River Journal invites local residents to submit pieces they have written. The following two stories are from writers in Irvington and Sleepy Hollow. Please contact us at RiverJournal@aol.com for additional information.
Gimbels Department Store was Zoli’s oasis, an island of calm, an escape from the troubles and stresses of everyday life. One Saturday she planned a day in the City, taking the BMT subway to Manhattan from the 18th Avenue station in Brooklyn and, even though there was a better use for money these days than for luxuries, it didn’t matter as she always had a small cache squirreled away for personal necessities, like glycerine and rose water, her favorite lotion.
When traveling alone, Zoli usually wrapped some extra change in a handkerchief and secured it with a safety pin inside her winter muff to be sure she was covered for the five cent subway ride home to Bensonhurst. Also, perhaps, enough for a bag of hot roasted chestnuts from the street vendor, which was a life saver in bitter cold weather, to warm ice-cold hands inside her muff.
It happened to be the day before Easter and although Gimbels was buzzing with activity there were very few sales as most families had come with small children just to enjoy the colorful holiday decorations. On the store’s second level, Zoli noticed a crowd peering into a glass-enclosed display. As she moved in closer to explore, she saw that it was a large incubator filled with newly-born baby chicks and dozens of still unhatched eggs.
She sat down on one of the benches the store had provided to watch the tiny yellow furballs pecking their way out of their shells while the supervisor gave each delighted, wide-eyed child an Easter chick to take home. After awhile, there was a loud announcement on the store’s public address system. Gimbels was closing earlier today because of the holiday. They were asking their customers to finish shopping and start exiting the store in the next hour. Zoli began buttoning her coat and adjusting her hat in anticipation of leaving and confronting the cold and windy March afternoon. She turned around for one last glimpse at the incubator and gasped at what she saw happening. The man in charge was scooping up handfuls of unhatched eggs along with newly hatched chicks and dumping them unceremoniously into a large garbage container.
“What in heaven’s name are you doing!” Zoli demanded,grabbing the man’s arm in mid-air with both her hands “None of your business, Lady!” the man responded, roughly removing Zoli’s hands from his arm.
“You can’t do that,” Zoli insisted. “It’s inhumane; those are live chicks and the eggs are ready to hatch. It’s against the law to torture live animals!”
The man made an effort to be patient with Zoli, who was now very agitated, and calmly explained that the store manager had given him very specific instructions to destroy any chicks and eggs that were left over at the time the store was closing. The heat in the incubator had to be turned off for safety reasons because Gimbels would be closed tomorrow for Easter and without heat all the chicks and eggs would die anyway. They would not be opening again until l0am Monday morning. There was no other option. Period!
“Oh, my God!” Zoli screamed. It’s terribly cruel and I can’t just walk away and let this happen. It’s like a nightmare!”
A small crowd had gathered and was watching this spectacle when two police officers showed up to see what the commotion was all about.
“Look, ma’am,” one of them said. “I am asking you to leave the premises or we will have to take you down to the station house. 1 mean, the store is about to close and you must leave now!’
“I am not leaving this store until something is done about these innocent creatures even if I have to stay here all night!,” Zoli threatened.
The other policeman offered a kind of tongue-in-cheek solution. “Hey, Lady, why don’t you take the whole kit and kaboodle home with you?”
Everyone started laughing at this wry suggestion and poking fun at Zoli as if she was some crazy woman.
Undaunted by the comments of the crowd, Zoli quickly analyzed the situation. She could see at least a hundred eggs and God knows how many chicks still inside the glass enclosure. She knew her limitations; she was very petite, only five feet tall and, as usual had high heel pumps on. Could she take on this challenge?
“Okay, God help me,” she declared. “Bring me some large double shopping bags,” and I’ll try my best to get them home to Brooklyn on the subway!”
Zoli arrived home later than expected. When I opened the front door to greet her, I was speechless. She was a total mess, looking more like a bag lady than my meticulous mother. Her hat was askew, her coat unevenly buttoned with sticky stains all over it and there were peeping chicks everywhere — in her muff, her pockets, the inside of her coat and overflowing from two huge shopping bags onto the polished flooring of our apartment foyer.
“For God’s sake, don’t just stand there with your mouth hanging open!” she ordered, “Hurry up and find me a large box or I will not survive long enough to explain all this!”