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henry kalisch

henry, ca 1930

The other night, I saw an Our Gang short that featured a lot of impressive ear-wiggling. Not only were the girls onscreen entranced by the mysterious ear maneuverings of their male counterparts, but I was too. Mostly because I wanted to know how the hell one little boy could wiggle his ears so damn well.

It also made me think of a story that I’d forgotten I knew, one about ear-wiggling.

Henry here, my grandmother‘s first cousin, could wiggle his ears. When my aunt Helene was a toddler and refused to eat, Henry was invited over a lot, precisely because of his ear-wiggling talents. What would happen is this: Helene sitting in her high chair would refuse to open her mouth to admit any spoonfuls of pureed broccoli, or whatever was on offer. Henry would wiggle his ears and she’d open her mouth in astonishment, allowing for the surreptitious deposit of food into her mouth.

This seems like a pretty good system, though potentially a little awkward since Henry wanted to marry my grandmother at one point and ardently pursued her, even though she said no. I don’t think Henry was married yet when Helene was a baby and the ear-wiggling-aided feedings were taking place, but maybe he was. And anyhow, maybe it wasn’t awkward at all: Henry and his wife were friendly with my grandparents up until Henry’s death in 1979, when my grandmother one day received an angry letter from his wife, who I will call R. This letter was fueled by jealousy and sadness that Henry was (I guess) always in love with her (Ethel, that is) instead of with R., and after that, they never talked again (to my knowledge, anyway).

Ethel, for her part — though I’m sure she felt badly about the whole thing — didn’t want to marry her own cousin, because first of all it would have been creepy. Secondly, she wanted to have a family and would never have dreamed of introducing children with their shared, first-cousin genes into the world. And thirdly, she was always in love with his older brother, Dorian, which is another story for another day.

Henry R. Kalisch (1905-1979)


One Response to “henry, ca 1930”

  1. margaret elizabeth said…
    this is hysterical. its also really sad that poor r harbored that jealousy her entire life and remained angry at ethel after he was gone. let it go. he married you.
    I want to learn to wiggle my ears.
    JANUARY 22, 2008 10:01 AM

    Aunt Helene said…
    I don’t have any idea what the food was that I refused to eat,it could have been grandma’s mushy broccolli. Aunt Helene
    JANUARY 23, 2008 9:23 PM

    rebecca ann said…
    m, i think it’s pretty darn funny, too, though also pretty sad. i’m also pretty disappointed that i obviously did not inherit the ear-wiggling gene from whoever henry got it from.
    aunt helene, i didn’t know my mom inherited her mushy broccoli cooking abilities from mama!
    JANUARY 24, 2008 12:42 PM

    Posted by rebeccafm | April 12, 2012, 1:23 pm

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