The Happiest Man : A story from Danny Kaye.
June 24, 2018 0 Comments
“Following is an inspirational story written by Danny Kaye, famous Hollywood entertainer of his time.”
Jacob kominiski never achieved fame and never accumulated wealth.
He was a simple tailor, and pleased to be one. He walked the streets of our Brooklyn neighbourhood with great dignity , but always with a glint of laughter in his eye. He was my father, and most successful human being I ever knew.
As a child I didn’t fully understand his worth. When I saw how hard he worked for so little material award I felt sorry for him and a little ashamed at his lack of ambition. I was wrong on both counts.
He worked for a Seventh Avenue dress manufacturer and one summer evening he brought home an enormous sketch pad, a handful of soft pencils, and some wool and silk and cotton swatches. He announced that the boss was giving him a chance to become a dress designer, something he had long hoped for.
Night after night he worked until midnight or later. A slight man with thin fair hair and shoulders rounded by his trade, he stood by the kitchen table, bending over the sketch pad to make quick, swirling lines while mother at near by, mending. She was a beautiful woman with long aburn hair piled high above a serene face.
Supposedly asleep in the next room, my two brothers and I listened to the nightly routine : the sisbilance of pencil on paper for a long time, then pop calling mother, “Chaya, come look.”
Her dress rustled as she moved to stand beside him. Sometimes she made a suggestion for a change; usually she said, “I think it’s just fine.” And sometimes pop would draw an outstanding ornament so they could both laugh. Laughter was the part of everything he did.
When at last the sketches were finished, he took them off to work. Nothing more was said about them. Eventually I asked him, “Pop, what happened to the drawings?”
“Oh,” he said, “They weren’t any good.” Seeing my dismay he said, “Danny, a man can’t do everything in this world but he can do one job well. I found out I am not a good designer, but I am a good tailor.”
And there I found the key to the man, the key that let me understand better as I grew older. Jacob Kominiski never pretended to be something he wasn’t. Free from vanity or unrealisable ambition he was able to enjoy each day as it came.
The core of pop’s happiness was his family. Almost any event served as an excuse for a reunion with all our uncles and aunts and cousins. Such laughter and jokes and sheer loving exuberance and all sparked by my mother and father. They were always the first couple on the floor to dance, and the first to start singing the old folk songs. While the rest of us clapped hands to the rhythm. Part of Pop’s pleasure was showing off his wife , a shy sort of reverence. He thought no one in the world could match her. He once said of her, ” Where she walks there is light. “
Every night at dinner he reported the amusing things that happened in during the day. (We never heard of any defeats or frustrations.) The most ordinary events were hilarious when pop told us about them.
Pop enjoyed all men, but he reserved his friendship for a few – especially five cronies who had emigrated with him from Russia at the time of First World War. Once a month they gather in our kitchen for an evening of talk. All these men had achieved business success. Yet in many matters it was to Jacob Kominiski they turned for advice, knowing that he saw life clearly and his opinions could not be warped by envy.
They came to our rather shabby neighbourhood in big cars, wearing expensive suits, and smoking cigars. I once asked my mother, “Why do they come here instead of meeting in their own big houses?”
She thought for a moment, and then said, “I think may be they left best part of themselves here. They need to come back to it every now and then.”
When I was 13 my mother died. Through my own grief I was aware of the great loss these was to Pop. But he made only one reference to almost insupportable sadness. He said, “To be happy everyday is to be not happy at all. ” He was saying to his sons that happiness is not state achieve and keep, but something that must be won over and over, no matter what the defeats and losses.
In my early teens I ran away from home for the simple reason that I was bursting with curiosity about the world outside Brooklyn. I talked a pal of mine into going with me. Our thumbs got us lifts, we sang for food, and at night we appeared at the local police station to announce we were hitchhiking to relatives and asked to be put in a cell until morning. It worked well until we reached a small town in Delaware.
The chief of Police said, “You kids look like a couple of runaways. You say you are from Brooklyn? I shall just telephone and see if there ‘wanted’ on you.”
He found that there was indeed a missing person alarm for me. He soon had my father on the phone. After hearing I was alright, Pop seemed to relax.” You want me to send him home?”, the chief asked. “Oh, no”, father said. ” He wants to find out something. He will come home when he is ready.”
I was on the road for two weeks, and when I finally walked down the familiar street towards our house I began to get apprehensive. I was afraid I had hurt Pop by running away. How could I find the right words to explain to him why I went?
As it turned out, it was Pop who found the right words. When I came through the front door he looked up from his news paper, and a wonderfully warm and relieved smile went over his face. Then he gave me a wink and said, “There’s food in the ice box, Danny.” The words he had always greeted me with when I came home from school or play. So nothing had changed between us. He understood me, and my searching and longings, so unlike his own or my brothers.
His patience with me during my late teens was infinite. Both my brothers had jobs and were hardworking, responsible citizens, but I was moody and restless and could not settled down. I wanted to express myself, but I didn’t know how. Pop supported me uncomplainingly; once a week I found a five-dollar note tucked beneath my pillow, to save me the embarrassment of openly receiving pocket money.
My shortcomings did not escape the notice of Pop’s cronies. Every time they gathered in our kitchen they would ask, “Danny got a job yet?” Pop would shake his head and change the subject.
One evening I heard a voice say, “Jacob, I speak to you as a friend must speak. Danny is becoming a loafer. You should not allow this to happen.”
Pop said, “My son is searching for something he can devote his life to. I can’t tell him what it is. He shall never be happy unless he finds it for himself. It may take him longer than others, but he shall find it. I do not worry about him.”
Later that year I got a job as an entertainer, and suddenly I knew this was the career I had been searching for. The world of the theater was far removed from the world of Jacob Komoniski, the tailor, yet I found myself returning to him time and again, for the same reason his cronies did.
When I was 20, I got what every actor dreams of a permanent job! The A. B. Marcus show, ‘La Vie Paree’, was an extravaganza that had been touring the world for a quarter of century, and I joined the cast. We played the orient for a couple of years and then returned to the states for a series of one night stands when we reached the New York area, I went home to see Pop.
I had a problem, and I put it in front of him. This was at the depth of Depression (of 1929 which resulted from the collapse of U S stock market), actors were out of work by the hundreds, yet I wanted to leave the show because I needed new experiences and challenges. But also I was scared.
Pop heard me out, then said, “It’s very good to have a steady job.You shouldn’t be ashamed of liking it. But there are some people who always have to test themselves, to stretch their wings and try new winds. If you think you can find more happiness and usefulness this way, then you should do it.”
This advice came from a man who had never left a secured job in his life, who had the European tradition of family conformity and responsibility, but who knew I was different. He understood what I needed to do and he helped me to do it.
For the next few years I worked in nightclubs, and then I got my big theatrical break, appearing in ‘Lady In The Dark’ with Gertrude Lawrence.
After that I went to Hollywood , but even the glamour of movie capital did not awe Pop.
For some of the time between his retirement and his death at the age of 80 Pop lived with me and my family there. We had a big party one evening, and soon there was a crowd round him listening to his stories about Brooklyn and his Ukrainian Legends.
That I thought Pop might enjoy hearing some of the old folk songs we used to sing, the music and the memories were too much for him to resist, and he came over to join me. I faded away, and he was in the middle of the room singing alone, in a clear, true voice. He sang for 15 minutes before some of the World’s highest-paid entertainers. When he finished there was a thunderous applause.
This simple, kindly old man singing of our European roots had touched something deep in these sophisticated people. I remember what my mother had said about Pop’s rich cronies: “I think may be they left best part of themselves here. They need to come back to it every now and then.”
I knew the applause that night was not just for a performance, it was for a MAN.
Note : The story was there in the syllabus of rapid reading section in 12th class.