Sophie visited her Aunt Tizzy in Edinburgh, Scotland several times over the course of her career.
My Papa was an open book, even if half the stories in it were fiction instead of history. But Mama could be as tight-lipped as a bear trap when she wanted to be. When I was a kid, I couldn’t even get her to tell us what was for dinner. That’s what drove me and Al to Scotland in 1931 to search for answers about the last leg of my family’s journey to America. Thankfully, the one thing Mama always sang from the rooftops was gratitude, and she insisted that if I was ever in the U.K. I had to look up my Aunt Tizzy Hawkins. Obviously, I’m not actually related to anyone whose veins don’t run with borscht, but Elizabeth “Tizzy” Hawkins earned her honorary aunt-hood through the kindness she showed my family back in 1887. She and my mother exchanged letters until the end of Mama’s life, but it wasn't until Tizzy spilled the beans that I learned the crazy circumstances that had drawn them together.
Papa would only tell us some of this story when I was a young girl. I liked to request it anyway, because he would always pull off his fat gold wedding ring and let me play with it while he spun his yarn, as long as I promised to give it back to him as soon as the story was over. Otherwise he was never without the ring, even when he was working in the yard or fixing the pipes under the sink.
Sophie’s Papa’s wedding ring.
My parents arrived in Glasgow well after midnight in May of 1887. Luckily, the trip from Genoa only took a week. If it had been any longer my crying, which rivaled the boat’s steam whistle, would’ve gotten us all thrown overboard. No one on the ship spoke Yiddish so Mama and Papa had tried to keep out of the way as much as possible. Through gestures and Papa’s few words of Italian, he managed to piece together that the ship would be moored at the Kingston Dock for about a week to load and unload some cargo and pick up a final batch of coal for the long trip across the Atlantic. William Palumbo had assured us our trunk of belongings would be safe on the ship with the citrons, so Mama and Papa packed a small bag and set out to find a place to stay while we waited to set sail.
Milly Palumbo had given Papa some English pounds and directions to the Jewish section of Glasgow, known as the Gorbals. We ended up at Green’s Kosher Hotel, where fifteen-year-old Tizzy was then working as a housekeeper, giving each guest their single towel and set of sheets and cleaning up the rooms once they left. In the few months she’d worked there, she had managed to pick up enough Yiddish to be able to chat with my family when they checked in and, being a sucker for a fat baby like yours truly, she slipped Mama a few extra towels. Throughout that week she would find a spare moment here and there to sneak into my parents’ room and play with me and Phillip.
At the end of the week, Papa took the family back down to the docks to board the boat for the final leg of their journey. With his lousy Italian, the thing he hadn’t been able to grasp was that the old captain had turned the ship over in Glasgow to a new captain for the trip to New York. The new captain had no knowledge of the deal William struck with the old captain and had even less patience for Papa’s yelling or his two hysterical children.
“Kalish! Citrons! New York!” Papa kept repeating, waving his arms frantically and gesturing toward the deckhands for help.
The new captain finally checked the manifest and found a listing for Kalish, but only for one passenger. It became clear that the new man in charge was a stickler for regulations, and would have sooner shipped a live tiger than allow women or children aboard his cargo vessel. One of the crew explained that we’d sailed with them from Genoa under an arrangement with the old captain, but there was nothing anyone could say to sway him. The boat was setting sail, and Papa either had to get on board to protect Mama’s investment or stay on the dock with his family. He really had no choice.
There was hardly even time for Papa to hug us all goodbye before he had to run up the gangplank. Mama waved to the ship until she could no longer make out Papa’s dark shape on the deck. She was alone in Glasgow and Papa was sailing on to New York. Standing on the deck in front of the Statue of Liberty a few weeks later, the sight wasn’t as thrilling as he had hoped. Sure, Papa had made it all the way from Russia to New York City, but he was alone.
A view of the Statue of Liberty circa 1887.
When the ship finally docked, Papa walked down the gangplank with a tattered piece of paper he’d had in his pocket since he departed from Genoa. There were easily a hundred people on the pier, but way in the back of the crowd Papa noticed a young man waving a sign that said “Pfizer.”
“Redt Yiddish?” asked Papa, thrusting his piece of paper at the young man.
“Doesn’t everyone? I’m Paul Weissman. Welcome to America! Where’s your family?” responded the man in perfect Yiddish. Papa breathed a sigh of relief and quickly explained what had happened to Mama and us kids. As concerned as Paul was about our well-being, he had to hurry Papa forward to the immigration processing office since Pfizer had arranged for a friendly clerk to stamp Papa’s papers.
“Papers?” asked Papa. “What kind of papers?”
“Identification documents, from your country. Papers that explain who you are—a birth certificate, a marriage certificate, do you have anything like that?”
Papa reached into his coat and produced the only thing he had: Charles Abuza’s military documents.
“This says you are Italian and weigh a hundred and thirty pounds,” fretted Paul.
“I ate a lot on the boat,” smiled Papa.
“Let’s just pray they don’t think you ate Charles Abuza on the boat,” frowned Paul.
When Paul and Papa got up to the processing desk, Paul exchanged a few pleasantries with the clerk. Apparently Pfizer had sent him a case of grapefruit the week before, a luxury intended to grease the wheels for Papa and his shipment of citrons to enter the country.
“Benvenuto, Signore Abuza,” said the clerk to Papa. “I notice that you seem to have gained quite a bit of weight on board the boat…”
“Si?” guessed Papa.
“You know Paul, I’ve had a real craving for my wife’s upside-down cake, but she can’t find those pineapples anywhere,” he said, his approval stamp hovering over Papa’s paperwork. Paul nodded.
“Welcome to America, Mr. Abuza,” said the clerk.
“Grazie parmigiano!” responded Papa with a big smile.
With that, Zachary Kalish became Charles Abuza, a brand new American. Paul escorted him into Manhattan and onto a horse-drawn bus heading uptown to 82nd Street, where Paul’s family owned a boarding house. Pfizer would pay for Papa to stay there while he waited for the rest of us to arrive, and Paul promised to send along a letter from Papa to let Mama know he was safe and sound. Paul also instructed the Pfizer office in Glasgow to wire him once the three of us were on our way to New York.
That’s everything I knew from Papa. Mama told me we spent four unremarkable months in Glasgow until she got the money together to pay for our passage. Then we joined Papa in New York and moved on to Boston, where we stayed with Mama’s family for a few years, and eventually settled down in Hartford.
Aunt Tizzy nearly fell out of her chair when she heard that Mama said we spent a quiet summer in Glasgow.
“Quiet? Quiet?! I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t call being arrested for murder part of a particularly quiet summer,” screeched Tizzy.
Al and I looked at each other and nearly spit our biscuits and tea across the room, we were laughing so hard. Tizzy looked at us in shock. She was as serious as a heart attack.
After Papa left, Tizzy explained, Mama took Phillip and me back to Green’s Hotel and asked for a room for another couple of days. Unfortunately, the hotel was booked solid with guests fresh off a big steamship that had just arrived in the port. In fact, every hotel in the Gorbals was full to bursting. Mama lugged our suitcases over to a sofa in the lobby and slumped down, not quite sure what to do next.
Tizzy spotted Mama and came over to take me off of her hands for a few minutes, since juggling a cranky bowling ball isn’t the best way to think. The next boat for New York would depart on Wednesday, in three days, but those ships booked up weeks in advance. Tizzy was pretty sure it was already full. The boat after that wouldn’t leave for ten days. Tizzy had a suggestion, though, for a cheap place to stay. Mama had no better ideas so she waited in the lobby until the end of Tizzy’s shift and then followed her through Glasgow, unsure where she was headed.
Eventually they reached a little house on a narrow side street where Tizzy unlocked the front door and showed us inside. In the sitting room sat her mother, who instantly recognized Mama, Phillip and me from Tizzy’s stories. Though she couldn’t speak any Yiddish, she took me from Mama’s arms and her delight with my chubby little fingers and toes spoke volumes about how welcome we would be in the Hawkins home. There was an extra room, since Tizzy’s older sister, Touie, had moved out recently to live with her new husband, Artie. He was the one who gave both sisters their funny nicknames. Elizabeth became Tizzy and Louisa became Touie; I guess if I’d ever met Artie, I’d be Tophie.
The problem, they learned early Monday morning at the docks, was that passage for all three of us on a ship leaving in ten days would cost fifty pounds. Unfortunately, Mama’s silver candlesticks were still packed in the trunk with Papa, on their way to New York, and Mama had already exchanged all her grandfather’s diamonds for the investment in the citron shipment. All that was left of the Palumbo’s travel money was five measly pounds.
Together, the women figured out that if Tizzy could convince the hotel to let Mama pick up a few cleaning shifts and Mrs. Hawkins could get her some extra sewing piecework at night, we’d have enough money to get across to the States in a few months.
Later that morning, Tizzy snuck Mama in through the basement service entrance of the hotel and got her a uniform. There was a big commotion going on in the lobby which made a convenient cover for their lateness, though Tizzy was a little surprised to see five policemen milling around with Mr. McGregor, the hotel manager. Her plan was to put Mama to work immediately and show Mr. McGregor what a good job she could do. Hopefully, he would hire her on the spot.
Mama and Tizzy worked all morning on a towering pile of laundry in the basement. There was a full weekend’s worth of sheets, towels, and staff uniforms to launder and Tizzy hardly had to demonstrate the job to Mama before she was scrubbing grease stains and coal out of all of the linens like an old hand. Mama was never one to shy away from difficult chores—particularly ones where she was encouraged to check pockets for loose change. Every shilling she found in a pair of work pants brought her an inch or two closer to New York City.
Working with Tizzy was a ball. Together they poked fun at all manner of stains the workmen managed to leave on their pants. No one in the hotel, it seemed, could eat dinner without it ending up in their laps.
“Look at these!” Tizzy laughed, holding up a giant white shirt and matching pants covered in rusty red stains. “These belong to Oscar, the chef. Saturday night was roast beef night.”
“My god, it looks like he slaughtered the whole cow,” said Mama, holding up a bunch of bloody towels wrapped in a bloodier sheet. She gathered up all of the stained white clothing and linens and dumped them in a big metal washtub filled with hot water.
“Damnation! We’re all out of bleach,” said Tizzy, checking through the shelves.
“What’s bleach?” asked Mama.
“They don’t have bleach in Russia? It helps get the white linen whiter.”
“If it’s anything that would have made life easier for the Jews, we didn’t have it in Russia,” said Mama. “Don’t you worry about these whites.”
Mama nearly scrubbed her fingers to the bone on the pile of stained sheets and towels and when she was done, they were so blindingly white you couldn’t look at them without sunglasses. They left the wash drying on lines strung up behind the hotel and went upstairs to eat a late lunch and find out what the police had been doing in the lobby that morning.
Tizzy introduced Mama around to the other employees in the kitchen over leftover roast beef sandwiches. According to their gossip, a few Russians had been staying at the hotel and joined the staff’s regular Saturday night card game. The big winner was found dead in the lounge that morning and it looked like someone had stolen all of his money.
“My God! Who saw him last?” asked Tizzy.
“Last time anyone saw him was Saturday after the game,” explained Bernard, the boiler man.
“We all left after the dead one cleaned us out,” lamented Ralph the janitor.
“He was counting my whole week’s pay when I went home,” added Oscar, the chef. “Then Kenny tried to clean the lounge this morning and there he was, dead.”
“I’m guessing you mopped up the mess with all of those towels and sheets we just washed,” said Tizzy. Mama couldn’t quite follow along with all of the English, but she certainly recognized the scrubbing motions that Tizzy made to act out how they got rid of the mess.
"Yes, that’s exactly what McGregor told us to do. You have to hand it to the boss. He had a dead Russian in his lounge and managed to get it cleaned up and call the police without losing his head,” shrugged Oscar.
After Mama and Tizzy’s shift, the two of them went up to Mr. McGregor’s office to ask about hiring Mama as a temporary laundry girl for the next few months. The hotel had been short staffed since another girl left to have a baby, so all Tizzy had to do was flash a few of Mama’s snow white towels and, just as planned, she got the job.
Over the next couple of days, they worked a few uneventful shifts together scrubbing the linens and checking the pockets for change. If Mama could’ve paid for our passage with lint and old hankies, we would’ve travelled first class. Things were becoming pleasantly routine until their work was interrupted by a visit from Inspector Boyd of the Glasgow police.
The detective was making the rounds of hotel employees asking about the dead Russian. As it turned out, there was another Russian man missing since the card game. Tizzy had to translate for Mama, since she didn’t speak a word of English beyond “more soap.” The Inspector asked to see the towels and uniform shirt that had been covered in blood. Unfortunately, Mama had scrubbed every bit of evidence out in the wash, and had folded the uniform and placed it on the shelf with the other kitchen uniforms.
The detective was just about to leave when he turned on his heel and asked if either Tizzy or Mama had found anything odd in the laundry since the murder. It was a last-ditch effort to drum up some evidence, so Boyd was shocked when Mama produced from her uniform pocket a handful of change and Papa’s big gold wedding band. Tizzy was just as surprised, since Mama hadn’t mentioned anything to her about finding the ring. Still, she translated for Boyd as Mama explained she discovered it amongst the pile of dirty linens under the laundry chute during her first shift at the hotel, one day after Papa had sailed off to America. Mama had rolled her eyes and said a prayer of thanks when she found the ring, but was too embarrassed to reveal another of Papa’s classic foul-ups to her new friend Tizzy. She just quietly slipped the ring into her pocket and said nothing. Three days later, Mama was still mystified as to how that hunk of gold came off of her husband’s finger and wound up in the laundry room.
“Why didn’t she sail with her husband to New York?” asked Boyd, his eyebrows arched.
“They were all supposed to leave on a cargo ship last Sunday, but there was some kind of mix up with a new captain who would only let only her husband on board,” explained Tizzy.
“Now, because that schlemeil lost all of our extra money in a poker game the night before he left, I’m stuck here with two children and no money for passage to America. That’s why I’m doing the wash,” said Mama.
Tizzy translated everything for Inspector Boyd except for schlemeil, but once again, Mama had surprised her. She didn’t understand why Mama hadn’t mentioned at lunch that her husband was part of the Russians’ poker game, until she remembered that Mama couldn’t understand the conversation. It was all in English.
The detective said he needed to borrow Papa’s ring for a day or two and left. Tizzy was concerned, but Mama refused to worry about the police. She was more determined than ever to get across to America, if only so she could smack Papa right on the back of the head for losing his ring. Neither woman gave the police much thought until they found Boyd waiting outside the hotel a few days later when they were leaving work. He took Mama by the shoulder.
“Translate for her,” he commanded Tizzy. “Let her know she’s under arrest for aiding and abetting the murder of Yaakov Simotz.”
Two weeks passed before Tizzy, who had worked herself up into a state that rivaled her nickname, was permitted to see Mama at the police station and deliver a letter that had arrived from my father. When they finally led her into an empty little room where Mama sat at a table, shackled by her wrists and her ankles, Tizzy wept. Mama, however, was as cool as a cucumber—and as sour as a dill pickle, given her circumstances. She asked over and over again about me and Phillip, but had almost nothing to say about the very serious charges against her.
“These schmendricks think my husband killed the winner of that card game and then I helped him escape, but that’s nonsense. If Zachary killed everyone who took his money at the card table there would be no one left on Earth,” said Mama with a shrug of her shoulders.
“I talked to the police and they say there is going to be a trial in a month. We’ll take good care of the babies until then, but you need a lawyer who speaks Yiddish. Otherwise we’ll never be able to get you out of here,” sniffled Tizzy. “What’s in that letter from your husband? Anything that will help your case?”
Mama scanned the letter. “Apparently New York City is having lovely weather. He hopes I’m doing well,” she said, rolling her eyes so hard her shackles rattled.
Tizzy arranged to bring Mama a pencil and paper so she could write an urgent letter to Papa in New York, and she also set up a visit with old Hymie Schwartz, one of the only Yiddish-speaking lawyers in Scotland. Hymie was a retired real estate lawyer and a soft-hearted family friend so he agreed to help Mama for free, but he’d never argued a criminal case in his entire life. He no longer had any connections at the courthouse and so his main purpose was merely to gather information about the case and translate it so Mama knew what was happening.
Hymie was able at least to piece together the prosecution’s case. Bernard, Ralph, Oscar and Kenny, the regular card-playing hotel employees, claimed that Papa had lost all his cash and his ring to the other Russian, Yaakov Simotz, in the poker game. Kenny said after the game he went to get his coat and hat from his locker and saw Papa going back into the lounge, where he figured Yaakov, the winner, was counting his money.
The cops were going to make the case that the two Russians got into a scuffle over the wedding ring and, when Yaakov wouldn’t return it, Papa ended up beating him to death. There were indentations of the ring all over the dead man’s face. Plus, a few of the hotel guests heard Mama shouting at her husband up in their room after the game was over, which they said was proof she knew Papa had lost the ring. The cops believed Mama knew he killed Yaakov to get the ring back, and then helped to smuggle him on board the cargo ship the next day so he could avoid jail. The fact that Mama had the ring in her pocket when the police came around didn’t help her case.
I guess it never occurred to any of those nincompoop detectives that my mother would definitely have hidden that big old ring if she or Papa had anything to do with the murder. I also know Mama never noticed Papa’s wedding band was missing from his finger before he got on the cargo ship. If she had, there would have been a second murder that weekend.
If it wasn’t for the fact that the courts were backed up that summer, Mama would probably still be doing hard labor. However, a delay of a few months allowed a letter to arrive from Papa, in which he explained what happened. He did lose his ring in the poker game. He’d bet everything he had on his four kings, but Yaakov cleaned him out with four aces. The witnesses did get one thing right: after Papa told Mama he lost all his money, there was a screaming match and she booted Papa out of our hotel room. He hadn’t told her anything about the wedding ring since she would’ve booted him clear to the moon.
Exiled from bed, Papa decided to stroll by the lounge and take a stab at convincing Yaakov to give back his ring. Yaakov, it turned out, had a soft spot for a fellow Russian. He was headed to Philadelphia and agreed not to sell the ring if Papa promised to send money for it when we got settled in Boston. Papa figured that with the citron money he’d be able to buy it back in no time. They shook hands and Papa never saw him again.
Besides my father’s letter, it was Tizzy’s brother-in-law Artie that helped set Mama free. When Touie and Artie arrived at the Hawkins house that August for a visit, Tizzy had to explain the sudden appearance of an adorable little boy and a baby girl who could out-wail the bagpipes from the local Jewish Lads Brigade that practiced up the block.
Jewish Lads Brigade
Artie, a doctor by trade, was particularly interested in Mama’s case. Back home in London, he loved following the newspaper accounts of all the latest murders and puzzling out “who done it”. After listening to Tizzy’s story, Artie felt strongly that things weren’t adding up.
Thankfully, Artie still had a few connections around town from his university days. He took Tizzy along with him to meet his old chum Randolph, who now worked in the city prosecutor’s office. Randolph took pity when he heard that Mama only had a washed up old real estate lawyer for her defense and arranged an introduction to MacGille, Mama’s prosecutor, so Tizzy and Artie could take a look at the files he had put together.
Tizzy's brother-in-law Artie, 1883
Then Tizzy and Artie went to the morgue. Being a doctor came in handy when Artie went inside to examine the body of Yaakov Simotz, who had been kept on ice pending Mama’s trial. Tizzy sat outside, breathing into a paper bag and trying not to think about all of the corpses on the other side of the door. Mama’s new defense team then returned to the Hawkins house and spent all night at the table surrounded by their notes, figuring out how they could prove Mama’s innocence. Aunt Tizzy said I sat in her lap and helpfully drooled on all of the most important clues.
The sun came up the next day and Tizzy and Artie woke up bleary-eyed but cautiously optimistic. Tizzy ran to her shift at the hotel. Artie went to ask Inspector Boyd to arrange a meeting with MacGille, Mr. McGregor and the hotel employees from the card game so he and Tizzy could make the case for Mama’s innocence.
That afternoon, they all gathered with the authorities at the scene of the crime: the hotel lounge. Bernard the boiler man, Oscar the chef, Ralph the janitor, and Kenny, his assistant, sat around the big card table while Tizzy quietly folded pillowcases in the corner, trying to listen in.
“Thank you so much for joining me here, gentlemen. And thank you for indulging me and my sister-in-law who, as you know, works with all of you here in this very hotel. We’ve grown quite fond of Mrs. Kalish and her children and want to make sure she receives only the fairest of trials here in Glasgow,” explained Artie.
The first thing he did was ask Inspector Boyd to quickly summarize everything he discovered about the night of the murder. The Inspector restated that after the card game, Kenny went downstairs to get his coat and hat and when he came back up, he saw Papa entering the lounge, where Yaakov was still counting his winnings. After that, it took Kenny about ten minutes to walk home, where he went to bed. Oscar said that since there weren’t any bars open after their late game of cards, he went directly home and fell asleep without even changing out of his chef’s uniform.
Bernard and Ralph stated that they changed out of their work duds before they began playing poker. Right after the card game, they had a quick smoke in front of the hotel with Kenny and Oscar and then went straight home.
“Wait a minute, my good fellow,” interrupted Artie, gently tapping Brody on the arm. “That doesn’t quite make sense. If Kenny and Oscar went straight home, then how were they smoking outside with Bernard and Ralph?”
Boyd scratched his head.
“Don’t fret too much about it, old chum. Perhaps these men just forgot to tell you. Before we proceed, I wonder if I could trouble this fine establishment for some lunch. I’ve been running myself ragged all day and I’m positively famished. Oscar, do you think I could have one of your famous roast beef sandwiches and maybe a cup of tea?”
“Why not bring a tray for all of us?” asked McGregor, the hotel manager.
“Inspector Boyd, why don’t you go assist him?” Artie asked pointedly.
As the men left for the kitchen, Artie grabbed Boyd’s arm and whispered something in his ear. Boyd nodded and hurried quickly out of the room.
While the employees and MacGille waited for the food, Artie asked Tizzy a few questions about how the laundry room worked in the hotel. She explained that she would wash, dry, then fold all of the towels in a particular way, in thirds, and then deliver them throughout the hotel. Sheets were folded in another special way and stored in the linen closet on each floor until they were needed. The men’s uniforms were kept on a few shelves in the basement and organized by department, with shirts on one shelf and pants on the other. There were an assortment of sizes and they were all laundered every day, since McGregor was a stickler for tidiness.
Oscar returned with the tray of sandwiches, Boyd trailing behind with a big pot of tea. Everyone took a cup and a sandwich and tried to forget about the murder for a moment.
“What did I miss?” asked Oscar.
“Just the doctor boning up on the finer points of the hotel laundry,” chuckled Bernard, shaking his head.
“You should see what we have to do to get Oscar’s uniforms clean,” remarked Tizzy as she distributed napkins to all of the men. “It’s truly a bloody mess every day. Roast beef stains are no walk in the park.”
“As a matter of fact, Tizzy mentioned that it took Mrs. Kalish forever to do your laundry after our poor Yaakov turned up deceased,” Artie said, looking at Oscar. “Not only was your uniform covered in Saturday night’s dinner, it seems that it was also used to help clean up the bloody lounge. Unfortunately, Mrs. Kalish did such a good job with the laundry she erased some helpful evidence.”
While Artie was talking, Tizzy quietly tapped Boyd on the shoulder and together they slipped out of the room. They came back a few moments later with something hidden behind Tizzy’s back. To distract the men from her disappearance, Artie directed the conversation toward Papa’s big wedding ring. The men laughed when Artie mentioned it, since Papa had thrown it into the pot with such confidence. The funniest part, they said, was that Yaakov could fit two of his fingers inside the huge ring.
“Do you remember trying it on?” Artie asked Oscar. “You have pretty big hands. It seems like it would be a good fit for you.”
“Nope, I don’t remember anything like that,” Oscar said quietly, and continued to chew his roast beef sandwich.
“Mr. Kalish remembers you trying it on,” Artie added.
With a flourish, he produced the second letter Papa had written to Mama from New York. Tizzy had written out a translation for Artie during the previous night’s detective work.
Words cannot express how sorry I am for losing my mind…and the wedding ring your grandfather made for me. I was so sure my cards were winners. I remember dreaming about all of the things I would buy for you in America as the men passed around my ring and tried it on.
Until that night, the ring had never been off my finger since the day we were married. As the other players laughed at its size, I realized how much it meant to me. It made me anxious to watch one man, the big heavy chef, slip it on and admire its perfect fit. The way he stared at it, I knew I would never get it back if I lost it to him.
After two more rounds of raises I thought the worst was over, because the chef had dropped out. Yet still, the unthinkable happened. At the end of the game I lost the ring to the other Russian.
I hope someday you will be able to forgive me. Please know, I made a deal to get the ring back as soon as I got our money from the citrons, and I believed Yaakov, the other Russian, when he promised me he would not sell it. I can only thank God my precious ring somehow found its way back to you. I pray every night that, in the same way, He will deliver you back to me and reunite our family here in America. I am so sorry, Jennie. Be strong. The truth will bring us back together. I look forward to the day when you slip my ring back on my finger. I promise you I will never remove it again.
The room was so silent, Tizzy could hear the tea getting cold.
“Now Oscar, my meticulous sister-in-law and I would like to prove that you, in fact, killed Yaakov,” he said calmly. Oscar’s face turned red with rage. Inspector Boyd and MacGille, the prosecutor, exchanged a confused glance.
Artie explained that just before Inspector Boyd accompanied Oscar into the kitchen to make the roast beef sandwiches, he’d asked Boyd to observe whether or not Oscar sliced the beef with his left hand. Boyd reported that, indeed, Oscar was left-handed.
“I investigated Yaakov's body this morning and deduced from the impressions on his face that he was beaten by a man who was left-handed. However, the marks left behind also revealed that his killer was wearing the ring on his right hand. Certainly, Mr. Kalish could be left-handed. But he would have been wearing the ring on his left hand, since it was his wedding band.”
Artie stood up and began to pace calmly around the room. On the night of the murder, he explained, Oscar met Kenny and his poker buddies outside for a smoke after the card game. Kenny mentioned having seen Mr. Kalish going back in the lounge. But Papa had already cleared himself in his letter, when he wrote that he left Simotz alive after they shook hands on their deal to get the ring back. However, Artie theorized, after the four men went their separate ways, Oscar hid a few blocks from the hotel and then doubled back, hoping to find Yaakov still in possession of the ring.
Oscar returned to the lounge and spotted the golden prize still next to its new owner. The chef asked if he could try the band on one last time, and offered Yaakov all his money in exchange for the big hunk of gold, but Yaakov had already promised to keep the ring for Papa. Things became heated and Oscar, a burly brute of a man, boiled over and beat Yaakov to death. Now he had the ring, but he was covered in blood that no one would ever believe came from a roast beef dinner. He left the lounge and went to the kitchen to wash up and change out of the bloodied uniform. He stashed the uniform among some dirty towels and headed out as though nothing had happened. He figured Kenny would tell the police that he saw Papa go into the lounge last and no one would ever suspect him.
Artie pressed on, more urgently. Oscar came to work early Monday morning to deal with the evidence he’d left behind, but he quickly realized he couldn’t destroy the bloody uniform since Tizzy would notice if it went missing. The solution to his problem presented itself when Kenny came running into the kitchen after discovering Yaakov’s body in the lounge. Oscar ran down the hall with every towel and piece of cloth he could find, including his bloody uniform, and mopped up the mess. When everything looked as gruesome as his uniform, he sent it down the laundry chute. It seemed like the perfect plan. The most damning piece of evidence was going to be washed clean.
“However,” said Artie to his suspect, “you forgot one thing. The ring. It slipped your mind that you had put it in your uniform pocket so you could wash your hands after the murder. That’s why it turned up in Mrs. Kalish’s pile of laundry. And that’s what sunk you, Oscar. Tizzy, tell him why.”
“We were out of bleach,” Tizzy explained, “but Jennie still scrubbed that uniform until it was like new. That day, I also noticed something interesting. After Jennie washed your pants, she folded them slightly differently than I do and put them away on the bottom of the pile of clean uniforms. You see, I always put clean uniforms on the top of the pile, which means that these,” she said, producing a pair of pants from behind her back, “are the pants that you were wearing the night of the murder. They’re still folded Jennie’s way and they have been sitting on the bottom of your stack of uniforms since then.”
Artie took the pants from Tizzy and explained that while bleach erases stains entirely, soap would have only removed stains from the surface of the bloody uniform no matter how hard Mama scrubbed. If Oscar placed Papa’s bloodied ring in one of the pockets of his white uniform pants, it’s likely that there would still be some proof.
“I never had that ring!” sputtered Oscar.
“Then there’s no harm in checking,” said Tizzy, turning the pockets inside out. And there, in the left front pocket, Artie pointed to a faint spot of blood.
“If I’m not mistaken, Inspector Boyd and Mr. MacGille, you’ll find that you can read a reverse impression of the engraving on Mr. Kalish’s ring. Tizzy, would you be so kind as to translate this for me?” asked Artie.
“I think that’s Yiddish for ‘guilty,” said Tizzy, grinning as wide as she could.
After Oscar was taken into custody, things moved quickly for Mama. She was released in early September and she all but ran back to the Hawkins house to see Phillip and me. I greeted her with a new shriek I had perfected over the three months we’d been apart, and Mama was so happy to see me she didn’t even mind the ringing in her ears.
When the newspapers got wind of her story, Mama made the front page of both the Glasgow Herald and the Glasgow Times. Aunt Tizzy insisted that for a brief moment in the summer of 1887, the Kalish family was more famous than the King of England. An officer of the Glasgow Pfizer office recognized Mama’s name in the news and was finally able to answer the many telegrams that Paul Weissman, Papa’s New York Pfizer connection, had been sending all summer. Every week, the office had received the same message:
Please inform New York when Jennie Kalish and her two children leave Glasgow.
When the Glasgow office wired back the details of what had happened, Paul arranged for Pfizer to foot the bill for our passage to the United States and we were on a boat within the week.
When Al and I heard the entire story, we needed a jack to lift our jaws up off the ground. I knew Mama liked to keep things to herself, but I couldn’t believe that she’d managed to keep her summer in a Scottish prison a secret for my entire life.
Tizzy even had a few old newspaper clippings that mentioned Mama’s case and Artie, the doctor who liked to do detective work. Tizzy proudly pointed to the line where he mentioned her, which said: “We never could have solved this case without the invaluable assistance of Elizabeth “Tizzy” Hawkins.”
Artie went on to write a few novels and he tried to name one of his characters after Tizzy, but the publishers made him change the character to a man.
“So, is Artie still doctoring?” asked Al.
“No, he gave it up after his first book got published,” Tizzy answered.
“Write down his name for us,” I requested. “I could use something to read on my boat ride home.”
“There’s one thing I always wanted to know,” Tizzy asked as she wrote down the name. “What did the inscription on your father’s ring mean? Your mother never told me.”
I pulled a chain out from around my neck under my blouse to reveal my father’s wedding ring.
“It says Ani Le Dodi Ve Dodi Li. It means ‘I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.’”
Tizzy sighed and smiled.
Al and I were silent and astounded on our way back to our hotel that night. I didn’t even think to look at the piece of paper Tizzy gave me until I was changing out of my dress to get ready for bed. I was lucky I was standing next to something soft, because I just about fell over when I realized who Tizzy had been talking about. It’s a shonda her literary namesake, Tizzy Watson, never made it to print.
Though this isn’t the Jewish Lads Brigade that was out-wailed by baby Sophie, here is another group of bagpipers playing “Hava Nagila.”