GUILT VERSUS SHAME by Peter Nolan Smith

Back in the last century I left work on 47th Street early on December 24. Manny complained that I was deserting my post selling diamonds, but I had been working every day since Thanksgiving.

“I should pay you a half-day.” Manny was a grinch of the first-order.

“Do what you want. I’m heading home.” Boston was my destination. My mother was cooking a big turkey for our family’s Christmas feast.

I caught a train north and arrived at our suburban split-level ranch house on the South Shore in time for drinks and dinner. Our guests left a little before midnight and my mother requested her prodigal son attend church with her. I had been a non-believer since the age of 8, but I respected her faith and said, “Sure.”

I dressed in a dark-gray suit with a black cashmere polo shirt. My mother came into the room and asked, “Where’s your tie?”

“Mom, this shirt is pure cashmere.”

“But what about a tie?” My mother was old school.

“You can’t wear a tie with a polo shirt.” I had worn a tie every day at Our Lady of the Foothills.

My mother frowned with disappointment.

“I hope at my funeral you’ll wear a tie.” The words were drenched in sadness.

Ridden with guilt I changed my shirt and put on a tie. Saying no to my mother was difficult, especially with tears in her eyes.

Later the next week I related this story to the mother of my diamond employer. Hilda tsked and said, “That’s the difference between Jews and goyim.”

“What?” Her son and I were befuddled by Hilda’s statement.

“Your mother simply shamed you to wear a tie at her funeral, if it had been me I would have guilted my son by saying, “Once you kill me, I want you to wear a tie to the funeral.”

“Aha.” Richie Boy and I replied, for Hilda had explained the true depth of Jewish guilt in a single sentence.


We were all bad boys, except to our mothers.

To them we were saints.

Even if we didn’t wear a tie.

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