3. Born Again

I suppose that his becoming a born-again Christian wouldn't have bother me so much if he had just let it go at that. But he didn't! Born again Christians seem to want to share their bounty with everyone else; and Allen seemed to want most to share it with me.

After being born again, his letters took on a scriptural tone. Phrases like "A miraculous thing happened yesterday....","the Lord has chosen to......." and "Bless you in the name of Jesus Christ" punctuated his communications. He also started pontificating. A few paragraphs from his letters should give you an idea of the tone:

"I am finding that perseverance, a positive attitude and purpose are all key ingredients to be successful at whatever I do in life, whether it be your job your personal and immediate goals, friendships, etc."

"Patiently I work, positively I think, and purposefully I play -that seems to sum it up well."

The letters became less friendly and more preachy. He must have known that things like that would irritate the hell out of me, both as a Jew and as an infidel. Yet he persisted in what I saw as a ridiculously futile attempt to bring me around to his way of thinking; to convert me from my wicked ways to his good ones. I found it hard to believe that Allen, who was usually exquisitely sensitive to people's feelings, would do this to me. I had the feeling that he had become someone else and, in the process, abdicated his sensitivity. In short, he was becoming a stranger to me -a Goy. Goy is a Hebrew word used disparagingly for a non-Jew. Its literal meaning is stranger.

I remember his first visit after his being born again. He seemed much the same as usual. He looked the same and his general demeanor hadn't changed. I thought that I had been mistaken to be concerned about his mental state.

The dinner table was set and the food placed upon it. It was the kind of dinner that begged to be eaten immediately. I had prepared my specialty, chicken breast croquets with rice and mushrooms. and Laura had fixed a delicious salad and a chocolate mousse for dessert. I reached for the salad bowl when Allen bowed his head and, loud enough to be heard in the rear of an auditorium, intoned:

"Bless this food, O Lord, and bless these your children; in the name of our saviour Jesus Christ, Amen."

I stopped, salad bowl in hand, and waited while everyone, heads bowed listened to the grace, and intoned a solemn Amen.

I was outraged, ravished -but I was alone. I sat there stunned. It took an effort of will to resist emptying the bowl of salad over Allen's head. This didn't seem to bother anyone else. To Laura, it seemed quite natural; she having been brought up that way. Allen's older sister Kit conformed, as did Ellen, his younger sister. Jason, Ellen's five year old son, bowed his head, but looked up at me during the grace and we smiled at each other like criminal conspirators. I should tell you that, except when Laura's parents visited, we never said grace. I think that nothing disturbs me as much as the feeling that I am being isolated or ostracized. I suppose that it is a relic of my childhood as a lone Jew in an Italian neighborhood.

As I reached for the vegetables, I thought that what angered me most was the fact that the little bastard had usurped my position as head of the house; a place which I treasured mainly at the dinner table. It is the custom in my tribe for the Master of the House to preside at the dinner table.

Sure, his behavior annoyed me; but it was not the first time, nor, I assume, the last, that one of my kids had angered me. I thought that this too would pass, and put it out of my mind. If he did it again, I would tell him that it annoyed me and would ask him to please perform his religious rituals where I didn't have to listen. I also, as I usually do, tried to analyze what had placed Allen on his present path. My analysis yielded little.

Laura's parents paid us a visit later that summer. It was an occasion for a family get together. Everyone was there including Allen, his two sisters and our oldest son, Paul, who came with his wife and infant son. I put everyone to work putting siding on the garage which I had just built, and digging out some sand and rock from a pond that I was building. Allen wasn't particularly conspicuous because, when Laura's parents were there, everything proceeded as if we were all religious Christians; grace and the whole works. There were no concessions made to any individual differences; we deferred to the elders. While I didn't like following someone else's customs in my own home, I had to own up that it was half Laura's home, so I didn't object. Still, I felt very uncomfortable with the whole business. If I had it to do over again, I might have opted for making everyone else uncomfortable. When I go to someone's home, or to another country, I defer to the local customs and I think that I have a right to expect the same courtesy. But, as I've said, it is Laura's home too. I thought it hypocritical of her to behave differently when her parents were visiting than she usually did. I suppose that no one outgrows a need to please their parents. Certainly, there seemed no point in irritating them. I must confess to my own hypocrisy; letting all of this go by in exchange for getting the garage sided.

At any rate, I was glad when the crowd prepared to leave. Laura had rented a large van, and was going to drive them all back to San Francisco, via a scenic route. I was to remain on the mountain to enjoy my solitude. While the rest were getting ready to leave, I was already relishing the peace and quiet that I would have when they left. I went through the house looking for the inevitable objects that children leave behind. I found none.

While everyone was loading their baggage into the van, Allen took me by the arm and said, very quietly, "Pop, there's something I want to tell you," and he led me around the corner of the house. What, I wondered, could he want to tell me that he couldn't say in front of the rest? And why did he wait until the last minute?

"Shoot!" I said.

"Those gold things that your father left you when he died; did you ever find that some of the things were missing?"

"No," I replied, totally baffled. What did my fathers gold have to do with anything?

"When you didn't give me anything, I felt left out, so I took some things."

With that remark, he handed me a gold watch and several gold coins. I was stunned, but before I could recover my composure enough to say anything, Allen and everyone else were gone. Now I knew why he had waited until the last minute. Was he so ashamed that he was afraid of how I might react to it, or was it just theatrics? What a bombshell to drop on me.

My father had a second-hand store during the depression. When he left that business, he kept some gold and silver trinkets, which he left to me when he died. As I recall, Allen was ten years old at the time my father died. I also don't think that I gave any of it to anybody except Laura. I just put the box of stuff in what I thought was a safe place. The gold had no emotional significance to me. It was another form of money, and money was to be used, not cherished. They were neither heirlooms, nor mementos of my father; they were merchandise. All that I could think was, that poor kid; having a thing that he did at age ten on his conscience, for all of this time.

After Allen left, I thought about what had transpired. All that I could think of was the movie Les Miserables; how when Jean Valjean (played by Frederick March) was caught with the priest's silver and brought back to face the priest; the priest got out the silver candlesticks and handed them to Valjean, saying that he had forgotten them. The silver candlesticks remained as the symbol of Christian charity after Valjean had become a respectable citizen.

I sent one of the gold coins to Allen and he returned it.

I thought, somewhat wistfully, that the only truly Christian act that I have ever done was rejected by my born-again Christian son.

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