Page 130 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 49

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
colourful neighborhood comprising a number of cat-houses,
small grocery stores, immigrants.” The ethnic and social distinc­
tions inscribed in his immediate neighborhood gave him his first
lesson in boundaries, oppositions, and limits. Remembering lat­
er what he had unconsciously absorbed from his environment,
Layton described how Montreal’s cityscape established his own
identify of otherness:
In Montreal the dom inant ethnic groups stared at one ano ther
balefully across their self-erected ghetto walls. Th ree solitudes.
I remember the feelings o f anxiety I had as a boy whenever
I crossed St. Denis Street. This street marked the bo rde r between
the Jewish and French-Canadian territories. East o f St. Denis
was hostile Indian country densely populated with church-going
Mohawks somewhat older than myself waiting to ambush me . . .
Bleury Street and beyond, walking westward, took me into that
o the r ghetto, the one where the Anglo-Saxons lived in tree-lined
and privileged aloofness . . . So that when I found myself in
Westmout . . . I ’d feel a d iffe ren t kind o f menace. One that was
internal ra the r than external in its thrust.
But the lesson of the streets was a generalized social version
of what the young boy was already intimately acquainted with
at home. In his own parents Layton had an immediate, indelible
exposure to the existence of self-enclosed personalities who, in
their distinctive individuality, represented to him the irrecon­
cilable polar extremes of temperament and sensibility. In them
he first experienced the clash of opposites that was to be trans­
muted into the typical dialectical mode of his mature thought.
Layton’s father had been a bookkeeper in the old country,
but he was unable to adjust to the new economic realities in
Canada. A deeply religious man, his answer to the disappoint­
ments and frustrations of daily life was to retreat into a world
of his own making, shutting out the clamorous surroundings
by concentrating on the spiritual reality he found in holy writ.
In the son’s memory the father is more often aching absence
than affirming presence. The closed door to the father’s study-
room also shut out the actual world of striving, contest, and
engagement. The father’s withdrawal left the mother to cope
with family’s economy and welfare. She was an energetic, ar­
gumentative woman, who supported the family by maintaining
a small grocery store in the converted living room of their flat.
Unlike the father, she was forceful, demanding, and vituper­