My Parents

I doubt if we are given a choice of parents. If we are, and I’d known what I know now about human beings, I’d probably have been an elephant. You say elephants are an endangered species, but believe me, human beings are an endangered species. However, if I’d been given a choice of parents, and assigned to the human race, I’d have chosen Ida Lewis and Jonas Dreyfus. I might not have said that when my father’s hairbrush was being applied to my bottom, when I was young. But looking at the whole record, he was the best.

My mother had a lovely face, and beautiful red hair, the sort called auburn. She let it grow long, but wore it in a bun in back of her head. Everybody commented on it. I tell you more about her in another section. My sisters Lorraine and Joan and I vied for her attention. And we all got an equal amount of love.

There was a fourth contender for Mother’s attention. Her name was Trixy, a toy fox terrier, white with black spots. (There was a law in those days that all small female dogs be named Trixy.) Trixy liked my sisters and me, but she loved Mother. Whenever she had a choice, she was with her. When Dad was out of town visiting candy jobbers, Trixy slept with Mother. Otherwise she alternated between my sisters’ bed and mine. Even when Dad was in town, Trixy got use out of Mother’s bed. As soon as Dad left for the candy factory, Trixy would be in the bed, a little lump under the covers. Mother didn’t mind, she made the bed up later. During school days my sisters came home for lunch between twelve and one. Mother would pick them up in our Buick—our family was sold on Buicks. Trixy made the trip—Mother wouldn’t think of going anywhere without her. The first couple of times she had to wake up Trixy. From then on, just when Mother was ready to leave, Trixy would come out of the covers, in a rush. Mother couldn’t understand this. How did Trixy know when to come out? Finally she caught on. Just before leaving, Mother would pick up the car key, on the key ring. There would be a tinkle—and Trixy.

When I was young my father was strict with me. I wouldn’t say he was a disciplinarian, but of the school that said, “Children should be seen and not heard.” His mother was German and Grandpa Dreyfus was from Alsace-Lorraine, German or French, depending on who won the last war. I was told that the Germans were stricter than most. Perhaps that influenced Dad’s attitude, although he was born in Montgomery. As I have said, Dad went to Starke’s University School and got the pernicious idea that lies were terrible. I quickly learned to avoid lies, unless absolutely necessary. For instance, sometimes you get into a spot where if you tell the truth you’re going to get a licking—you have nothing to lose with a lie—occasionally it works.

Dad’s procedure in giving me a licking was formal. We visited the bathroom together. He’d sit on the toilet seat and ask me to hand him the hairbrush. Then I’d lie over his lap, and the brush would be applied to my behind. When I had received a certain amount of whacks, I would start to yell and my mother would rush into the bathroom and take the brush out of Dad’s hand. He never argued with her—even when I wised up and started to yell before the first whack arrived. Of course, that old “It hurts me more than it hurts you” was stated. The “But not in the same place,” I kept to myself.

Dad used to correct me a lot, particularly at the dinner table. I began to think that good table manners were a sure way to Heaven. I like the song, “Mable, Mable, sweet and able, keep your elbows off the table.” Elbows on the table were my biggest weakness. Sometimes my feelings would get hurt. I would cry, and leave the table without finishing dinner. I once told this to my former wife, Joan, who didn’t have corrective parents at all. In fact, I think she corrected them. She told me that sometimes her feelings got hurt at the table and she would leave, but she always took her plate with her. Parents can love their children and bring them up differently. Mine, particularly Dad, were the corrective type. Joan’s parents thought the best way was to let her figure it out for herself. I got a laugh out of her once when I said, “If your parents saw you walking on the edge of the Grand Canyon, they would have said, ‘Gee, I hope she doesn’t slip.’ ”

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I’ve always had a small ego. I am sure the psychologists would say that it was because of my father. But maybe my ego isn’t small, just realistic, and is small by comparison with others that aren’t realistic. The main thing is that Dad loved me and was doing what he thought best. He did many things that gave me pleasure. I’ll never forget when I was in my early twenties and had lost a lot of money gambling. I asked Dad if I could borrow $10,000. He lent it to me without even asking what it was for.

My mother died when she was forty-nine, of a stroke. It was a shock, and I didn’t get over it for a long time. When Mother left she was convinced I’d never make a living. Dad lived to be eighty-eight, and he was happy in his last ten years. We lived only a block apart in New York. I would visit him once or twice a week and spend an hour or two with him, and we both enjoyed it. When Dreyfus & Co. started to be successful and our advertising campaign was going well, Dad eased up on “constructive criticism.” When we did really well, my secretary, Helen, told me that every once in a while Dad would chuckle, and say, “We never thought Jack would amount to a hill of beans.”

Years back I was listening to the beautiful music of Don McLean, in a plane 40,000 feet in the air. A thought came that brought tears to my eyes. President Nixon had just sent me his insightful book, In the Arena. It was autographed to “My favorite genius.” The thought that brought the tears was, “What if my mother and father could know that a President of the United States had written this to their little boy.”

Next Section: Family Life

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