A well-known citizen in El Dorado for the decades of the 40’s through the 70’s was Irving Leon Pesses. He was better known by his nickname, Izzy Pesses and was a prominent businessman that owned and operated Pesses and Marks Pipes and Supply Company. Originally Izzy was from New Orleans and had graduated from Tulane University as a civil engineer. He and his family were members of the small Jewish community in El Dorado and worshipped at the Temple Beth Israel there.
Izzy was a tireless businessman and civic leader, and I was told he seldom travelled outside of Union County for either business or pleasure. He served the town as Mayor from 1967 through 1976, working very hard to improve the streets and infrastructure of a town that had declined in wealth and population since the oil boom days of the 1920’s. One of his famous campaign slogans was “Izzy’s Been Busy,” and he truly lived out that slogan.
I was told that he had made a promise to his wife that upon his retirement, he would take her on a long vacation to Europe. As he neared the time he had decided to retire, she reminded him of his promise made years before. He told her to schedule the trip, but reminded her that he was not flying because of his distrust of airplanes. She scheduled an ocean voyage to Europe, which left out of New York City. They travelled to New York by rail and boarded the giant ocean liner for the 5 day trip across the Atlantic.
They obviously had no experience with ocean travel, but quickly discovered they were assigned regular seating for every meal in the dining room with the same travelers. They did not meet their table companions until the first meal of that first day which was in the evening. One of the four other guests at their table was a gentleman from France who was returning home after visiting relatives in the USA. He could not speak English and neither Izzy nor his wife could speak French. As they were seated that evening, there was some initial discomfort and uneasiness with the strangers at their table. The gentleman from France seated directly across from Izzy spoke first and said, “Bon Appetit,” to which Izzy held out his hand to shake and said, “Pleased to meet you. I’m Izzy Pesses.” Izzy’s conversation for the remainder of the meal was with his wife and the others at the table since he couldn’t understand a word the Frenchman said.
The following morning after an evening at sea, they gathered at the table for breakfast and immediately after sitting, the Frenchman said, “Bon Appetit.” Izzy was a bit taken back, but held out his hand again to shake and said, ” I’m Izzy Pesses.” No other words or gestures were made between the two. The lunch meal seemed to come too quickly following breakfast, but again shortly after sitting, the Frenchman said, “Bon Appetit.” Izzy responded again with a handshake and his name, Izzy Pesses but summoned the table steward and whispered, “Is that man sitting across from me crazy? He has introduced himself to me 3 times and each time I told him my name. This could go on for the whole trip.” The steward asked,” What was it he said?” “He said his name was Bone Appetit.” The steward said, “That’s not his name. He was just saying, have a good meal in French.” Izzy said, ” Well, that makes a lot more sense. Thanks.”
That evening as the guests were again being seated, it was Izzy that looked across the table, and he politely said to the Frenchman, “Bon Appetit,” to which the Frenchman reached across the table to shake hands and proudly said, ” Izzy Pesses!” They both laughed without either one knowing what the other had said. The correct meanings of the spoken words escaped both men, but the cordial spirit of each one bridged all the language and cultural barriers. They had a pleasant crossing, enjoyed the trip, and probably continued greeting and introducing themselves at each meal!