Thursday, June 08, 2006

Bernard Malamud & Irv Shapiro: Happy Father’s Day

Pictured: Janna Malamud Smith as she waits to go onstage for her June 4 appearance at the Printers Row Book Fair. Kind and generous, this writer and psychotherapist agreed to be photographed for my blog.

On the 20th anniversary of Bernard Malamud’s death, Janna Malamud Smith explores her renowned father’s life and literary legacy in her new book, MY FATHER IS A BOOK. For this year’s upcoming Father’s Day, June 18, I’m giving my dad – Irv Shapiro -- the gift of residing on the same page of my blog as Bernard Malamud. I’m also suggesting that Janna’s book, and mine – THE DIVISION STREET PRINCESS – would be excellent gifts for your own father, grandfather, husband, or partner.

Despite the differences in their age, fame, and life journeys, Bernard and Irv had some things in common: they were sons of Russian-Jewish immigrants, were described as warm and funny, and were adored by their daughters. In the early pages of Janna’s book, she has a four-year-old child’s memory of her father, as do I in my book. Her excerpt goes first:

“On a Saturday morning when I was four and my mother and brother had gone out, he was writing at the dining room table and I was amusing myself…Entering the kitchen from the opposite hall, tiptoeing quietly, I opened a drawer and stealthily reached a hand into the crinkly cellophane bag of bread…
‘Janna,’ my father called. ‘Come here.’
I dropped the half-eaten bread on the stair, swallowing my mouthful while crossing the few steps through the living room and into the dining room. A black Royal typewriter sat temporarily on the table where we ate; beside it a pad of paper, a pen, a typewriter eraser.
‘What were you doing?’ he asked.
‘Were you eating?’ He’d given me a second chance.
He pulled his chair back away from the table and invited me to climb into his lap. …I liked him and his lap. He no doubt saw a parenting opportunity that helped him accept the end of the morning’s writing. For me it was binary: caught or not caught.”

And now a photo of Dad and me, plus an excerpt from my memoir:

“In 1942, the year I turned four, my father was a $17-a-week salesman at Blue Star Auto Supply on Milwaukee Avenue. And although he felt lucky to have a job since he never went to high school, let alone college, my father -- Irving Eugene Shapiro -- hungered for more: He wanted to be his own boss. So when he spotted the For Rent sign that was scotch-taped to the plate glass window of the grocery store downstairs of our apartment, Dad took it as an omen that his fortunes would change…

He plucked a Camel from an open pack in his shirt pocket, lit it and inhaled deeply. Then resting the glowing cigarette on the ashtray’s lip, he turned to me and said, ‘You’d like me around more, wouldn’t you Princess?’ He scooped me up in his strong arms -- a lift-up I loved because I could feel Dad’s biceps. When I would comment on the hard rocks stored on his upper arms, Dad would tell me how he got those muscles. ‘Swimming laps at the Division Street Y, the very same pool as Johnny Weissmuller.’ Although Dad may have had the strength of Tarzan of the Jungle, he had the build of a wrestler. He was short -- about 5’4” -- with a broad chest, big belly, and his legs bore black-and-blue markings. Along with my nightly ride up to his chest, I also loved that my Dad called me ‘Princess,’ for the pet name made me feel special, unlike the ordinary ‘Elaine’ my mother used, or ‘peanut’ from my older brother Ronnie. ‘Princess’ -- dainty, pretty, protected -- that’s how I felt in my father’s eyes, and in his brawny arms.”

Postscript: some photos from last week’s events: Vanessa Bush and Matt Cunningham from my Chicago Public Radio interview. And from the Printers Row Book Fair: moderator Mary Davis Fournier, me, Chris Burks, and unseen, Faith Sullivan.

Special thanks to two journalists and their monthly publications that included us in their June pages: Victoria Lautman, Chicago Magazine and Cindy Sher, JUF News.

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