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Davey Crockett in a Jewish Drugstore
(C) Edward Ordman 2002
This story is intended to follow the
story of The Musical Elks. In that
story from the 1910's or 1920's, we say Jewish immigrants struggling to
understand the English language. Efforts to understand English, and America,
had to go on for some time. Here is a story told by my Uncle, Harry Ordman,
of a conversation he overheard in the late 1950's.
Harry was a pharmacist, and for
many years he owned and operated "Ordman's Pharmacy", a small pharmacy
located at the corner of Main Street and Washington Street in Peabody,
Massachusetts. He mainly sold prescription medicines and had an old
fashioned soda fountain. My father had worked behind his older brother's
soda fountain during his college vacations when the pharmacy was new, and
I took great pleasure in occasionally playing 'soda jerk' there during
occasional visits during my own adolescence. Harry took very seriously
the pharmacist's role as 'the poor man's doctor', and went to some
efforts to pick up bits and pieces of the language of each immigrant group
that arrived in Peabody -- Greek, Turkish, Italian, and Portuguese among
them. He had to understand distressed mothers with no English who were
trying to say where the child hurt, and provide a patent medicine or tell
them when they actually needed to call the doctor (he would often call
and translate) or actually go see the doctor.
But his store also had a
news stand, and a few other non-medical, non-food items. In the late 1950's,
Walt Disney had made an extremely popular movie about "Davey Crockett,
King of the Wild Frontier" and Harry's store had two small revolving metal
stands containing Davey Crockett toys (Cap pistols, bow and arrows, fake
coonskin caps, and so on.)
Two older Jewish women came
into the store, and Harry overheard their conversation. It took place in
Yiddish and I can't resist translating it into accented English to try
to convey the flavor.
"What's this? Vat's all this stuff?"
"Toys. Duvud Crockett toys. You know Duvud Crockett?"
"Yes. Duvud Crockett. Duvud Crockett. Everyvhere
Duvud Crockett. Vhat's mid Duvud Crockett? All of a sudden he makes so
much gelt [money], Duvud Crockett. Vhat did he do to suddenly make so much
gelt, Duvud Crockett?"
"Same old story. Gelt geht zu gelt [money goes to
money]. So much gelt, of course he makes more gelt."
"Vhat gelt? Before last year I never heard of Duvud
Crockett. Vhy did he have gelt?
"Not Duvud Crockett. His vife [wife]. His vife had
all the gelt."
"His vife? I never heard of his vife, Duvud Crockett."
"Of course you heard of his vife. BETTY Crockert."
Again, my family thought of this as a
success story. It gave me the courage and interest to try extra foreign
language courses in college, despite how hard I found them and my awful
accents, and has always meant I'm willing to try to make myself understood,
even in difficult or bewildering circumstances. Some examples are in my
adventures with the Turkish Police and in a
museum in Odessa, the Ukraine.
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