“Hey boychik, comsa, I won’t bite you.” she said in that typical Russian Jewish accent
that made a young, unsure boy-child feel secure.
I did as a child from these streets must do when called by an old woman, even in this
alien land many blocks from the street I lived on; I hesitantly took tiny steps forward, looking
straight ahead. My eyes were caught by the gramma-like lady leaning onto the ground ﬂoor
windowsill of the brownstone.
Like a cat, aware of everything, moving or living, to the right, to the left, as well as
sensing what was behind me; looking into the eyes of the gramma-like lady leaning onto the
There was no question of disobeying. Gramma-like lady was calling me.
A moment later, she was outside, standing on the landing of the porch, so high above me.
The torn silk stockings rolled down to her ﬂat, black, heavy shoes. Her ankles were thicker than
the trunks of the trees along the street.
Gramma-lady, don’t stand on your feet. They hurt you so much. Please sit on the stoop’s
arm, ﬁrmly planted next to you. But I said nothing. I just kept walking towards her, obeying, yet
always watchful in case I had to run away.
“Comsa boychik,” she repeated. “Bubbie has warm milk and cookies for you. Look at
you, you need it.”
She didn’t ask me why a boy-child of nine was walking alone on the Brooklyn streets in
the middle of a school day in 1951. Cops did that.
“Bubba-la, what do I call you?”
“My name is Ronny,” I dutifully responded.
“Ronala, take off your coat; sit on the chair by the table.”
She left the room and went into the kitchen. Immediately, I jumped off the chair, walked
to the desk near the table and opened the drawers, as silent as the child thief inside me knew I
must be. Pushing things back and forth, I saw the coin. It didn’t look like a half-dollar, but it
looked close enough that I picked it up and put it into my pocket. I closed the drawer without a
sound; went back to the table, resumed my sitting position and waited.
“Okay, here is just for you.” She looked at me with that smile, my gramma’s smile.
Mommy didn’t smile and when she looked at me, it made me sad. I felt warm from the love that
came out of every part of this gentle woman.
“So Ronala, you okay? Your momma knows where you are? Don’t tell me. It’s okay.
You want something else?” She said, as she sat her large frame onto the chair across the table
from me. Her easy words were good ones. “If you want, talk. If not, you should be gazunt
I dunked a cookie into the milk and put it into my mouth, enjoying it. It tasted good.
Then, the second one. The last one slower: aware of each bite. When I ﬁnished I got up from the
“Thank you,” I said, putting on my coat.
“You’re welcome, Ronala. You come back. I would be happier if it was after school.
But anyway, when you want, you come.”
I didn’t look back as I ambled down the street, but I knew she was leaning onto the
windowsill with her massive arms pressed against the stone, watching me. A big love-ﬁlled
smile on her face.
When I had gone a few blocks in some direction, I focused on ﬁnding candy stores. It
was the same: A tall man with a mustache who talked with a funny accent would look over the
counter and down at me,
“Hey kiddo, whata you want?”
I handed the man the coin that I had taken from the nice lady.
“Can I buy some candy?”
“You stole this coin kid? This ain’t no ﬁfty-cent piece. I ain’t dat stupid. Get outa here.”
Several tries later I entered a candy store, where the man was older and a little different.
“Okay kid, pick out some candy. I’ll tell you when you’ve picked enough.”
Weeks later, I had forgotten the nice gramma lady and the coin that I had stolen. I
wandered onto her street while day dreaming about a wonderful world where everybody was
nice. I was daydreaming that it was Sunday, visiting Aunt Esther and Uncle Frankie’s mommy,
who was very old and cooked the best spaghetti and meatballs in the whole world, and we sat at
the kids table with cousins who were not Jewish, but from some place called Sicily, far away, and
we ate and then we played and then we had the greatest desserts and stuff and…
I saw gramma lady bounding down the stoop, running towards me. She didn’t notice
how hard her breath was rushing into and out of her, coming towards me, running, crying more
tears than I had ever cried, even when I fell and there was cuts and blood on me.
My gramma cried, but never like this, never so much with such difﬁcult breathing.
Please gramma lady, don’t cry so much.
“Please Ronny, please shaina Ronala, please.” She said, trying to catch her breath.
I looked up at her and started to cry; it hurt me to see her this way. Worse than my
gramma, who always cried, but this was different.
Having caught her breath, but not able to stop the tears, she said,
“Ronala, I live alone. I have nobody. Nobody visits me. Only you. Only when you
were here. I understand you did what you did. You shouldn’t, but I understand. I’m not angry.
My husband, dead long time. Only my son. Went to the war. Dead. The last thing before he
left was the silver dollar to hold and think of him.
“It had to be you who stole the coin. No one comes into my apartment. Please Ronala,
give me back the coin. I give you anything. Just give me the coin.”
I couldn’t give back the coin. Crying, I turned and ran. I heard her calling out my name.
Heard her saying, “Ronala, please give me back the coin. I’m not angry. I understand. Please
give me the coin. Please give me the coin.
Please give me the coin.”