Henry the Jew

I recently joined a Facebook “Conversation Group” called “I Grew Up In Washington Court House”. It’s been very interesting reminiscing about places and people from our past. Most of the people on the page seem to be within my generation.

One person wrote, “Do you remember Henry the Jew? I’m not racist but it’s what he was called.” Henry Friedman owned several junkyards in Fayette County. One must realize that Henry Friedman was probably the only Jew that many members of the Conversation Group ever knew. Henry had an encyclopedic knowledge of his inventory–this was before computers–and could tell one if he had it at the “other” junkyard.

On the Facebook page, I wrote how I’d gone with my brother to town and he wanted to stop by Henry’s to look for a car part. Henry was sitting on a metal chair in front of the yard eating watermelon which he was cutting and eating with a pocket knife. He offered me a chunk of melon which I accepted. I asked if I could look at his newspaper which was “The Daily Forward”. He said, “You canna read it.” I answered, “Oy gevaldt, of course I can!” As I was trying to find some of the Yiddish words I knew, he took the paper and started translating for me.

All of my brothers regaled us with stories about Henry. To this day we all pronounce transmission as “trahns-uh-mission” as Henry did. My brother Roger said Henry always said, “Tell ya what I’m gonna do!” and that he always wanted one to give him the old part they’d taken off the vehicle. “Do I have a deal for you!” All parts were priced “10 dollah!” and then one could dicker. Norman went to get a drive shaft and they were in a pile “10 feet high and 40 feet wide” (of course Norman said he might be exaggerating a little). Norman said he told Henry he couldn’t find what he needed and Henry said, “If they make it, then I’ve got the son of a bitch!” Norman also said that Henry would say that he’d just taken the part “right off my Chevy” even though we knew he drove a Cadillac! Henry would allow one to return anything for another part but would never give back the 10 dollah!

Although most comments on the Conversation Group were of a humorous nature, several people on the site made some stereotypical comments which I was obligated to correct.

One person wrote about how Henry would come out with a shotgun and that he couldn’t believe how fast he could ride his bike getting away from Henry! Another thought that Henry lived at the junkyard but Henry actually lived at the Hotel Washington; my husband was a bellhop there when he was in high school and he knew Henry very well; Gerald has very warm feelings about Henry because he was a generous tipper! Gerald bought a HEMI from Henry which is a humorous detail of our courtship. [My mother disapproved of my dating Gerald and my brother Roger told her, “He’s OK, Mom; he has a HEMI on his front porch with a flower-pot on top!”]

What most people did NOT know about Henry was that he was a Holocaust survivor from a concentration camp who was able to get to America because other family members had escaped. Yes, he had a tattoo on his forearm. Norman said he saw him once in a local drinking establishment and hardly recognized him because he was dressed in suit and tie with a comely blonde on his arm. One person on the site commented that her grandmother said Henry was the best dance partner!

I would have liked to have seen that! I wish I had talked more to him.

2 thoughts on “Henry the Jew”

  1. Did Henry own the junk yard that was south of town close to NCR and Armco? I remember going there many times with guys looking for car parts.

    By the way, one of my high school friends kept a fully chromed Ford flat-head V8 engine in his bedroom. I remember helping carry it up the narrow stairway and thinking how cool it was to have a flat-head next to your bed.

  2. Nice story, Sue. Demographically, Greenfield was much like WCH back in the 50s but we did had several Jewish families in town. One was a banker, one a doctor, another a retail merchant and, like Henry, one ran a junk yard.

    How many of you older Greenfielders remember any stories about our Charlie Cohen?

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