May 26, 2024
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May 26, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

I must have been 11 as I think back and remember Julius, who was a kind-hearted man who cared about me and the kids in the neighborhood. Julius was the husband of Molly, my mother’s best girlfriend from the old country. He would always talk to us, giving us advice, teaching us things, especially the stuff that we shouldn’t be doing. His pet phrase was, “Ya dassn’t do that!” which meant that, “You shouldn’t do that!”

Ya dassn’t do that! He’d say it softly, with such conviction each time that it made you kinda sit up and listen. The word dassn’t, where did it come from? No one really knew, but we all understood exactly what that phrase meant. The fact that the word itself was so foreign gave it power beyond its actual meaning, because we couldn’t help wondering what he was going to say each time he used it. In his mind it was real, this special word that always got our attention. Often, when he used that word we had to compose ourselves to keep from laughing. He would say,”Ya dassn’t do that! Throwing a baseball near windows!” It really did make sense. “Running from the sidewalk out into the middle of the road to catch a ball, ya dassn’t do that!” “You could write on the sidewalk with chalk, the rain will wash it off, but writing on the walls, ya dassn’t do that!” “Being noisy outside when babies were sleeping in their carriages, ya dassn’t do that!” “Riding a bicycle very fast on the sidewalk where people were walking, ya dassn’t do that!” “Shouting dirty words for any reason, ya dassn’t do that!” He said all of these things.

Dassn’t, a strange word that I remember to this day as I think of him. Would I have remembered all those things he said and taught us, if he never used that word? I don’t think so!

I recall at that time, pondering, if I should challenge him on the authenticity of that word. I decided not to, because if I proved that there was no such word it might embarrass him and make him feel bad, and that would surely be something ya dassn’t do! Oops!

By David Weinstein

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