You Think It Strange

At Fourth and Daly my father, Joe everywhere else, was always Yossela, Joey. He was a thin, short man, five feet five, with intense blue eyes, dark skin and thick black hair. He could have passed for an Argentinian tangoist or a Mafia hitman; perhaps the latter image had attracted my mother to him. Broad thick shoulders, large hands and well-muscled legs perfectly suited the feather-weight semi-pro boxer he became.

Lust and rage beset his every age. His fists rose at the slightest provocation against all comers and sometimes against me. Bullies and every form of authority were his favoured targets. A local teenager who had been tormenting him when he was ten was struck from behind with a lead pipe one winter night. When he came to in hospital several hours and sixteen stitches later, he could recall only that he was passing the Borts’ house when something hit him. He gave little Joey no more trouble.

He hated bullies all his life. One Sunday driving home from the store Joe saw two bigger boys beating a smaller boy beside the SKF ball bearing factory. He hit the brakes, leapt out and knocked down both older boys, then waited till the victim took off.

The Depression scarred him. He was twelve when it began. There was little work for carpenters, and for a time Yossela stood on a street corner hawking apples with Zaida. But the family needed more money, so at thirteen he left school without completing eighth grade and found work in a butcher shop on Fourth Street, a mile north of Fourth and Daly. His older sister and both brothers, older and younger, all finished high school. My father regretted his lack of formal education, because he thought that deficiency denied him the chance to make more money.