Chapter 6. Hyman Perlin: Hotelkeeper

For the first few years that we lived at the farm/hotel the summers were easy for me. I had no obligation to do any chores on a regular basis and had no responsibilities. I woke up every morning, washed, dressed and went down for breakfast. After that, I was free until lunch and my early afternoon nap (at 1:00 P.M. when the adults ate lunch). My mother didn't have time to watch me because of all the other things she had to do. But, my grandfather's widowed sisters were around to keep an eye on me. We had two dogs that seemed to be with me where ever I would go. And the guests, who were mostly middle-aged factory workers on their two-week annual vacation, took a liking to me, a young child with curly hair.

When my father and grandfather went up to the fields to do work, I tried to go along. When they went up to take in the hay, I would ride up on the wagon. On the way back down, I would ride on top of the hay. When potatoes had to be dug up, I went along to help. It wasn't until I had children of my own that I understood that my "help" was more of a hindrance. I now think back how tolerant and how patient they were with me.

"What did he do?" My grandfather was an integral part of the operation of the hotel. He and my father went to shop in town after breakfast most days of every week. My father went to town at 7:00 A.M. every morning to pick up the newspapers guests had ordered. My mother had the orders for shopping by breakfast time each morning. It was the men's job to buy the items and deal with the merchants.

There were about 50 businesses in Mountaindale. We did business with some merchants and not with others. I am sure my grandfather had a reason for each. There was the matter of proximity. The store that he used to buy newspapers was next to the post office. There was no home delivery of mail so we had to go to the post office every day. If the newspaper store was next to the post office, we only had to get in and out of the car once. There was also the matter of necessity. There was no bank in town so he brought his banking business to the next town. There was only one feed and grain store, only one bakery, only one pharmacy and so forth.

And, there were merchants my grandfather refused go to as a matter of principle. For example, during World War II there was rationing and scarcity of merchandise. The residents of Mountaindale wanted the merchants to sell scarce and rationed items equitably among their local patrons. The merchants agreed verbally. My grandfather discovered that one of the merchants was selling goods to out of towners at inflated prices. Ethics was important to him. I am sure that he never read Ben Franklin's "Poor Richard's Almanac." But some of his aphorisms could have come from there."Every merchant was entitled to a fair profit for his merchandise or services." "Every buyer is entitled to pay a fair price for his merchandise or services." "Every person should be honest in his dealings with others." I don't know whether my grandfather ever confronted this merchant, but I do know he never entered that store again.

Another important part of his job was mixing with the guests. He spent his time speaking with the guests, determining what they liked or needed and making them feel that this was home without the problems of home. This rapport helped to solve problems when they arose.

I always wondered when my grandfather slept. As I remembered him, he was always awake. He was downstairs greeting the guests at 7:00 A.M. when they entered the pre-breakfast room to have a snack of coffee or tea and a piece of cake or a few rugelach. By 7:00 A.M., he had dressed, shaved, washed, said his morning prayers and probably milked the cows. And, he was awake until 1:00 A.M. every night watching and waiting until the card players finished their games and retired for the night. Then, he turned off the lights and went to sleep. I discovered how he did that when I was old enough to stop my naps. He took an afternoon nap at 1:00 P.M., the same time I took mine.

Almost all of our guests were Jewish factory workers or retirees. I wondered why everyone ate at the same time. For example, meals were served at specific times (breakfast at 9:00 A.M., lunch at 1:00P.M., dinner at 7:00 P.M.) and menus were set (breakfast was always dairy, lunch was always meat except for the Friday night (erev Shabbos) dinner, and dinner was always dairy except on Friday).

One summer we had a guest who had never been at our place. He was an observant Orthodox Jew who believed that halacha had to be observed to the letter of the law. The law states that there must be at least 6 hours between the time a person eats meat and then eats dairy. He said if we start eating meat at 1:00 we end the meal by 2:00. Six hours from 2:00 is 8:00. Dairy dinners should start at 8:00. He said that if the halacha was not obeyed, the whole hotel would not be kosher. My grandfather spoke with the regular guests. He told them we were counting from the start of the meal to the start of the next meal. He asked them whether they preferred the present arrangement that we have always had. No one wanted to hear what the new guest had to say. We kept the present format. The next year the new guest did not return. The regular guests did.

Whenever people would talk about politics my grandfather didn't enter into the discussion. The men were almost all immigrant factory workers and had similar ideas and positions. Also, he didn't want to take sides in any discussion because if he took an opposite view, he might win the debate and antagonize his guest so that the latter would not return next year.

Everyone revered President Roosevelt. They seldom disliked his policies. Social Security was a great idea and so was his position on the need for unions. They were unaware of the anti-Semitism in the State Department and its stand about the Jews in concentration camps.

There were three defining political events that took place in the decade of the 1930s. There was the election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 in the United States, the accession to power of Adolf Hitler in 1933 in Germany and the June 1938 event in Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. The most talked about event was the one in 1938. All attempts by the president to overcome the Depression were futile until we started arming for World War II. Hitler's quest for domination of the world by his Aryan military might would be won or lost on the battlefields of Europe and Africa, but the immediate and best indicator of the decision for democracy or Nazi dictatorship would be fought in the ring in Yankee Stadium.

In one corner would be Max Schmeling, age 32, height 6'1", weighing 193 pounds, born in Brandenberg, Germany, white, the personification of an Aryan representing Germany. Hitler spoke with him and reminded him that he was fighting to show Aryan superiority and that he had knocked out Louis the last time they fought in 1936. Hitler and all Germans were expecting the same results again.

In the other corner would be Joe Louis, age 24, height 6'2", weighing 198 pounds, born in Alabama, son of a sharecropper, black, representing the United States. President Roosevelt called him to the White House to remind him that the President was rooting for him and every American was rooting for him. Hr was fighting for democracy and the free world. I was also rooting for him because of his name. His name was Joseph Louis Barrow and my father's name was Joseph Louis Perlin. No one ever called my father by two names except my grandmother who only used his Jewish name. She called him YussifLaib all his life, as if it was pronounced as one word. She wouldn't or probably couldn't change it now. It was like calling your daughter MaryAnn for the first 40 years of her life and one day she walks into your house and she tells you to call her Mary from now on.

I was 9 years old and was allowed to stay up to hear the NBC broadcaster, Clem McCarthy, call the fight. All the men, family and guests, gathered in the breakfast room to listen. No women attended. The referee, Arthur Donovan, gave the instructions. The last fight went 12 rounds so everyone was expecting a long fight this evening. When the bell rang Louis went right up to Schmeling and hit him with three hard jabs to the face. Louis kept close and continued punching. Schmeling couldn't get up after being down several times. Schmeling's corner threw in the towel. The fight was over in 2 minutes and 4 seconds. All the men were more than pleased with the outcome of the fight. And, when the fight came up in conversation I could always say that I listened to the live broadcast.

Adolf Hitler had a vision that he would take over the world. His dream was to build an empire with Aryan Germany being the dominant country and he the leader. The German empire would last a thousand years. He signed treaties, negotiated, and fought wars until Germany took over most of Europe. His armies were finally stopped by the Russians in the east, by the British at the border of Egypt and by the waters of the Atlantic. From the snows of Stalingrad, from the sands of the Sahara and from the beaches of Normandy, Allied armies stormed back to shatter Hitler's dream.

For me, the defeat of Hitler and the shattering of his dream began on a Thursday in June, 1938.

Of course, we didn't anticipate the terrible treatment Louis was to receive by the IRS years after the war was won.

Post script: It was Max Schmeling who paid for the impoverished Joe Louis' funeral. Different times. Different world.