The Baggage of Youth

My literature teacher at Washington High School was a Kay Francis look-alike. Her name was Miss Kohns. Miss Gwendolyn Kohns. She deepened my interest in the world of books—classics and contemporary.

One of her recommendations that kept me up past midnight was The Time Machine.

That 1895 British thriller served as my introduction to H. G. Wells, the first great writer of science fiction and a provocative and prolific philosopher still worth perusing.

When I finished the hook, I burrowed into his poignant story of The Invisible Man, which also enthralled me.

There were times, however, when Miss Kohns drifted over my head. Once she spent two successive days trying to interpret for us the complex philosophy of good and evil, represented by Herman Melville’s American masterpiece, Moby Dick. I listened to her and stared into her radiant eyes and picked up what I could—by osmosis.

During the night, about this time, I experienced a frustrating and reoccurring, adolescent dream. As I recall the fragments now, I dreamt that I was sitting cross- legged on the rolling deck of a massive square-rigger under full sail. It might have been Captain Ahab’s whaler, the Pequod. I was sitting on the deck with a book on my lap, trying to study for an exam, while Miss Kohns strode back and forth in front of me—buck naked.


It was 1937, winter.

A pop version of an obscure, minor-key, Yiddish folk song called Bei mir bist du schon confounded the music world by winning worldwide popular appeal. It became the Number One song of the year.

My mother had a new job that cold, rainy winter, working the front counter in a deliciously warm and fragrant Jewish bakery. It was located inside Portland’s faux art deco, Public Market building, which dominated the central, west side waterfront. My mother worked with a friendly, big-bosomed, Jewish woman who liked to sing while she worked. Nobody seemed to mind.

I don’t remember the woman’s name, but I d.o remember that she rendered the Bei mir song and everything else she sang in an offbeat, nasal tone:

Bei mir
bist du
Please let
me explain,
Bei mir bist du
schon Means
that you’re
grand …

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