He’d come through Ellis Island with his parents in ’05, nineteen not twenty. Family settled in Cleveland. Seven kids plus New World equaled struggles. Food, clothes, shelter. Nothing came easy. Soon a war stirred in Europe.
Not yet twenty he left home, moved west, worked a ranch in Montana before drifting on to Oregon. Soon marriage, three kids followed.
Then the Big One. Market crashed, people jumped. He always had work, a house and a car. He read the news, watched his neighbors. Folks said he cared, tried to help others. “Generous to a fault.” They’d say. “Everybody needs a little kindness.” He’d say.
Her parents left the Deep South looking for a new life. Dad was a teacher, a professor of college math. Small college, but still something to respect. Watched her older brothers move out and move on. Both into business, both successful. Her marriage was something less than she hoped for. A hard worker, but lacked the drive she desired. His accent could be socially embarrassing. Not to mention his general lack of couth.
Then it came. October ’29, people went crazy. They survived; she survived, on the edge, always afraid. “There’s no guarantee we won’t be next.” She’d say if anyone would listen.
The second war in Europe had come and gone, their sons had grown and gone. They had their routine. There was the weekly dinner, at their favorite Chinese restaurant. Same place, same conversation. Same meal, for him. He’d order Combination Number Two; sweet and sour pork, egg foo yung and chicken chow mien.
“You’re so stuck in a rut. Will you ever try something new?” She’d chide.
“I always get it because I always like it. You can get whatever you want.” He’d reply.
Their order arrived; he’d savor the familiar flavors. She’d chatter while picking at her dish. He’d nod and grunt agreement. Kept the conversation going, avoided actual involvement. They’d finish with fortune cookies. She’d read aloud, made him do the same.
He’d rise, putting on his hat, glancing one last time at the check. Did the math in his head to count out a tip, always more than expected. Placed it on the table, next to his plate, not too obvious but easy to find.
He’d start toward the door. She’d hesitate. Made sure he was focused on going and quietly scooped up most of what he’d left, slipped it silently into her purse