What a Big, Wide World

What a Big, Wide World

by Beth Kozan

When I met Elliot in 1979, I soon realized how small my growing-up world was. The globe crossword tableworld that formed me was a small agricultural town on the West Texas Plains. The people in my town were mostly like me. Other ethnicities in our town were Mexican and Black. Sadly, in the ’40s and ’50s, we seldom interacted in a social way.

Our schools were segregated. The Blacks had their own schools; most of the Mexicans in our farming communities dropped out of our white schools before ninth grade, work being more important than staying in school. In 1960, my dad served on a Texas State Commission to evaluate (and defend) “Separate but Equal” schools. The first argument I remember having with my dad was over his attempts to justify segregation.

When my husband Doug (also from Floydada) was drafted, we moved to El Paso; he was stationed at Ft. Bliss. We would meet other young couples from other parts of the country and our first conversation would include: “What are you?” We didn’t know any other answer than “I’m a Texan.” But they meant: “What’s your ethnicity? Are you Jewish? Are you Gentile?” These were concepts of self-identity we had not yet formed.

Elliot was the first Jewish person I grew to know well. He hailed from the Bronx and spoke many languages well enough to greet people in Italian, Greek, Polish, Czech, Farsi, and Yiddish. After he moved to Arizona, he added Spanish and even some Navajo to his repertoire. We stopped at an Italian bakery soon after we moved to Phoenix, and I wandered off to the canned goods section. I heard him speaking Italian in a lively discussion with the woman at the register! That was a side of him I hadn’t known.

Along the way, Elliot took a job at a car lot in Phoenix owned by Muslims. Muslims do not charge interest on money they loan; it’s against their religion. He brought home a Koran. He read it in an effort to better understand the philosophy of his employers. I admired him for that.

Elliot passed away on October 12, 2017, from congestive heart failure. Over the 45 years I knew him, he held many different jobs, mostly in sales – shoes, insurance, clothes, and cars. He would approach an owner of a business when he was out of work and offer to work on commission only; he was that sure of his ability to achieve sales. Sometimes it worked out well, and other times it did not. In his later work years, he worked as a security officer, which paid an hourly wage and therefore built up a better resource of Social Security, which helped in his retirement.

He was self-taught in art and classical music, exposing both to me. I could not, however, learn to appreciate opera, especially the higher range. “You’d better get used to it,” he said. “That’s the voices of angels in Heaven.”

I replied, “Then I’ll go to hell, because I cannot stand to listen to that screeching for eternity!”

He was dynamite at working crossword puzzles, especially when it came to history and geography questions. He knew rivers and peninsulas and languages and shapes. He could stare at a book of maps for hours, and remember what he’d looked at.

Elliot opened my world.

Beth Kozan
is the author of the book Adoption: More Than by Chance and the forthcoming Beth KozanHelping the Birth Mother You Know. Beth worked in adoption for 35 years and retired to write. She has many more books than these titles to write and will emphasize and explore the concept of community in her additional books. “Growing up in a close agriculture-based, rural community in Texas, I felt the comfort and bonds of caring for others which is often missing in our busy lives today. Exploring and building communities for today is my writer’s goal.” Follow Beth on Facebook or visit her website, where she reviews books and films featuring adoption.

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5 Responses to What a Big, Wide World

  1. bchatzkel says:

    Beth – what a wonderful tribute to Elliott and to you for the world view he brought to your lives. At this time in our history, we need more folks with this way of thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A beautiful remembrance, Beth. I admire your writing so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ritagoldner says:

    You must have been a good learner, because I see you as so smart and broad minded now.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. marym500 says:

    Great post! I enjoyed reading this and I’m so glad Elliott was a meaningful part of your life.

    Liked by 1 person

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