don't know what i thought i would find
 

Chapter I: Leave Me Some Room At Your Table

February 8, 1957

Danny lifted his duffle bag onto his shoulder and followed Neil and Harvey to the small attached garage. The garage was neat and tidy, just like every other room in the comfortable Brighton Beach house. Mrs. Diamond wouldn't have had it any other way. A metal shelf unit spread along one of the gray cement walls, holding things one would normally expect to see in a garage. Mr. Diamond's tools and assorted nails and screws filled one shelf, while some of Neil's fencing equipment and some fishing rods lay across another.

The Diamonds' blue and white car, the same one Danny had thought was old when he first saw it just over four months ago, filled up most of the garage. Danny had since realized it wasn't that old, but the dented right fender and the missing hubcaps made the 1954 Plymouth Belvedere look like it had seen a long life. The trunk of the car was open, so Danny sat his duffle bag next to the other two bags already in there. Neil followed Danny, but rested the guitar case he was carrying against the car instead of putting it inside.

"I'll go grab the skates," Harvey called out as he walked over to the shelves.

Danny didn't really pay attention to Harvey though. Instead, he noticed Neil glancing back and forth between the trunk of the car and something on the other side of the garage. The only thing he saw there was the spare refrigerator and a couple of folded lawn chairs. "What's up?" he asked quietly.

"Just wondering if the fridge will fit," Neil replied, a tinge of worry in his voice.

Danny took another look at the fridge. It was about three feet tall and nearly two feet wide. It didn't look like it could possibly fit. "Uh, and why would we need a fridge?" Danny asked, raising a dark, skeptical eyebrow.

"Because the Beldens are gentiles. We should have our own refrigerator so we can keep kosher," Neil stated calmly. "Without it, I'm not sure what we'll eat."

Harvey turned to stare at his brother in amazement. His jaw opened but no words came out.

"Oh. Oh!" Danny laughed, understanding now. "You and Harvey may have problems eating. I'll be fine." He grinned widely.

"What's all this laughter in here about?" Mr. Diamond asked gruffly, opening the door of the garage. The twinkle in his eyes belied the rough tone.

"Is there room for that refrigerator in here?" Neil pointed to the refrigerator and then the trunk. He asked the question in the most casual way, as if asking if there was room for a sleeping bag. "We can put the bags in the back seat."

Unaware that he was practically echoing Danny, Mr. Diamond raised an eyebrow suspiciously. "And why would we need room for the refrigerator?"

"The Beldens are goy. Like me." Danny grinned.

Harvey, somewhat recovered now and with three pairs of ice skates in hand, waited to see what his father's reaction would be before approaching the car.

Mr. Diamond shook his head in confusion, looking back and forth between Neil and Danny. "I thought you met Brian and his brother at camp? That was a Jewish camp we sent you to, wasn't it?"

"Yes, and yes. But they weren't part of that camp. Their camp was up the road from us," Neil explained patiently.

Harvey piped up from where he was still standing. "I was trying to remember who this Brian fellow was. No wonder I couldn't picture him at camp." Harvey scowled at Neil. "You could've mentioned something sooner."

"Oy gevalt." Mr. Diamond massaged his temple with one hand. "So, when exactly were you planning on letting me know this?"

Neil shrugged, and his tone of voice was calm. "Just now?"

Harvey frowned. "What will we do? We can't eat non-kosher food."

Danny was enjoying the moment. He knew Mr. Diamond well enough to know that he wasn't really upset. Or at least he wouldn't stay upset. Danny also knew Neil sometimes grumbled about having to keep kosher, and he didn't bother sometimes at school, so it was really Harvey who was most affected by this news. That didn't stop Danny from wanting to tease them both. Danny grinned wider. Then, he smacked his lips loudly. "Didn't you say they live on a farm? I'll bet there will be ham, and bacon, and sausage ...."

"Thus, the fridge," Neil interrupted, with a small glare at Danny. "I was thinking we could stop at that kosher deli and stock up on some things." Neil gave his father a hopeful look.

Mr. Diamond's mustache bristled as he spoke. "That refrigerator will not fit in the trunk of the car. Even if it possibly could, I wouldn't be able to close the trunk. And I will not drive with the trunk half open." He shook his head, and then looked at both his sons in turn. "Well, boys, I'm not sure what you'll eat, or how you'll eat, but I hope you find a way to keep kosher. And whatever you do, do not offend your hosts."

Harvey nearly dropped one of the ice skates he was still holding but managed to grab it again before it hit the floor. "So, that's it? But, but ... what are we going to do?"

Mr. Diamond's voice was even when he responded. "That's something you'll have to figure out. You can always stay here if you want, Harvey."

Danny and Neil turned to Harvey, but Harvey quickly shook his head. "Oh, no. I'm coming." Then, more contritely, he added, "That is, as long as you're still letting us go, Pop."

Mr. Diamond smiled through the bushy hair on his lips. "Put the skates in the car, son. I want to get going soon so that I can be back before dark. I don't know exactly how long this drive will take." Mr. Diamond glanced out the open garage door at the darkening sky. "And it looks like it might start snowing again any minute."

Neil shrugged before grabbing his guitar and placing it carefully in the trunk, rearranging the duffle bags slightly. Harvey quickly dropped the skates in the corner. "Thanks a lot, Neil," he whispered.

Neil smirked. "We won't die, you know. You'll be fine."

"Do you know how long it's been since I've had bacon?" Danny asked casually.

Neil and Harvey simultaneously smacked him lightly on the back of the head, but Danny just grinned as he opened the car door to grab the front seat.

 

The drive didn't take long at all. Traffic moved well, the weather cooperated, and the dented and now-dirty Plymouth made it to Sleepyside in less than two hours. Mr. Diamond guided the car past some large estates and finally turned to enter a driveway that ended in front of a modest white farmhouse. "I think this is it," he said as he turned off the ignition.

The front door to the house opened and a tall boy with dark hair stepped on to the porch. He was followed by another boy, shorter, with blond hair and freckles. A third boy followed him, a young child that looked exactly like the blond, only a good foot shorter, and he was holding on to the collar of an Irish Setter that was nearly as tall as the little boy.

From the back, Neil was already pushing against Danny's seat to get out the door. Danny opened the door and the two of them piled out. Mr. Diamond and Harvey exited the car in a more orderly manner on the other side.

"Brian!" Neil called out.

"Neil!" The dark-haired boy yelled back. "Glad you made it," he continued as he walked toward them.

Mr. Diamond had gone around to the back of the car and popped open the trunk. Danny and Harvey followed him and started to grab their things. Neil and Brian joined them, and the other two blond boys were right on their heels.

"Neil, these are my brothers, Mart and Bobby." Brian pointed first to the boy who looked about the same age as Harvey, and then to the young kid.

"And these are my brothers, Harvey and Danny," Neil responded as he pointed in turn. "And this is my pop."

"Very pleased to make your acquaintances," the older blond, Mart, said to the group. He completed the statement with a flamboyant bow.

Danny held back a snort. "Nice ta meetcha," he said, in an exaggerated Brooklyn accent. Then, afraid that might be taken as rude, he added in a normal voice, "And thanks for letting us come visit this weekend. I'm really glad to be here."

"Natch," Mart replied. "Anyone would be beholden to sojourn in this opulent countryside."

Danny wasn't sure how to respond to that. Before he could figure it out, Brian shook his head. "Don't worry about Mart here. He accidentally swallowed a dictionary once. You'll get used to it."

Danny grinned at that, as did Harvey. "Dictionaries do make good reading," Harvey said.

Mr. Diamond shook hands with each of the boys in turn, including young Bobby. "It is very nice to meet you all, finally. Are your parents home, too?"

"Of course, Mr. Diamond." Brian grabbed the bag Mr. Diamond was holding.

Following his brother's lead, Mart quickly grabbed the skates from Harvey. He handed one pair to Bobby, who had also followed them to the car. "Here you go, sport. You can help carry stuff in, too."

Neil grabbed his guitar, and with the dog running around them, they started up the rest of the driveway to the house. On the porch, a blonde-haired woman waved at them; behind her stood a tall man with dark hair.

"Moms, Dad," Brian said to them, "this is Neil, Harvey, Danny, and Mr. Diamond."

"Mrs. Belden, Mr. Belden," Mr. Diamond greeted as he shook hands with each. "Very nice to meet you. And thank you again for offering to look after these boys of mine for a few days."

"Our pleasure, Mr. Diamond," Mrs. Belden replied, ushering the crowd inside the house.

The boys followed Mart into a spare bedroom downstairs and put down their bags and other belongings. The room had two twin beds, and a fold-up cot was also set up in the room. "I'm afraid you'll have to draw straws or something," Brian said pointing at the cot.

"We'll figure it out," Neil said easily.

The boys chatted for a minute or two about the drive, and then trooped into the kitchen where the parents were already talking.

"Are you sure you won't stay for lunch, Mr. Diamond?" Mrs. Belden was asking.

"No, thank you very much. I appreciate the offer but I need to be heading back. I promised the missus I'd be home before dark." Mr. Diamond turned to leave.

Danny grinned inwardly at Mr. Diamond's evasive response. He really had meant it when he'd said eating was the boys' problem. In just a few months, Danny had realized that Mr. Diamond was not very strict when it came to Jewish customs, and that he was open to his sons making their own choices about following the Jewish rules. Keeping kosher was one practice, though, that Mrs. Diamond insisted on in her kitchen and her house.

Danny was distracted from his thoughts about this when Brian spoke up. "The Diamonds are Jewish, Moms. I think he needs to make it back before sun down for the sabbath?" The last part was more of a question, directed at Neil.

Neil simply nodded.

Mr. Diamond smiled at the Belden family. "Brian's right. Rose will be furious with me if I'm not home in time. Perhaps when I pick the boys up on Tuesday I can stay and visit longer. I'll be very curious how the weekend plays out."

Mr. Belden glanced at Brian and seemed like he was about to say something.

"Hey, what's sabbath?" Bobby piped up. "Is that like a bath? I hate to take baths. Unless I can play. Then I 'dore bathtime." Up until now, Danny had thought Bobby a shy, quiet boy. He hadn't said much since they'd arrived. But the energy that burst out of that little speech made him realize that he'd just needed a little time to adjust to the newcomers.

Neil reached over and ruffled Bobby's hair. "Jewish is a lot of things, Bobby. We'll try to explain as much as we can while we're here."

Mr. Diamond said a few more hasty good-byes before he was finally able to leave the cheery red and white kitchen. It was then that Danny noticed a basket sitting on the counter, a basket that looked suspiciously like one of Mrs. Diamond's. Danny wondered if that had been what Mr. D had run back into the house for just before they left.

"Well, kids, Moms made a great lunch for us. I'm not sure what kind of dietary restrictions you boys have, but we will do our best to accomodate you," Mr. Belden said kindly.

"Aren't we going to wait for Trixie?" Mart asked.

"She's over at Di's house with Honey. They're helping her get ready for the party tomorrow night," Brian's mom explained. "I told her she could have lunch with them."

"Who's Trixie?" Harvey asked.

"And Honey and Di?" Danny added, curious.

"Trixie's our sister," Brian answered. "And Honey and Di are our friends. You'll meet them later. Come on, let's eat."

"I hope we can all eat." Mr. Belden muttered with a pointed look at Brian.

"Since school let out early today," Mrs. Belden announced, "and knowing what a crowd I would have, it's just hamburgers and hot dogs for lunch."

The boys shuffled into the dining room where there was more room for them to fit around the large table. Plates with buns and condiments of every sort were on the table, along with a bowl of potato salad and another bowl of a mixed vegetable salad. Mr. Belden came in carrying a platter of hamburger patties. Mart, following Mr. Belden, carried another platter of steaming hot dogs. Mrs. Belden trailed them, carrying the basket Danny had noticed earlier.

"Your father left this for you and your brothers," Mrs. Belden said. Her blue eyes conveyed her friendly openness as she placed the basket down in front of Harvey.

Harvey carefully tugged open the corners of the towel over the top of the basket and pulled out some place mats, two plates, and a couple of forks. He looked at the plate in front of him already, the one from the Belden household. "Um, would it be okay if I used this plate instead?" he asked Mrs. Belden, holding up one of the Diamonds' dishes.

"Of course. I'm sure that's why your father brought it." Mrs. Belden gathered up the other plate, as well as the fork and knife on the table. If she felt offended by Harvey's refusal to use her dishes, she did not show it at all.

Harvey put a placemat down and set his place, including a glass he pulled out of the basket. He then passed the basket across the table to Neil. Neil looked inside but didn't pull anything out.

Meanwhile, the rest of the people at the table had started passing dishes back and forth. Danny was seated next to Harvey, and he watched as Harvey eyed everything carefully, but refused every dish, as if afraid to eat. In contrast, Neil, using the Belden dishes, just piled stuff on his plate and began building himself a burger. Danny punched Harvey lightly in the arm. "Just eat," he whispered. "Or is it that big of a deal?"

"Yes, it is that big of a deal. Nothing's kosher," Harvey whispered back. He raised his voice to address the whole table. "It looks like the potato salad has bacon, and the hot dogs are probably pork. Is that right?"

"Ooh ... bacon?" Danny said aloud. He hadn't noticed that. The potato salad bowl was still in Mart's hands.

Brian and Mr. Belden both looked up at once at Harvey's remark and Danny's comment. "Yes, there is bacon in the potato salad. Is that okay?" Brian asked.

Harvey's disappointed expression was answer enough.

"Are you not allowed to eat bacon?" Mrs. Belden asked, her concern obvious.

"I think all pork is forbidden, right?" Mart responded.

Harvey simply nodded.

"I'm sorry," Mr. Belden said. "The baked beans were cooked with a ham bone, so you'll probably want to avoid them, too. And the hot dogs." Mr. Belden looked a little uncomfortable.

Mrs. Belden smiled somewhat nervously at everyone at the table. "I'm sure there are some things you can eat. Like the hamburgers and the salad?"

Harvey sighed. He looked over at Neil.

Neil's tone was light and friendly when he replied. "It wouldn't matter, Mrs. Belden. Your kitchen isn't kosher. Which is why Pop brought us the dishes. But, honestly, I plan on eating all the same." And to prove his point, he piled another tomato on his burger, topped it with the other half of a bun, and took a bite.

"Shaigetz ainer," Harvey muttered.

Neil glared at him across the table and calmly took another bite. "This is delicious," he said to Mrs. Belden.

Danny ignored the exchange and grinned over at Mart. "Pass that potato salad, please. Bacon sounds so good right now." Then turning to Brian, added, "And let me at those baked beans, too, please. They smell divine."

Brian let out a sigh himself as he picked up the dish and handed it down toward Danny. "Sorry, Moms, Dad. I didn't even think of the food." He turned to Neil, and added, "Although, Neil, it doesn't seem to be that big of an issue with you. I'm glad you're able to eat."

Harvey's plate was still empty.

"Harvey, is there anything we can offer you to eat?" Mr. Belden asked.

Harvey looked sadly at the other boys' dishes piled with food.

"Come on, Harvey." Danny nudged him with his elbow. He hoped Harvey realized he had done the one thing his father had asked they not do: offend the Beldens. Danny looked over at Brian's mom. "Mrs. Belden, how did you cook these burgers?"

"Well, I put bread in the meat. And the bread was soaked with milk. That's what keeps the meat moist. Other than that it's just your normal hamburger mix."

"Milk?" Harvey squeaked out.

Neil gulped. Then he shrugged. "And yet, it was good." He opened his hamburger and pushed the half-eaten patty off of the bun onto his plate. He then took a bite of the now meatless sandwich.

Mrs. Belden frowned, causing worry lines to show clearly on her face. "Are you not allowed to have milk either? I'm so sorry. Can I make something else for you?"

"Oh, no, Mrs. Belden," Harvey protested. "I'm sorry. I don't want to put you through any extra trouble."

Meanwhile, Neil took another bite of his meatless hamburger. He shrugged again, removed the top bun, and tugged the meat back onto the sandwich.

Harvey saw this and shook his head. "Traifener bain," he mumbled toward his brother with disgust.

"Gai tren zich," Neil answered easily.

Danny hadn't understood the insults Harvey had muttered toward Neil, but this was a phrase he did know. Like most brothers, Danny guessed, Neil and Harvey fought a lot, throwing insults and sometimes even fists at each other without a second thought. But if an outsider stepped in between them, that person had better watch out. It had been a mild surprise to him when he realized he had fallen into that same brotherly pattern with the two boys. He was not an outsider. He glanced at Neil, who, in turn, looked at the Belden parents, both of whom seemed to get the gist of what Neil had just said. "No more Yiddish," Danny told the two, glaring at them. "It's rude."

"Shvertz azayan Yid," Harvey muttered.

"Sorry," Neil added contritely, glancing at everyone around the table.

Mr. Belden looked annoyed. Very annoyed.

"I'm sorry," Harvey said again. "It's hard to be Jewish. Sometimes."

"I can understand that. And I wish we had known." Mr. Belden stared at Brian.

Brian looked remorseful. "I really am sorry. I just didn't think—"

"That's usually your sister's excuse," Mr. Belden interrupted with a frown.

There was a small moment of uncomfortable silence. It was broken by the youngest Belden. Bobby's eyes had been widening during the whole conversation. Danny could see he was taking advantage of the pause to ask something that had been troubling him. "How could someone not like Moms' burgers? They're the bestest in the whole world. Even better than Wimpy's."

Neil grinned at him. "I've never had Wimpy's, but they're certainly the best I've ever tasted." Neil put his burger back down. "See, Bobby, part of being Jewish, for some people, is following certain rules about food. Jews generally can't eat any pork like ham or bacon. And, anything dairy, like milk or cheese, can't be eaten with meat."

"Oh." Bobby looked at his burger. Then he looked at his glass of milk. "But you're eating the hamburger?"

"Yes." Neil looked around the table at the various puzzled expressions. "I'm looking at this as an opportunity to broaden my experiences. And taste buds." Neil shot a quick glare in Harvey's direction. "And I personally think the Jewish rules of kashrut are a bit out-dated. They were useful before things like pasteurization and refrigeration. Now, it's more of a custom. But that's just my opinion. Basically, what I eat is my choice." He paused for a second. "However, I also respect my brother's choice." Neil's eyes darkened, looking nearly black, as he showed sympathy for his brother's dilemma. "I'm sorry I didn't warn you, Harvey. We could have come more prepared if I had."

With Neil's statement, Danny turned back to Harvey. He really wanted Harvey to be able to eat something. Not to mention that he certainly didn't want to be kicked out of this bacon-filled home that might be a stepping-stone in his search for his uncle. "What about the salad?" he asked Mrs. Belden.

"The salad? That's all from the garden," she replied, a little bit of hope in her voice.

Harvey perked up. He glanced at the bowl of mixed lettuce and cabbage leaves, small cherry tomatoes, sliced radishes, and shredded carrots. "How did you wash the vegetables?" he asked nervously.

Mart answered for his mother. "I washed them. In that big green bowl."

"Do you use that bowl for other things?" Neil asked encouragingly.

"No, not really. If it's that green one, it's the same big bowl we always use to wash all the fruits and vegetables," Brian supplied helpfully. "I don't think we ever use it for other stuff because it's too big."

Mrs. Belden nodded. "We don't use it for meat ever, if that's what you're driving at. It's plastic, so I don't like to put any meat products there because it would absorb the smell."

Harvey looked up, his light brown eyes showing a glimmer of hope.

"And then?" Danny encouraged Mart to continue.

"Then I chopped up the vegetables on the cutting board." Mart looked over at Harvey. He smiled. "Which we only ever use for fruits and vegetables. And then I put everything in this wooden salad bowl. Which is only used for salad."

"And sometimes our homemade potato chips or French fries," Bobby added.

Harvey smiled at Bobby. "French fries and potato chips are vegetables, so I think we're okay enough there. But, what kind of oil are they fried in?"

"We use vegetable oil," Mrs. Belden assured him. "And that oil is only used for potatoes; I don't like my French fries or chips to taste like chicken or fish." She smiled at Harvey. "I hope that makes it okay."

Harvery nodded. "So, everything the salad touched—none of that stuff is ever used for other things?"

"No, I don't think so," Mrs. Belden answered thoughtfully.

Mr. Belden cleared his throat. "Um, we do use that cutting board for bread sometimes, don't we?"

"And bread probably has some dairy product in it, doesn't it?" Brian asked, concerned.

"Yes, sometimes I put some butter, milk, or cream in some breads. Not usually the kind we slice though; that's more for things like banana bread or pumpkin bread." Mrs. Belden looked thoughtful, then concerned and sad. "I suppose there is a chance it's been used for dairy."

"Okay. Dairy's fine. As long as neither the board nor the bowl have ever been used for meat?" Harvey asked, reaching his hand out for the bowl in question.

"Nope," Brian answered. He picked up the salad bowl and passed it to Harvey.

"Close enough." Harvey served himself a generous helping of salad. "Barukh atah Adonai eloheynu melekh haolam borei peri ha'adamah." He nearly shouted the blessing.

Danny grinned, and Mrs. Belden looked relieved.

"What did he say?" Bobby asked.

"Thank God for vegetables," Danny answered with a wink.

"What about you, Danny?" Mart asked.

"Me?" Danny wondered what Mart meant.

Mart's blue eyes were filled with curiosity. "Harvey: kosher; Neil: not kosher; you: quite obviously not kosher. And yet Harvey was much more upset with Neil than with you. What gives?"

Danny shrugged. "I'm not Jewish. The rules don't apply to me." He took another bite of the potato salad, savoring the crumbled bacon.

Mart looked at the three brothers in turn.

Danny realized with all their dark coloring, any differences in facial features could be explained by the other two boys resembling Mr. Diamond and him resembling Mrs. Diamond. He nearly choked on his laughter and reached for a drink of water.

"Okaaaay ... Explain," Mart commanded.

"What? There's something you don't know?" Brian's voice held that brotherly teasing note that Danny was now quite familiar with.

"Don't worry, son," Mrs. Belden said with a mischievous grin. "I'll be sure to chop up an encyclopedia and mix it in with the hamburger meat for your next meal. Volume K or J or both?"

"Mmmm, yum. You're the best, Moms." Mart waggled his eyebrows. "Volume J, please. Besides Judaism, I'd love to know more about jellyfish and juggernauts. As to kashrut, those rules only apply to Jewish people, not the rest of us. I vaguely remember reading something about how the laws were meant to distinguish Jews from non-Jews. See, Brian, I do know that much." He turned his clear blue eyes back on Danny. "What I meant was, explain how it is that you're not Jewish, Danny, when your brothers are."

"Yes, please," Mr. Belden encouraged. "I'm curious about that myself."

"Well, to make a long, boring story short, both my parents died and the Diamonds took me in." Danny braced for the unwanted sympathy that was sure to pour forth from the Beldens.

"Neato!" Bobby exclaimed. "Another orphan. Our friend, Jim, is an orphan, too."

"Neato?" Brian spoke to his little brother in a voice full of embarrassment at this outburst. "I hardly think losing one's parents should be considered 'neato', Bobby."

Bobby frowned, then stuck his lower lip out in a pre-cry pout.

"That's okay. I know you didn't mean it like that," Danny said quickly and with a grateful smile just for Bobby, whose pout magically disappeared. He seized the chance to get the attention back off of himself. "So, who's this Jim fellow?"

"Jim Frayne. He's a good friend of ours and our neighbor. He and his sister, Honey, and our other friend, Diana, should all be coming over later this afternoon with our wayward sister." Brian proceeded to tell them all about the plans they had made for the weekend.

The mood around the table became more relaxed, but Danny felt himself tensing up a bit as he wondered how he, Neil, and Harvey would find out more about William Regan, or just plain find him, during what sounded like a busy four days. He would try to sneak in a call to the operator later and see if either Matthew Wheeler or his Uncle Willie had a listed number, complete with address.


chapter II: eating popcorn at the speed of light