by John W. Cassell on Wednesday, May 4, 2011 at 10:33pm
Jack Engelhard’s award winning book ESCAPE FROM MOUNT MORIAH
recently had its first chapter, MY FATHER JOE brought to the silver screen byA-List Canadian filmmaker Nikila Cole. The film has taken prizes at film festivals throughout the world and is featured at this year’s CANNES FILM FESTIVAL.
All the pathos, love and upheaval that shines through every paragraph of the story and every minute of the cinema has again brought to the fore this brilliantly written, emotion-packed collection of stories about life as seen through the eyes of a young Jewish refugee from the Holocaust growing up in Montreal in the Late Forties-Early Fifties.
Now, through the generous permission of Jack Engelhard, I am presenting here another story from this one of a kind collection:
I RESIGN is probably the most lighthearted true story recounted in ESCAPE FROM MOUNT MORIAH. Between this and MY FATHER JOE, one cannot help but see that these accounts each have their individual appeal, while collectively the reader experiences at the visceral level every emotion on the planet
So now is presented, through Jack Engelhard’s kind consent, the story “I RESIGN”, one of eighteen mini-masterpieces that make up ESCAPE FROM MOUNT MORIAH, available in hardcover as well as on Kindle.
From “Escape From Mount Moriah” by Jack Engelhard
Copyright © 2011 Jack Engelhard
My first job was with a man named Mr. Cohen, who ran a nursery. When I first went out there, to Cote de Neige in the vast outskirts of Montreal, I thought I’d be working with children. These turned out to be plants.
The job required being on your knees all morning and afternoon to pull out weeds, row after row under a spiteful July and then August sun.
The weeds grew fast. One day I counted them, how many I was pulling, and the total came to 6,740. They grew tall and thick and you never knew what lurked between them. Rats, for example. Rats bigger than dogs. One afternoon there I was, face to face with a rat. He stayed. I ran.
I told Mr. Cohen about it and he laughed.
As for me, I did not think it so funny. I was about 14 then. Most boys my age were delivering newspapers — but we needed more money.
So each day for a good part of that summer I took three streetcars to Cote de Neige and three streetcars back, an hour an a half in the morning, an hour and a half at night, and in between I pulled weeds.
Now, the thirst was the worst of it; no matter how much water you drank, it was never enough. The walk from Mr. Cohen’s nursery to the first streetcar stop was about two miles, and I walked this distance filthy from dust and empty from thirst. I passed beautiful, new suburban homes — another life for me. People would be sitting outside on their lawns, watering the grass.
What a waste of water, I thought. What were they watering anyway? Weeds?
Or they’d be eating juicy watermelon.
Now, I know this is what I saw. I once saw Maurice Richard sitting outside just like that, eating watermelon. Maurice Richard, the Babe Ruth of hockey. I never even told my friends about this. First, nobody sees God…so how can you see Maurice Richard? Second, this was mine. I wanted to keep it to myself.
I did tell Mr. Cohen about it and he laughed.
I hated this job very much.
One day Mr. Cohen asked me to run a hose over a long row of flowers. “I’m promoting you,” he said with a chuckle. Accidentally, I aimed the hose in his direction and drenched him from head to toe. I missed no part of him.
“I needed a shower anyway,” he said.
I said to myself, I am not long for this job.
One more rat, I promised myself, and I am gone for good. Goodbye.
Only a few days later, nearing the end of August and the beginning of school, here was that rat standing between me and a weed I was about to extract. I fled to Mr. Cohen’s office. Before stepping in, I took time to collect myself.
Then I said, “Mr. Cohen, can I talk to you for a minute?”
“Even two,” he said.
I felt awful. Never before had I resigned. “My Cohen,” I said, “I resign.”
What was so funny? Resign was serious business. “Yes. I resign.”
“Yes,” I said.
“You?” he said. “You resign?”
“Yes,” I said. “I resign.”
“No you don’t resign.”
“Yes I do resign.”
Then he explained.
“Presidents resign. Prime ministers resign. You?”
All this over a single word. Had I said something so terrible? Apparently yes. For Mr. Cohen was almost violently particular about this. That I was quitting…this bothered him not at all. That I was resigning…this infuriated him.
“You?” he said. “You quit.”
He wanted me to say the words. I realized that by quitting, I was the weed picker that I was — there among the worm, the ant, the rat. By resigning…by resigning I was soaring to the heights of presidents and prime ministers, and certainly well beyond the reach of Mr. Cohen.
No wonder he was outraged, especially when — even after he offered to double my severance pay — I still refused to quit.
No, I resigned.