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Small Talk

"Wouldn't you like them? Please take them." I had opened the front door to find my elegant, Hungarian-born neighbor, Magda, holding out two beautiful playsuits.

One was royal blue and the other was a deep pink, the color of raspberry ice-cream.

"Please take them: Suzanne's growing so fast – and I'd hate to throw them out." I hesitated – for about two seconds. What did they say about beggars and choosers? Not that we were beggars: my husband had a reasonably-paid job as a junior lecturer and I put the cherries on the cake by giving private lessons. But you couldn't rely on the cherries or, rather, the schoolchildren. It seemed that, every week, there were reasons, good reasons, why one or two of them could not have their lessons. There were school trips, they felt ill, they were in the school play ("I've got a rehearsal tonight – and one tomorrow.") And, all the time, there was a never-ending stream of bills to be paid (the mortgage, nursery school, water, gas, the telephone, electricity) and our little Rosie was growing like the proverbial beanstalk. We always paid the bills on time – I had a dreadful fear of being "cut off" -- but there wasn't much left over for luxuries.

So I took the playsuits. Both, I noticed, came from Chez Lilith, the rather expensive shop for children's clothes in the center of town. And, suddenly, I realized that I was following, more or less, in my mother's footsteps. When I was Rosie's age, my mother had gladly accepted clothes for me and my younger sister from her cousin, Sarah ("But that was family," said a small voice in my head – I ignored the voice and put the clothes in Rosie's cupboard).

And so it continued. Every few weeks, it seemed, Magda gave me beautiful clothes for Rosie and thanked me as though I were doing her a great favor. I learned, very quickly, not to mention these wonderful gifts to my sister when she came to visit us; she said nothing but it was very clear that she did not approve. Obviously, she did not remember that we had both worn hand-me-downs from my mother's cousin. I told her that Magda's husband was a senior doctor at the local hospital, but her feelings of disapproval hung in the air.

Once, to ward off any (unspoken) criticism when Rosie was wearing a particularly cute little sweater, I said that I'd been lucky in that I'd found it at a reduced price at Chez Lilith. But I don't know whether she believed me.
One day, my husband's principal gave me a sweet little dress for Rosie on her third birthday. Buttercup-yellow, the little dress looked as though it had been made for her. But I couldn't get it over her head – she emerged in tears from our joint efforts to dress her, and her face was a frightening shade of scarlet. Luckily, the dress came with a slip so that I could exchange it for something else at the shop. So off I went to Chez Lilith and explained the situation; there was no problem and, for the price of the dress I was able to buy three sets of small flannel pyjamas. Not as pretty as the little dress but they were very necessary.

I was just about to leave the shop when I spotted some little slippers in Rosie's favorite color (rosy pink as you might expect) which were decorated with pompoms. I bought them. Let's admit it: flannel pyjamas are something useful -- but one could hardly call them a birthday present. The slippers fitted Rosie perfectly and, as I expected, she loved the pompoms. "Lovely, lovely," she cooed. "Where are they from?" "From Chez Lilith." She looked at me as though I were half-witted.

"Not the shop," she said slowly for the benefit of the slow-minded. "Who gave them to us?"

How this story brought back Judy Frankel's childhood memories

I was proofreading this delightful account by Marion Lupu with such a happy smile. It brought back such vivid memories for me. My late father, (Grandpa Charlie to our two adoring children), kept a children's wear shop in Thornton Heath, South-West London from the 1950s – 1980s and while they were growing up I too, like Marion, became the privileged recipient of virtually all their clothing free of charge. It's hard to calculate how much money we would have been saving as this generous stream of outerwear, underwear and sportswear came our way whenever we visited my parents from our own home in North-West London.

Judy Frankel



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