Friday, June 8, 2007

Sunday June 8


I've installed a telephone
in my house that I may
in my loneliness talk to
my friends direct from
my house


And today's theme is: Communication.

For the last four days Papa has maintained diary silence triggered, I think, by the act of wiring money back to the old country to pay for his father's tombstone. To do such a thing in the impersonal, crowded storefront of his local Western Union telegraph office must have been a shattering illustration of just how far he was from his home, from the family of his youth, from the people he used to see and hear and touch each day. It surely struck him anew that he would never talk to his father again and probably never talk to his mother and brothers and sisters, either. His loneliness must have been too great to escape, too great to contemplate, too great to discuss even in the private pages of his diary. Unable to communicate as he wanted, he stopped trying to communicate at all.

Yet we've also seen, in the weeks since his father's death, how Papa's inherent resilience, faith and resolve have proved stronger than sadness. On this day, I think, those qualities have helped him to reopen his lines of communication in several ways: Quite literally, through the installation of a telephone; privately, through the resumption of his journal writing; and spiritually, since the Jewish holiday of "Shebuoth" (Shavuot) celebrates the giving of the Torah, a major moment of communication between God and the Jewish people. A holiday this important would also have represented a moment of communication, or at least connection, between Papa and his departed father, who was a Torah scholar and teacher; I wonder if this is what finally inspired Papa to shake his helpless sense of detachment and break his silence.

All that is speculation of course, but here's something I know for sure: Papa's phone number was listed as ORChard-0505 in the New York City Telephone Directory for Manhattan and the Bronx. The entire listing read:

Scheurmann A H r 94 Attorney. .ORChard-0505

When I found this number at the New York Public Library I was surprised to see that he had a seven-digit number (for some reason I thought six-digit numbers were in effect in the 20's) though I was slightly more surprised to see his name spelled with an extra "n". The "A H" stand for Avraham Hesh, the official English transliteration of his name, and the lower case "r" indicates a residential listing (not a rear apartment as I had originally assumed). The number itself is still active, in case you're wondering. I called it once, but of course Papa was not there.

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