Yes, the Helsingør Sewing Club had nothing to do with sewing and everything to with ferrying 6,000 Danish Jews to Sweden. Note even Henry guessed then how successful the “club” would be. Besides, he was focused on events closer to home.
Joshua Erik Friis came into the world at 4:37 a.m. on December 29, 1943. They named him in memory of Mim’s father, Julius, and in honor of one of Henry’s relatives. Rachel had a surprisingly easy delivery, and Joshua was a surprisingly fussy baby. He had all the right parts, thank goodness, but something must have bothered him.
Mim told me that Ephraim got a call at Double-J Printers five hours after Joshua was born. Henry was on the phone, and he wanted to ask Ephraim about arrangements for Joshua’s bris. Ephraim contacted Rabbi Stern at Temple Sinai in Oakland, and by the next day all the arrangements had been made for the circumcision ceremony at my place when Joshua was eight days old.
“Rachel says that Henry plans to remain a Lutheran,” Mim told me. “The children will be raised Jewish, in their mother’s tradition. Ephraim couldn’t be happier. Me, too, I suppose. I can’t stop worrying about the stresses of an interfaith marriage, Florrie. That’s so rare these days.”
Rachel and Henry still lived with me then. I have very little patience for infants, particularly the bawling, up-half-the-night variety. Mim made up for my intolerance by being a relentlessly supportive grandmother. When she wasn’t bathing or burping little Joshua, she was knitting him booties.
Joshua was another way for Mim to sidestep the soul-deadening blows of World War II. In early 1944, we learned the wrenching news that Paul’s batallion was fighting in the Marshall Islands. The war in Europe was still raging, with the Allies making progress, and then being beaten back. Mim refused to dwell on the war. She “preferred to set matters to right at home,” as she put it. Ephraim still drank heavily.
By March, Rachel was well enough to manage without Mim’s constant attention. I suggested we treat Ephraim and Hans to a trip to Portland. Mim telephoned Ephraim’s niece, Bella, and came back beaming.
“Bella wants us stay at her house, which she still calls my house.”
Business woman that I was, I asked if the house in Portland was still legally hers.
“I suppose so,” Mim told me. “My parents kept the title, but Bella’s been living there since 1918. The place is more hers than mine.”
I was about to ask Mim if she’d included the house in her will, but I thought better of it. Too much death all around us. Mim’s beloved Uncle Hermann had passed away by 1944, and her Aunt Sophie had gone to live near one son in San Diego. Her other son was I forget where. Bella’s brothers had left Portland, too.
Ephraim objected to the trip, but Mim insisted that the change would do him good. Sidney promised to care for Snuffles the Cat, and I wondered if cats liked pizza. Ephraim watered his jade planthe adored that plantand told Sidney not to touch it. By the time we boarded the train, Sidney must have relished having the house to himself for ten days.
Bella welcomed us with a bouquet of roses and a bottle of sparkling cider. She was a strikingly beautiful woman in her late thirties, with warm brown eyes and thick brown hair. Except for redecoration, the house was its solid old rectangular self. I detected the scent of a woman’s perfume that didn’t match what Bella wore, and I saw a stylish jacket that was too small for Bella in the back hall. I wondered whether another woman lived with Bella, and I decided not to say anything unless Bella did. She didn’t.
Hans and I stayed at the New Heathman Hotel. We reveled in the luxury of its downtown Broadway location, near theaters and restaurants. KOIN Radio had studios on the hotel’s mezzanine level. No babies. No diapers. Just the two of us. What’s not to like?
One night we joined Mim and Ephraim for dinner at Mim’s old place. Bella served gefilte fish and stuffed cabbage in honor of her uncle, and Ephraim looked more relaxed than I’d seen him in years. He and Bella joked with each other in their native Yiddish, and Mim kept smiling at me with relief written all over her face.
Bella took us on a tour of Vanport City, which, frankly, looked more like an army base than a community. Kaiser Company and the government had thrown the place together on marshland between Portland and the Columbia River to house the thousands of people who worked in Kaiser’s new shipyards. Just like in the Bay area, migrants from all over had come to earn money from our booming armaments industry.
Bella worked for the Housing Authority of Portland, which handled problems in Vanport. And there were plenty, particularly racial. Sadly, Oregon wasn’t much different from the South then. Vanport had divided itself along racial lines, and Bella’s job was to encourage integration. I didn’t envy her.
“There are nearly 40,000 people living in Vanport,” Bella said. “Including 6,000 Negroes. All of Portland never had a Negro community larger than 2,000thanks to the KKK. It’s so frustrating to see people sticking to their old prejudices.”
Mim took Bella’s hand. “You grew up in South Portland, where all sorts of immigrants lived together. Youre perfect for this job.”
Bella laughed. “I remember when I was little and thought you could work magic, Aunt Miriam. Now you think I’m the one with the magic touch.”