The Jewish Dad Who Loved Christmas

Half his associates were Jewish, and the other half were Italian. This may account for his interpretation of the holidays.

by Luellen Smiley • More.com Member { View Profile }

On Thanksgiving Day, the tradition was to arrive at his home at noon to walk. Like the cards and the outfit, the walk wasn’t negotiable. It was part of my tutorial. We walked two hours along Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica. He walked with his head a notch above everyone else to diffuse any interference. People often greeted him, and he kept walking. If I asked who that was he would say, “A lot of people think they know me, just keep walking.” He walked with his eyes, as much as his legs. He walked with the intention of continuing to school me on human relationships — right down to meeting a stranger in the street.

“Now, be at my house at 3:00 sharp for Arthur’s,” he said.

“Same crowd going this year?” I asked.

“Why? Does the same crowd bore you?” he responded.

“No, I’m just asking,” I said.

“Well don’t ask silly questions. Arthur can have any crowd he wants, who the hell cares. He saved my life — many times. He asked us to be a part of his family, you should be grateful. One day you’ll figure it out. Not everyone gets invited to Arthur Crowley’s home,” he said.

Every year we were greeted by Arthur’s slightly tipsy blonde bombshell wife, who opened the front door and cooed, “Allen dawling, where have you been?”  She kept us standing there as long as her routine lasted. My father said she was a showgirl. When I knew her, the shocking-pink, skintight outfits were outdated Vegas. She was Ziegfeld Follies beautiful, and always at least two scotches ahead of everyone else. My father wowed her with compliments that I could tell she needed desperately.

We headed to the bar, where the Crowley crowd was admiring Arthur, dressed in a black tuxedo with a red rose, and mixing cocktails. He beamed like a Christmas bulb. The home was Beverly Hills garish luxury: sunken living room facing the pool and heavily decorated with dead animals head, Arthur’s trophies, from big game hunting in Africa. I was informed the display was strictly for show.

At every party there were at least a handful of token celebrities, a comedian to keep the party alive, old clients who became friends, and mutual friends of my father. Dad was in control of the party. If someone dipped too far into obscenity or tasteless cynicism, he would close in with a subtle reprimand and remind them, “Careful, my daughters are here.” He was not a big drinker, but he held his glass up, as if he were, and I watched while all the others got drunk, and my father was the only one left with sober humor.

Each year, as I matured, the people became more transparent and likeable. There was one woman in particular I remember. A woman in her 50s with a face recently chiseled of time by a surgeon. She hovered over me with her diamond-encrusted hands on my shoulders, and unwound the lament of the rich, older, divorced woman. She was envious of my youth, my uncluttered life, my complexion, and my father. Mostly, she was disturbed by her loss of innocence; there was not any trace of it left. While I sat there, self-conscious of my inexperience and sheltered life, she symbolized a life of bad experiences, ones she could not take back, and ones that were mixed up in greed, power and money. I asked my father who she was, and he warned me to keep a distance. I tried to explain what I felt, but I did not know how. All these years later, I understand that woman.  

Then there was the stainless scrubbed beauty who had been discovered in Hawaii and married a wealthy tycoon. She appeared in the Hawaii Five O series for a few years. She never spoke; she just sat on the bar stool, smoking and wore her clothes with ornamental style.

During the dinner at the formal dining table, all the guests ate with minimal appetites and talked with dragging dry tongues. After dinner, we returned to the bar for nightcaps. Gradually the cajoling and antics turned into literary chopped liver. I left the gathering and sat on the sofa with their young daughter, Princess. She was blonde and had skin as fair as albacore. She sat on my lap in silence and apprehension. I tried to influence her mood, but she just stared back at me, in the same manner I had with the divorced woman in diamonds. 

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