- The Journeyby Jerome Goldberg
This work has reached the exceptional level
This is Chapter 1 of a fictional novel that I am working on
The Journey by Jerome Goldberg
A First Book Chapter contest entry

It is hard to believe that in a few minutes I will be retired and moving into a luxurious assisted living facility in Florida near where some of my grandchildren live.

It has been a long but good journey.

Since we have a few minutes until the car comes, let me tell you about it.

I know that I had a mother and father, but I did not learn about them until much later in life.

My first memories are of being the youngest and smallest of five boys living in a partially bombed out building. We did have water, nothing else. No electricity and no heat.

We spent almost all the daylight hours collecting firewood and begging for, or stealing, food.

There was Allan who was about fifteen. Mark and Zack were thirteen and Frank was twelve. I think I was eleven. I did not know my birthdate; but, because I was the smallest we all thought that I was the youngest.

It seemed that the war had done its damage and moved on like a hurricane or a tornado. We could still hear occasional explosions in the distance and once in a while a convoy of armored trucks would rumble by but would not stop.

In retrospect, I don't know if this was living or just existing.

Usually, we got up at sunrise and did our scavenging until just about sundown. Then we would build a big fire and eat whatever we had collected and go to sleep by the fire.

One evening, Allan was not back by dark. Since he was the oldest and the biggest, we were all scared.

Then he came walking up the path. He was smiling and he was carrying a big fish. He cleaned and gutted the fish and threw it in a boiling hot pot of water. Then he served each of us a steaming hot bowl of fish soup.

We gulped down the soup and were overwhelmed. He told us that the Fishermen were going back to work and were hiring workers. He worked all day today for fifty cents and this big fish.

Now fifty cents may not seem like a lot; but, back then you could buy a whole one-pound loaf of black bread for five cents or have a steaming hot bowl of beef goulash with bread and lard at Madam Zola's for twenty cents.

Suddenly, it was a whole new world.

The next morning, we all rushed down to the wharf. To work. To earn fifty cents and a big fish.

We would never be hungry again.

Everybody was hired except me. I was too young! I was too small! I was too weak! "Come back when you grow up!"

Dejected, I wandered back to our house. I was too depressed to even scavenge.
As I shuffled through the village, a grocer, who saw that I was just walking and not stealing, yelled to me: "Hey boy will you deliver a package?"

And now, I too had a job!

I asked for five potatoes as payment. He said that he would give me two. We settled on three large ones.

The woman who I delivered the groceries to was very nice. First, she told me to put the groceries on her kitchen table and wash my hands. Then she gave me a small glass of milk and a hard roll. Milk was an unbelievable luxury. As I was leaving, she also gave me five cents.

WOW! Milk, a hard roll and five cents! I was a millionaire! I hid the money in my sock so none of the bigger boys on the street might find it!

When I went back to the grocer to get my potatoes, he sent me on another delivery. This time we agreed on three carrots, one onion and one cabbage as my payment.

The Lady at the door invited me in and gave me a cup of coffee with cream and sugar and a thick slice of black bread covered with chicken fat and jam plus five cents.

Next, I went to the bakery and asked if he wanted anything delivered. He did not; but, he would give me a day-old black bread if I swept out his store and front porch.

When I got back to the grocer to pick up my food, I asked him to wrap them and my bread like a delivery. While the other, and mostly bigger, kids would steal from me, they would not steal a delivery because they knew that the merchants would come after them. The merchants could be very cruel.

As I was leaving, the grocer said that I was a very nice boy, added a small bag of salt to the delivery package and told me to come back tomorrow.

I could not believe my good fortune. My stomach was full, I had some money in my pocket and bread and vegetables to bring home. And later, my friends would bring fish. Life was good!

I quickly gathered wood and built two fires. One for the soup and one to grill the fish on. I found a very large pot and filled it with water. l cut up the potatoes, carrots, cabbage and onion and put them in the boiling water, along with a handful of salt, to cook. Next, I divided the bread into five equal pieces. Finally, I sat down and closed my eyes.

I woke up just before Allan, Mark, Zack and Frank came back from working on the fishing boats. I stirred the soup. It had thickened and it smelled wonderful.

Since I was rested and not really hungry, I cleaned and grilled the fish while they had thick hot soup and bread. We traded stories about our day as we feasted on the grilled fish. For the first time, we had more food than we could eat. That meant we could even have something to eat before we went to work in the morning.

Allan, the oldest, suggested that, since I had gotten and prepared most of the food, the four fishermen should each give me ten cents (of their fifty cents) and that I should see what else I could add to our new affluent lifestyle. Everyone agreed.

Every day after that, I started expanding our way of life. This involved running more errands, bartering, meeting new merchants and sometimes even paying for things. Overtime, I added coffee, tea, sugar, pepper, pasta, an occasional chicken, soup bones and fresh sausage. The older boys added tobacco and wine.

The fishing boats did not go out on Sunday, so Sunday became a wonderful day of rest, food and even a little adventure. We might wander around town or visit the soccer field. Sometimes we watched and sometimes we joined a team and played. Allan sometimes brought a waitress back to our bombed-out house and then they would spend a major part of the day in a back room making lots of weird noises.

One Sunday, just as we were sitting down to eat a feast of grilled fish, roasted chicken and sausage, some people from the village came by. They said they were walking by and smelled the wonderful food and that they would be happy to pay seventy-five cents each to join us. Well, we had plenty of food (especially fish) and an extra three dollars would buy a lot of meat or sausage. So yes, of course yes.

They must have enjoyed it because they came again the next Sunday with some additional friends. We told them they were welcome to stay but we did not have enough dishes or mugs. So, two of the men went back home and returned with dishes.

Each Sunday, more and more people showed up with mugs and dishes plus money and wine. Some even brought musical instruments and everybody joined in on the singing dancing.

Then I invited the local beer brewer to come and sell beer just outside our camp and give us ten percent of the profits. Later on, I invited a local potter to sell her bowls and mugs out front and give us ten percent.

Monday mornings became very difficult!

One Sunday, Madam Zola, who runs a big restaurant, came and joined the festivities. At the end, she said the food was very good and that I was a very good cook and a good businessman; but, that I had a lot to learn.

Then she offered me a job as an assistant cook. She said that she would pay me one dollar per day, I could eat all that I wanted and that I could stay in a room over the restaurant that had both heat and running water. Furthermore, since she was closed on Sunday, I could still come here.

WOW! Assistant Cook! Six dollars per week plus room and board. I was just thirteen. My friends agreed that I should go and that Zack, who got seasick and really hated boats, would give up fishing and take over as the innkeeper at our bombed-out building.

I told Madam Zola, that I would take the job but she had to agree to give my four friends a ten percent discount at her restaurant. She smiled and agreed.

I did have a lot to learn and we worked hard. On two days a week we started at sunrise and went to the market to get fresh food. We got back at nine. On the other four days we started preparing and cooking at nine and the restaurant opened at noon. We cooked and served until eleven and then cleaned up until just past mid-night.

I learned to bake, broil, boil, grill, roast, fry, deep fry and many other aspects of cooking. I learned how to shop and how to plan. I learned about condiments and presentation. But, most important, I learned about customer service. I learned how to make people walk away smiling even after spending a small fortune for just one meal.

One day Madam Zola called me in and said that she was very pleased with my progress, and she was promoting me from assistant Cook to Assistant Chef and my salary would increase to a dollar and a half per day, nine dollars per week.

I was fourteen and I did not know that things could get any better.

Then one night, The Maitre d' was ill. As it turned out we were the same size, so Madam Zola gave me his black suit and bow tie and I became the Maitre d'

I quickly learned that people wanted to be listened too and wanted to be treated with respect. They wanted to feel special and in-charge. Some wanted a special table, some did not want to wait in line, some just wanted to show off and, they could be very generous to anyone who helped them.

I guess that I did a good job because I was soon earning almost five dollars per night in tips.

Then when the Old Maitre d' said that he was too ill to return, Madam Zola promoted me to permanent Maitre d' and Assistant Manager and increased my pay to twelve dollars per week.

It was unbelievable! I was barely fifteen and I had a job that paid (with tips) over forty dollars per week plus free room and board.

For the first time in my life, I was able to buy clothes that were brand new and that fit perfectly. I bought a black suit, two white shirts and a pair of black leather shoes.

It was about this time that I met, or more accurately became aware of, Babette, Madam Zola's daughter.

She was a little older than me and also worked in the restaurant. She was fun and everybody liked her.

She used to tease me about how young and small I was. In fact, she would embarrass me by bring over a stool to stand on when I was stirring a big kettle or take the meat cleaver out of my hands and announce in a loud voice that I was too young to play with knives. I did not know much about girls; but, I knew that I liked her.

Oh, the car is here.

Please come visit me at the Home.

I will tell you more about Babette, my friends and my parents and what happened between then and now. It has been quite a journey with many surprises and adventures along the way.

Author Notes
This is Chapter 1 in a fictional novel that I am working on. As time goes on, we will learn about what happens to his friends, what he learns about his parents, how his relationship with Babbette develops and how he goes from war torn orphan to retiring in a luxury assisted living facility. Hope that you have enjoyed what you read and look forward to your comments and suggestions


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