Old Man Taratoot

Reads: 376  | Likes: 3  | Shelves: 1  | Comments: 1

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

More Details
Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
Written in response to writing prompt, "Old Man Taratoot"

Submitted: October 14, 2018

A A A | A A A

Submitted: October 14, 2018

A A A

A A A


Old Man Taratoot

Rootie Toot Toot…Rootie Toot Toot, we’re the boys from the Institute..a ditty chanted by children across the country. But in the south, we have our own version: Rootie Toot Toot … Rootie Toot Toot, I know a boy named Taratoot.

The south is a different place, and one of its peculiarities is its preponderance of people named Taratoot. Whitepages.com shows 57 Taratoots living in Georgia, far more than the 8 other listed states, none of which boasts a double digit number of Taratoots. Growing up in Atlanta, I knew quite a few. Harvey Taratoot was a year or two ahead of me in school. He wore a resplendent duck tail, greased back into a mighty V, and drove a red, black and white Ford Fairlane whose fins challenged his d.a. in sweep. Elliot Taratoot was in my class, and one of the nicest guys you’d ever meet. He had a gentle soul, but his size and maybe his curly reddish hair earned him the nickname, Bubba:  The one and only Jewish Bubba I have ever known.

But the Taratoot who lingered in my thoughts over the years is none other than “Old Man Taratoot”. That is how he is known. Ask anyone who  lived in Atlanta during the pre or post World War II years if they knew Old Man Taratoot, and chances are you’ll get a reflective nod, a sly upturn of a smile, and an encouraging, “Ahh… Old Man Taratoot”.

For me, he is a memory, as flitting as a firefly on a sultry, summer night. Yet his ephemeral presence is also a root for me, anchoring my Jewishness, my southern-ness, my first awareness of who I am and to whom I belong.

I can’t tell you much. He is a shadow memory, so distant that I don’t know if I truly recall, or if he is merely a memory of a memory. What I remember can be put in a thimble: a kindly old man, dressed in black, with white hair, white beard and twinkling eyes. There was tenderness about him, goodness. He lived on the first floor of his home, and rented the second floor to my family. I recall a looming staircase separating these two domains. To my three or four year old perspective, this divider was massive.

The house was on Washington Street in the part of town where the Jews of Atlanta lived in the late 1940s. It was walking distance from not one, but two shuls, each an awe-inspiring edifice. The yellowing bricked outside sheltered a central bema, with seats and worshippers surrounding the staff of life, the Torah. I’ve always thought that Old Man Taratoot had an important role in one of these shuls.

How comforting this man and this setup must have been to my mother, a war bride, a “Yankee”… brought to live in Atlanta Deep South, by her soldier husband. She and her family were from Poland, Orthodox Jews steeped in Jewish tradition, foods and Yiddishkeit. My father, a true Southerner, born in Forsythe, Georgia had no religious background. His mother died when he was 11, and he more or less raised himself. He put himself through Georgia Tech, became a chemist, enlisted in the army and was stationed in New Jersey where he met my mother. The war ended, I was born, and the three of us moved to Atlanta, finding a room with Old Man Taratoot. I can’t help but think that Old Man Taratoot and his Old World ways must have eased my mother’s transition to her new life.

The strange thing about my family is that my mother who came from a religious family in later life seemed not to care about keeping the traditions and following the rules. And my father, who never had a Bar Mitzvah, couldn’t read Hebrew, whose science background caused him to question religious doctrine, became more observant and more studied as he matured. I wonder…what part did Old Man Taratoot play in this evolution of my father’s?

Over the years, Old Man Taratoot became a part of my past. The Jewish community of the South is a tight knit clan. I am only a half breed, born in New Jersey, and with only one native Southern parent I found that  starting life in such a close relationship with this esteemed person brought me unexpected credibility. On more than one occasion,  was greeted with an unexpected cry of amazement, “You lived with Old Man Taratoot!!!??”  I was one of them after all.

Even now, Old Man Taratoot is providing a pathway for me to the past and my family. Recently, I wrote to my father’s one living brother to ask him about Old Man Taratoot. He confirmed my vague impressions, succinctly writing, “Yes, Mr. Taratoot lived on Washington Street and your parents and you lived  in the same house for a while.  Also, he was either an official or acting Rabbi. The shuls were on Washington Street and the Alliance was on Capitol Ave near Memorial Drive.” I received a follow-up email about other times. He encouraged me to ask him anything, and seemed truly pleased to be asked about what was. Thank you, Old Man Taratoot, for being the impetus to this renewed conversation with Uncle Joe.

There is so much that I don’t know about Old Man Taratoot, and probably never will. What I do know is there was a man in Atlanta, a good man, known by all as Old Man Taratoot. I knew him once, and he made a profound impression on me. His spirit has played a gentle game of tag with me off and on throughout my life. Zichrono L’bracha, Old Man Taratoot.


© Copyright 2020 Gracecat. All rights reserved.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Add Your Comments: