Chicken Dreaming Corn

Chicken Dreaming Corn

Roy Hoffman
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Chicken Dreaming Corn
    Book Description:

    In 1916, on the immigrant blocks of the Southern port city of Mobile, Alabama, a Romanian Jewish shopkeeper, Morris Kleinman, is sweeping his walk in preparation for the Confederate veterans parade about to pass by. "Daddy?" his son asks, "are we Rebels?" "Today?" muses Morris. "Yes, we are Rebels." Thus opens a novel set, like many, in a languid Southern town. But, in a rarity for Southern novels, this one centers on a character who mixes Yiddish with his Southern and has for his neighbors small merchants from Poland, Lebanon, and Greece. As Morris resides with his family over his Dauphin Street store, enjoys cigars with his Cuban friend Pablo Pastor, and makes "a living not a killing," his tale begins with glimpses of the old Confederacy, continues through a tumultuous Armistice Day, and leads up to the hard-won victories of World War II. Along the way Morris sells shoes and sofas and endures Klan violence, religious zealotry, and financial triumphs and heartbreaks. With his devoted Miriam, who nurses memories of Brooklyn and Romania, he raises four adventurous children whose own journeys take them to New Orleans and Atlanta and involve romance, ambition and tragic loss. At turns lyrical, comic, and melancholy, this tale takes inspiration from its title. This Romanian expression with an Alabama twist is symbolic of the strivings of ordinary folks for sustenance, for the realization of their hopes and dreams. Set largely on a few humble blocks yet engaging many parts of the world, this Southern Jewish novel is, ultimately, richly American.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4008-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Author’s Note
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Part I: 1916–1918

    • The Land of Cotton
      (pp. 3-15)

      Down the stairs from the bedrooms to the floor of his store, past the blouses and pants under dust covers waiting for day to begin, Morris Kleinman made his way to the front door thanking God, blessed be His name, for a regular night’s sleep, his devoted Miriam, four healthy children, and strength enough, after a nagging cold, to be the first one up on Upper Dauphin Street wielding his broom against the walk in preparation for the Confederate Veteran’s parade.

      Above him the swallows looped their crazy script against the chalky Mobile sky. They circled above the Lebanese clothing...

    • A Good Smoke
      (pp. 16-31)

      Smoothing down his pencil-thin moustache and wiping at his heavy stubble, Pablo Pastor hoisted up his duffel stuffed with tobacco leaves and started trudging up Government Street from the docks. His sojourn on the cargo boat—from Havana to New Orleans to Mobile—had set the Gulf of Mexico deep in his bones. He had thought to disembark for good at New Orleans, but had heard the Spanish voices and seen the stalks of cut sugar cane bundled near the docks. La caña was what he had fled in Cuba—a life hacking endless fields of cane. There were other...

    • A Dream of Water
      (pp. 32-46)

      The days leading up to Easter, 1918, were busy for the store, with mothers buying union suits to pack for their boys going off to the Army, and farmhands from Toulminville or docks workers from Maysville coming in for a well-priced, church-going coat and tie.

      Upstairs in the kitchen, Miriam and Lillian put away the dishes and brought out the Passover plateware, and the first and second night seders were festive and long. Morris, after closing the store early at the start of the holiday, resumed regular hours in time for their big sale weekend.

      GOOD FRIDAY SPECIALS, Morris printed...

    • Lonesome Whistle
      (pp. 47-68)

      Lillian returned to school the following Monday still feeling tired but did not complain, fearing she’d be sent back to the tedium of bed. By Wednesday, halfway to school with Abe, she told him to walk on, saying she wanted to linger in the sunshine. She leaned against a building and took a deep breath. Her throat was scratchy. At lunch she asked to be excused from the weekly session of calisthenics.

      Dr. Mulherin said that Lillian, chaperoned by Miriam, might find her constitution strengthened by a visit to Citronelle, and that he would make sure Dr. Michaels of that...

  5. Part II: 1925–1930

    • Family Portraits
      (pp. 71-85)

      Along the cemetery rows, by the Japanese magnolia opening creamy blossoms beneath the cool-blue, Passover week sky, Morris made his way to Lillian’s resting place. At the seder table, as always, he had felt her sitting with all the others; the holiday had been her favorite of the year.

      “Ziben yoren,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. Seven long years.

      Reaching the plot he felt the mourner’s prayer keening at his lips, “El molai rachamin,” and crying, muttered it. “O God, full of mercy,” He reached down and found a pebble to set atop the stone. Nine other pebbles...

    • Night Fires
      (pp. 86-101)

      The Cathedral bell gongs three times slowly, lugubriously in the Mobile darkness and Herman wakes to see the bruise on the rim of the sky. He has seen that glow before, like a wound on the clouds, the fire beginning in the shanties of the south part of town and eating houses and stores. But there is only silence now, not like a decade earlier when alarm bells had rung and the men from the Creole Firehouse had rushed in their horse-drawn fire trucks to do David-like battle against the Goliath flames.

      He props himself up on his elbow and...

    • What You Pay
      (pp. 102-114)

      Donnie McCall’s birth name, Heshie Gollub heard from Lucky Schwartz who got it from the grandmother of his girlfriend, had been Joshua Mendelsohn. Mendelsohn’s father was a Bavarian Jew, his mother a German Lutheran. On the storm-tossed crossing to America sixty years earlier, Mendelsohn had changed his name to that of the first Irishman he’d met—“another luckless bunch,” Lucky Schwartz had sneered, “the sons of Eire”—and took on the new religion, too, after landing in Charleston, then making his way to Mobile.

      McCall or Mendelsohn—it was no matter to Miriam. She worried only that someone might accuse...

    • Free and Clear
      (pp. 115-130)

      No longer did Benny lounge early mornings running his hand dreamily down Fanny’s golden back. He leapt up heading to the street, seeking out a sleepy-eyed newsboy hawking the day’s first papers. Like a famished man pulling at Matranga’s bread, he yanked the Register apart for stories about the Wall Street crash.

      When the first word of Black Monday had come, Morris had dismissed it, telling Benny he owned no stocks, New York was thousands of miles away, “and what is more, I am already making my second million.”

      “Your second million? What are you telling me, Morris?”

      “The rich...

  6. Part III: 1931–1936

    • Easy Terms
      (pp. 133-151)

      Morris folded the letter back up. “Papa,” he whispered

      Stepping over the soil thrown up by gravediggers for the final resting place of Boots Schwarzbaum, going by the headstone propped against the fence waiting to be set into the ground for Subie Shenkman’s unveiling, making his way by the men and women he knew who’d ambled atop the Mobile earth but now lay beneath it, Morris made his way slowly. “Dreysten yoren,” he said. Thirteen long years.

      As Lillian had begun to slip away he’d held his hands behind her head, weaving his fingers through her tangle of hair, trying...

    • French Quarter Blues
      (pp. 152-164)

      Since the depths of that night when Asa Spicer had been snapped awake by hooded men pushing their way into his office, the dentist had found himself often, in 3 A.M. dread, sitting up with a start. The racing of mice behind the wall, the fussing of pigeons on the eave, a boom of thunder—every stray noise yanked him awake.

      The banging at his hallway entrance was a nightmare returned.

      He picked up a hammer and approached the door.

      “Dr. Spicer!”

      “Who’s there?” he called back.

      “Dr.Spicer,” the voice implored. “It’s me. Abe!"

      “Kleinman’s boy?” He inched the door...

    • Georgia Sun
      (pp. 165-182)

      At Erik Overbey’s studio on Dauphin Street, as the photographer instructs the Kleinmans where to stand for the graduation portrait, Herman waits for the moment to tell his family what is heavy as a volume of Alabama history on his heart. Before him, flush with pride, Mama takes up her position sitting erectly on a chair. Next to her on one side is Hannah, her hair a majesty of brown curls, on the other the empty place where Lillian should be. Behind them, standing, Daddy is already staring at the camera, eyes bright with satisfaction: a college graduate, his son....

    • Rose Wine
      (pp. 183-200)

      The doctor gave Morris a pale brown pill to take when his heart hurt. How could this tiny orb, no bigger than a button in Miriam’s sewing tin, know where to go in his body? After a week in the hospital, he said he would do better to eat a good chicken liver sandwich chased by a glass of ginger ale. His heart, battered but in one piece, was like an old boot from the cast-off shoe box. It could still carry him where he wanted to go.

      Back at home in bed, sipping Miriam’s matzo ball soup and eating...

  7. Part IV: 1937–1945

    • Chicken Dreaming Corn
      (pp. 203-231)

      “A bastard they call me,” Morris said to Pastor, holding the nub of a stogie, cold, between his fingers. “First, I am their friend, now a bastard. Why?” He put the cigar to his mouth, drew on the dead leaves. “Because I ask what they owe. This”—he lifted the cigar to the air—“is good business. What does it cost? Cheap. What does it give?” He sucked at the stub again.“Time to think. Furniture? It takes fourteen months to pay and is only a place for a man to put his fat behind.”

      Alone he stood, rocking on his...

    • Over the Store
      (pp. 232-242)

      Wedging one bare root between the box springs and mattress, lifting herself up, Lily peers at Granddaddy on his back, cigar stub at his mouth, belly rising and falling. She reaches out and brushes down his thin crown of hair; eyes still closed, his lips curve in a faint smile around the cigar. She pats him lightly on the bald spot at the top of his head.

      “Are you all better now?” she asks.

      “Yes, I am only taking my beauty nap.” He removes the cigar and plants it on the bedside table.

      “This medicine is pretty!” She reaches for...

  8. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 243-244)