Kalonymous remembers that the now-abandoned Hohmann estate has a cold-storage room, and it is still full of supplies that the boys live on. When the weather gets cold, Kalonymous moves them all back from the woods and into the house, even though they now risk being found.
* * *
The next time Emanuel and Esther came to visit, they brought Papa and Mama. Emanuel had built them a beautiful apartment right next to theirs, and he and Esther cared for them devotedly.
When Emanuel told Papa about the boys, he became immediately suspicious. “We do have relatives in Germany,” he clucked. “But I don’t know who these children could possibly belong to.”
He had been urging Emanuel to bring the boys to the house so he could get a good look at them, but every time Emanuel asked about it, Motti and Breindl would always demur with “Soon,” or “It’s not a good time now.” Emanuel tried to convince them that the loving presence of older relatives would do wonders for the boys, but Breindl was uncharacteristically firm.
“They are barely getting used to us,” she explained. “Don’t get me wrong — they are lovely children, and they are coming along beautifully. It’s just slow, and a little complicated.” Breindl thought back to the horrific sight of Dovid’l kneeling by the side of his bed. She couldn’t get the image out of her mind. “I don’t know yet what will set them off. They have a lot of fears. You understand, don’t you?”
Emanuel understood perfectly, but his father was another story. “We’ll go to them,” he declared. “Arrange a car, and we’ll drive out to Motti’s.”
Motti and Breindl tried to protest, but they knew it was a losing battle. They set a date for the following week, and set to work preparing the boys for the upcoming visit.
She still sat with them while they ate and before they went to sleep, so she used that time to tell them stories about Uncle Emanuel and Tatty when they were boys. “According to Fetter Emanuel, he and Fetter Motti were very energetic. They would run around and get into all kinds of mischief.”
Hershel and Dovid’l thought it was hysterically funny to imagine serious Fetter Motti as a mischievous boy. “Do you know his mommy and tatty?” they asked.
“Of course! They live in Yerushalayim with Uncle Emanuel and Tanta Esther. Did you ever meet your grandparents?”
“Of course we did!” Kalonymous interrupted. “Who doesn’t know their own grandparents?”
In fact, he could barely remember them. They had once boarded a train with their mother and traveled overnight, arriving in their mother’s home town weary and hungry. Kalonymous remembered that everything about her seemed dry. Her hands when she patted them were dry, her cheek was dry when she demanded kisses from them, the food she served them — dry. Being there reminded him of a stricter version of their own home.
His grandfather, on the other hand, was pure joy. He had leaned over to each of them in turn, shaken their hands warmly and introduced himself. He asked them what they were learning in cheder and the name of their rebbi.
After a few days, he started rounding them up after breakfast and taking them for long walks. He told them stories from the parashah, asked them riddles and taught them to whistle with their fingers. He brought them into his shop and handed each of them a block of wood and a knife, then proceeded to teach them step by step how to carve a sailboat. In the evening he would build a fire and give them warm apple cider with cinnamon to drink. He would play sweet melodies on a violin that would lull the boys to sleep. They couldn’t remember ever being so happy in their lives.
Meanwhile, the two women spent their time in the kitchen, baking, canning, drinking large mugs of tea and speaking in low tones. There were no hills and valleys in their voices, no scenery to marvel at. There was only the continuous hum of words traveling down a highway.
After the boys were asleep, the zeide would go into the kitchen and speak in adult tones to his daughter. “They need a father!” he’d say. “They are starving for it.”
“You think I don’t know that? I am doing the very best I can,” replied Balka.
“Shah,” said her mother. “You’ll wake the children.”
But the children were already awake, Kalonymous at least, listening to every word being said. The zeide’s tone frightened him, and he could not reconcile it with the man he’d grown to love. He was relieved when his mother packed their bags the next day and they walked the short distance to the train station. They never went to visit them again.
“How would you like to meet Fetter Motti and Fetter Emanuel’s tatty and mommy?” Breindl interrupted Kalonymous’s train of thought. “Would you enjoy that?”
Hershel and Dovid’l didn’t know what to say, and they looked to Kalonymous to tell them how they were supposed to feel. Kalonymous remembered how he had come to love his zeide, and then his disillusionment when the zeide had spoken harshly to his mother. He would hate to hear that between Fetter Motti and his father.
“No,” he replied to Breindl. “I don’t think we would enjoy it at all.”
To be continued . . .