away when Uncle Meyer comes. You can learn a lot from grown- ups sitting around a kitchen table. Used to be they spent hours there, but lately we can hardly find the kitchen table. Mama and Papa and their bear business. Its everywhere.
So these days, when Uncle Meyer tells me, "Pull up a chair, Joseph," you bet I do, even if the neighborhood guys are waiting a game for me, which they never used to do and which youd think would make me happy. Except if theyre waiting a game for me and Im late or I dont show at all, theyre angry. They used to just start playing as soon as enough guys showed up on the street. If I made it, great. If I didnt, well, that was okay, too. I liked it better that way. I dont like too much attention on me.
At home I work. I listen. I look. At breakfast, Uncle Meyer drinks Mamas tea, barely letting it cool. I dont know how he does it. He bolts down that scalding tea like a man dying of thirst, then drums his fingers on the empty china. His fingers are like bananas. Not the color. The shape. Long fingers. I look at my hands and hope they finish up like Uncle Meyers. Papas hands are okay. But theyre small, like lady hands. And they smell like vanilla. I dont want little, sweetsmelling hands like Papa. I want hands that can wrap around a baseball and send it whistling over home plate. Strike- out hands. Thats what I want. Thats what Uncle Meyers got. Uncle Meyer, I dont know why, but he never married.
Hes younger than Mama but at thirty, hes looking kind of old to me. I dont know. Maybe hes such a free thinker, he thinks marriage would get in his way.
Hes not single due to lack of free- thinking females. Theres no shortage of them in Brooklyn. In the Michtom house alone we got two, Mama and Emily. Mama. Shes the freest thinker I know. Shes Papas princess. Has her way in everything. On the occasions when she and Papa disagree, Mama sends me and Emily out of the room with Benjamin. "Let me have a moment with your father," shell say. She never yells, she never nags. As the door closes, I hear, "Now, Morris . . ." and then her voice goes a little up, a little down, a little soft, a little warm, and then comes the laughter, "the laughter of Mamas victory," Emily calls it, and when we come back into the kitchen Mama is perched on Papas lap, her head tucked into his neck, her skirt draped over his legs, and Papa, he is so bewitched by Mama he doesnt know even the day of the week anymore.
Excerpted from Brooklyn Bridge by Karen Hesse, Copyright © 2008 by Karen Hesse. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel & Friends, a division of Macmillan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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