Mr. Green The Funnyman
Mr. Green arrived at my fourth birthday party dressed like any of our fathers, in a suit with a skinny striped tie and Scotch grain shoes.
“Hello, little doodlebug!” he bellowed.
His voice erupted from his nose. His tie popped up from his chest.
He knelt to my height.
* * *
In the early 1960s, Mr. Green had a lock on birthday parties for children who attended morning preschool at Lamplighter and whose parents belonged to Dallas, Northwood or Brook Hollow country club, where the parties took place.
Unlike our fathers, Mr. Green acted silly. “Shake hands with Mr. Green,” he would implore you—then tickle your palm with a buzzer or extend his hand and arm and walk right past you and turn around and do it again. (This routine alone entertained us for a good ten minutes. At my party, Travis Fanning laughed so hard that he wet his pants.)
Unlike our fathers, who were lawyers, doctors, or oilmen, Mr. Green was a funnyman. His businesscard showed a clown in a puffy white jumpsuit with green polka dots and white ruffled cuffs. “Mr. Stanley Green, The Funnyman,” the card read, “Tel: WH1-5225.”
* * *
We got all gussied up for birthday celebrations—the little boys in short pants and white shirts with Peter Pan collars under jackets or vests, the little girls in party dresses with full skirts and petticoats. To my party, Sarah Audrey Simonson wore the most beautiful dress I’d ever seen: sky blue with cup sleeves, white smocking and a long sash tied in a bow—the fabric so smooth and soft that I kept finding reasons to touch it.
I usually went out of my way not to touch Sarah Audrey. I avoided or ignored her. All of us did. Sarah Audrey wore glasses with icky red frames. She couldn’t catch, kick or throw a ball. She picked her nose.
* * *
There was something else about Sarah Audrey that few of the grown-ups spoke of and most of them reinforced: She was the only Jewish child in morning preschool. All the other Jewish girls and boys were in the afternoon class.
* * *
I don’t know how I knew (but I did know) that Mr. Green was Jewish.
* * *
Graylee Burkett wanted Mr. Green at her birthday party, but her parents said that people like him should not be allowed to enter the clubs “in any capacity whatsoever.”
Dr. and Mrs. Burkett also said that the Negro waiters should be replaced with white waiters.
My parents said that white waiters would cost too much money.
* * *
My parents also said:
- Hollywood is Jewish.
- Some of our best friends are Jewish.
- The Columbian1 has the best food in Dallas.
- Many Jewish people believe in Jesus, in their hearts.
* * *
Once each year, Dr. Kahn took Daddy to play golf and eat lunch at the Columbian, and once each year, Daddy took Dr. Kahn to play golf and eat lunch at Northwood.
Forty-eight little yellow boxes of Kodachrome slides attest that I did not like having my picture taken.
“Smile at the camera!” Daddy would say.
I would scowl or cry.
* * *
The photographs of my fourth and fifth birthday parties show me looking toward Mr. Green. I am beaming; I am laughing.
* * *
I wouldn’t say that Mr. Green loved us but that he loved his job.
We didn’t love Mr. Green, but we delighted in him. Of all the grownups, only he encouraged us to let our hair down and act goofy—like real little kids.
Each year, a month or so before our birthdays, we would get a postcard from Mr. Green. “Dear Elizabeth,” my postcards read, “I hope you’ve been a good little doodlebug this year, and I look forward to seeing you in January!”
In 1961 when I turned six years old, I didn’t want a party at Northwood with Mr. Green. I wanted a party at Thunderbird Roller Rink instead. That same year, Caroline Emery had her party at Wee St. Andrews Miniature Golf Course, and Walter Buel had his party at the Dallas Zoo.
I last saw Mr. Green in 1975 when he appeared at Swensen’s Ice Cream Parlor in Turtle Creek Village where I held a summer job. A wilted suit hung loosely on his broad gaunt frame. He dabbed his neck with a thin white handkerchief.
“Mr. Green!” I cried.
Courtly and kind (not remotely funny), Mr. Green asked after my parents. His expression altered from sad to sadder when I told him that Daddy had died.
* * *
I could have given Mr. Green an ice cream cone and reimbursed the till after he left, but in the moment it didn’t occur to me not to charge him—even when, after asking the price of a single-dip cone, he blanched and, after long consideration, said, “I’ll have one, Elizabeth, since it’s you [behind the counter].”
At the funeral home on the night before Daddy was buried, Mother came upon Dr. Kahn. He was standing beside the casket. He was wearing a yarmulke and a prayer shawl.
“Y'hei sh'mei raba m'varakh l'alam ul'al'mei al'maya,” Dr. Kahn chanted, “Yit'barakh v'yish'tabach v'yit'pa'ar v'yit'romam—”
“Do you mind?” he asked.
“That’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen,” Mother replied.
Yit'gadal v'yit'kadash sh'mei raba
b'al'ma di v'ra khir'utei
v'yam'likh mal'khutei b'chayeikhon uv'yomeikhon …
Rest in peace, Mr. Green.
1. The Jewish country club