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Lest It Be Forgotten After I Am Gone: The Arrival Of Manhood - 5

...One day Lillian came to the shop, a very charming and attractive woman of perhaps 35 or so, who bought a couple of trinkets. Somehow, I don't know why now, I found myself escorting her home and, on the way, well she got to know me quite well on a park bench...

Raymon Benedyk recalls early romantic encounters.

The first girl I got to know was Frances Melhamed, and we went to the Bronx zoo together, where I have a delightful picture of her sitting on the the grass alongside a sign saying "keep off''. Then there were Mary Jo, Alice, Mary Ellen, Connie and a few more, with all of whom it was no more than a peck on the cheek relationship. Although with Connie, when she invited me to her parent's home one evening for a light meal and some dancing when they were out, she soon sent me packing with a shopping bag containing pickles and meat when she found I was too innocent to understand she expected more than dancing!

Then there was Lillian Killian, who can forget anyone with a name like that. My boss used to sell some of his wares to ladies from whom he did not always get money as payment, occasionally being paid in kind - the female way for himself and others. Once or twice he would give me an address, asking me to collect a few dollars from the residents "in whatever way I could". I always managed to bring back some money from these people and, since he never asked me how it was achieved, he did not know whose dollars they were. They were never mine!

One day Lillian came to the shop, a very charming and attractive woman of perhaps 35 or so, who bought a couple of trinkets. Somehow, I don't know why now, I found myself escorting her home and, on the way, well she got to know me quite well on a park bench. I did not know what was happening to me, and found I was totally unable to resist her attentions. I shall never know whether or not my boss, perhaps knowing of my innocence, set me up. I am sure she was aware of my ignorance because to someone of her undoubted experience it must have been obvious. I hope she enjoyed herself as much as I did. But whatever, I became a man that day at last.

It was soon after this, on one of those occasions when my boss was playing Gin Rummy in the back of the store with his mates, that one of them asked me to get a packet of Sentinels for him. Since he was a cigar smoker I assumed that was what he wanted and went next door to the tobacconist to purchase a packet for him. The assistant quietly advised me that they did not sell them and that they could only be obtained from the pharmacist across the street. I was mystified. What sort of cigars were those that were only sold in a chemist shop. Needless to say, my education took another step forward that afternoon when I returned to the Gin players with a packet of condoms!

In view of my new-found knowledge and perhaps personal need, I felt I should also keep a supply of these for myself and, next day, purchased another packet. Learning how and when to use them however was another experience in which I wasted several before understanding the expertise required.

The neighbourhood of the shop was a bit run-down and not very salubrious, and most of the population of the area were Irish or Polish Catholics, besides some Jewish residents. There was an understanding between the Irish and Jewish shopkeepers that, as a mark of respect for both communities, they would all close on St. Patrick's Day and Yom Kippur, which worked very harmoniously. There were of course occasional 'troubles' when police would be in evidence. On one such occasion, someone had gone into a local church and, in front of the congregation, had shot and killed the priest.

A night or two later, when I was walking home from the bus stop after a date, about two or three in the morning all huddled up in the freezing air, I noticed a policeman on the other side of the road walking in the opposite direction. I did not think anything of it until he silently came up behind me and, before I knew it, he had me up against a wall, holding my arms up high with legs spread-eagled at his instruction so that he could search me. He had thought I might be the gunman and, when he found he was wrong and that I was not armed, escorted me the rest of the way to my destination. Just like in the movies!

As the year rolled along, and 1949 arrived, I planned my departure from New York. However, in the midst of my arrangements came the news that one of my father's brothers from London was coming on a visit. It was obvious that I could not leave before his visit had taken place, and I mentally agreed with myself to put my plans on hold until the autumn.


If you wish to make a donation to the Elsa Benedyk Memorial Fund, set up by her friends and colleagues entirely without Raymon’s knowledge to provide funds to support the children's ward of the Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem to commemorate her life of work with children in her nursery schools, it would be most gratefully received. The amount that you give will not be revealed to Raymon. He is not a trustee of the fund. Your cheque, payable to the Fund, should be sent to the fund's Treasurer Mrs I Dokelman, 14 Charville Court, 30/32 Gayton Road, Harrow, Middx HA1 2HT.


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