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Decades later, feeling unmoored by a painful divorce, Rose takes his two young boys on a quest to reclaim this ...
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Decades later, feeling unmoored by a painful divorce, Rose takes his two young boys on a quest to reclaim this forgotten history. Arriving in Belgium, equipped only with a tattered diary written by his uncle, they seek out the barns, wine cellars, brothels, and other shadowy places where their relatives hid from the Nazis almost fifty years before. Along the way, Rose struggles to explain the realities of the Holocaust to his impressionable yet precocious sons. Combining childhood flashbacks, family lore, and absorbing travel adventures, this is a story of one family's triumphant reconnection to their heritage.
Author Biography: DANIEL ASA ROSE is the author of the novel Flipping for It, and Small Family with Rooster, a collection of short stories. The winner of one O. Henry prize and two PEN awards, he is currently the Arts & Culture editor of the Forward.
Chapter One: Starfish The jet's crowded. Stopping and starting, we're slowly making our way down the aisle to our seats.
"Is this one?" asks my seven-year-old, lunging at the undersized coat closet.
"No," I say. "Sorry," I tell the passenger behind us, a natty businessman who wears an impatient Gallic pout as Marshall steps on his lustrous black shoes.
"Is this one?" Marshall asks again, jumping to the galley's refrigerator compartment.
"No," I say. "Pardon," I say to the French nun in front of me, as my overnight bag bangs into the back of her knees, eliciting a vinegary expression of tolerance.
"Marshall, let's wait till we get to Europe before we think we're finding the hiding places," I suggest. "We haven't even left Boston yet."
Marshall puts on a thoughtful look as if resolved to turn over a new leaf and ask only suitable questions from here on. But two aisles later, he can't contain himself. "What about this?" he cries, flinging himself to the carpet to inspect a cargo space beside the exit door.
It's an action that proves too much for his twelve-year-old brother. Alex drops his pretense of being unacquainted with us to shake his head disgustedly. "Dad, could you tell him that our relatives from World War Two did not hide on an Air France Boeing Seven-forty-seven jumbo jet?"
"Relax, Alex. Your brother's just excited."
"Yeah, Alex! At least I want to go on this trip!"
"I never said I didn't want to go," Alex says.
Marshall and I look at him.
"I just said I'd rather stay home."
Our seats come into view. They're located in the middle of a bank of five, between aParisian model and an overweight Arab with one glass eye who doesn't feel like standing. I climb. The boys jump, slide, wiggle, and wedge. Before long we're in place.
"Want to know what a geek Hitler was?" Marshall asks the model beside him. "He wanted only blond people, and he had black hair. What a geek! We're going to Belgium."
"Yes? That's OK," she says.
"We're going to see J. P. Morgan, maybe. Not the real one, though. This one's an uncle."
"J. P. Mor -- ?"
"We're going free, because Daddy has his magical media pass."
"Magic...quoi?" asks the model.
"He's just enthusiastic," I tell the model in my broken French. To Marshall I say, "You want to pipe down so the whole plane doesn't know our business?"
Which Marshall takes to heart. He tries not to show it, but his face looks injured, like a dented hubcap. Seeing the extent of the damage, and not wanting to start the trip on an unhappy note, I open my arms wide. "Here you go," I say. "Have some of my strength."
A ritual. Marshall opens his arms and clutches me hard around the neck, inhaling with satisfaction. As he hugs me I can feel him soaking it up: calm, power, goodness, whatever he needs in order to take leave of his mom for a month and be with his dad on an odyssey whose strangeness he can't yet plumb.
A smile like sudden sunshine lights Marshall's face. He's vitalized: if he had a pelt it would be shiny again. But not altogether; a capillary of worry still twitches on his face.
"What if we run into bad guys in Europe, though?" he says. "Those Nazis?"
"The Nazis are long gone," I assure him. "They all got beat at the end of the war."
"But there are plenty of new ones," Alex points out helpfully.
"Are there, Dad? Because I'm too young to see them."
"Don't worry, you're not going to see them," I say.
"But maybe just to peek at them would be OK," Marshall adds.
With a sigh, Alex levels one more withering gaze upon his brother before he puts on his earphones and attends to Eartha Kitt.
I close my eyes against the plane's most intimate sounds: kitchen locks snapping shut, closet doors bolting closed, the tidy thrum of engines whirring fast and slow. Air streams down over our heads, but otherwise all is sealed. For some reason the sounds make me feel both invisible and bold, and I remember my father asking me, during the custody battle, why I wanted to share the kids halftime, why I didn't just let my ex-wife take them and I'd visit every other weekend.
I had no answer for him. I had no answer because it wasn't even a question for me. Maybe it was a generational thing. Maybe men of my father's generation didn't bond as deeply with their offspring, or maybe they bonded in a way I didn't understand. For me, the only response I could come up with was one that was too obvious for words. Because I did, that's all. Because they wore a look of expectation; they expected me to and I expected me to. The world was too sad and lively a place not to. The sadness and the liveliness glued me to them.
Besides, I think, what about all those parents from World War II who never had the chance to --
But I feel a poke in my rib cage. Marshall's taken dominion of my body again.
"Is this one?" he asks quietly. He's pulled apart the ashtray compartment and is peering inside.
Alex shakes his head. "Great, Marshall. Like that's really going to fit a bunch of Jews hiding from the Third Reich."
"But it could be a hiding place, couldn't it, Dad?" persists Marshall.
"How do you mean?" I ask him.
"Well, if they weren't hiding their whole selves, but only a part..."
"Hmm," I say. "You mean like a lock of their hair?"
"No! Like a memory!"
"Or like if part of me loves my rabbit, and I put that love there, to keep it safe."
"I think I see...."
"They could hide part of themselves in one place, and another part someplace else. Couldn't they?"
It's a preposterously precocious thing to ask. But then again, if anyone ever has it in him to be precocious, it's my dalai lama child, my mystic clown with a laugh as bawdy as that of any whoremonger in Caesar's army. But how to answer?
"I say yes," comes a voice to my right. It's the model, resting a delicate hand atop Marshall's head. "In that sense a hiding place could be very big, or teeny-tiny small, as the boy says."
"It depends what you mean by hiding place," puts in the Arab to my left, fixing us with his glass eye and kicking off his shoes so that the smell of rotting lumber fills our space. "What's an ashtray to one person may be a hiding place to another. Who's to say what isn't a hiding place?"
"See, Alex?! They even said! There could be a hiding place in my pocket. Or in my hand. Or in my head."
Alex, the resident cynic, sputters with disdain. "How could a hiding place be inside your head!?"
"Couldn't it, Dad? Couldn't a hiding place be inside your head? Didn't you have hiding places inside your head, when you were our age?"
The Arab looks at me, waiting. Light winks off the lacquered surface of his bad eye. The model also waits. She has beautiful teeth, straight and sharp, and the cleanest scalp I've ever seen. Her fine hair is pulled back tightly so I can see through the strands onto the moonscape of her crown: white, calm, and ghostly. It gives me a strange sensation, like swimming out from shore in water so clear that I can see the starfish at my feet. It makes me feel I can see anything. I am thirty-eight years old and I can see the front of my life as well as the back, the future of my children as well as the past of my parents.
"Fasten your seat belts," says the stewardess, wriggling down the aisle. The Arab and the model do as they're told, concentrating on finding the right clackers to click. But Alex and Marshall stare at me expectantly, awaiting my reply.
"You heard the lady," I tell them. "Fasten your seatbelts. We've got a lot of ground to cover."
Copyright © 2000 by Daniel Asa Rose