Breindl talks over her problems with Orna Zayit, who comforts her. Yehuda apologizes to his mother..
* * *
“When Ima was a little girl, we lived in Poland but your Zaidy Zalman wanted to move to America.” Breindl kept the sepia-toned picture they’d taken of Zaidy and Bubby Faiga for their passport wrapped up well in a small box she had for precious items. “Bubby Faiga already had a few children.”
“You were the oldest, like me!” Yehuda crowed.
“That’s right. Bubby Faiga needed a lot of help on the ship, coming with all the children and the bedding and the big trunks filled with our things, so guess who she took along on the trip?”
“Who?” Yehuda had never heard this story before.
“Aunt Esther! She was already twelve, a little older than you are now, and she was so much like a part of the family that I sometimes got confused. I would think she was my sister or my mother — I was little, and I wasn’t always sure what was the difference!”
Yehuda scoffed at that. He would never make such a mistake.
“Bubby and Zaidy always treated her like she was their own daughter, even though she was only their niece. Her parents were still in Poland and she never saw them again. She lived with us until she married Uncle Emanuel and then we didn’t see her so much afterwards.”
“Wait,” said Yehuda. “So you know Tanta Esther more than you know Fetter Emanuel?”
“I know her longer,” Breindl nodded. “A few years later Zaidy got very sick.”
This part Yehuda knew; he was morbidly fascinated by disease. “Tu-ber-cu-lo-sis,” he sounded out each syllable carefully. “T-B.”
“Right,” said Breindl. “Zaidy was sick and Bubby Faiga also got a little sick, but not like Zaidy. They didn’t have anyone to help them, until one day Aunt Esther came back. She brought food and money and most of all, she brought her time. Just like Bubby Faiga took care of her, now she came and took care of us. If it wasn’t for Mima Esther, I don’t know what would have happened to us. She had gardens growing outside her windows, and she gave us all the food from there, and she showed us how to grow our own. After that, we always had food.
“Then I married Abba, who was Fetter Emanuel’s brother, and we all moved here. Why am I telling you this?”
“I don’t know, Ima,” said Yehuda, wide-eyed and riveted by the story.
“Because, as soon as I saw Kalonymous and Hershel and Dovid’l — remember how they looked when they first came?”
“They were scary looking, so tiny and white.”
“When I saw them, I knew right away that it was my turn. I had to take care of them because they really needed me. Bubby and Zaidy did it first, caring for Mima Esther like a daughter and even marrying her off, then Mima Esther came back and took care of us. I knew how to do because it was already there inside of me, from Bubby and Mima Esther. It seems like they would have had more fun with Mima Esther and Fetter Emanuel, but I knew they needed to be with us. All of us knew.”
“I didn’t know you were such a gibborah, Ima,” Yehuda marveled.
“Neither did I.” Motti had been standing nearby, listening to Breindl tell her story. Of course he’d heard it before, but never all at one time, and not all of it from Breindl herself. He hadn’t paid attention to the glittering chain of chessed that had been quietly weaving its way down through their family. It made him prouder than ever to have been chosen to be her husband.
“How about some warm milk, and then bed,” Breindl offered. She took Yehuda’s arm and led him into the house, using every bone and muscle in her body to prove her love for him. She was sure he could feel it too.
“That was some story,” said Motti, later on. “It explains a lot.”
“I didn’t realize how much until I was actually saying the words,” said Breindl. “So,” she said, abruptly switching topics. “Berl and Fisch.”
“Yes. It’s stunning news.”
“What will we do?” asked Breindl.
“The only thing we can do, if we are going to make the boys whole again. They bonded so fiercely with them that I doubt they will ever bond with us in the same way. It would be egoistic and cruel to abandon Berl and Fisch and say that the best thing for the boys would be for them to forget. I don’t think they will love us any more or any less if Berl and Fisch are here.”
Breindl could hardly believe her ears. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
“I hope so. I’ll be sending shiffskarten for them, but I’d rather not mention it to the boys until they actually arrive. So many things could happen between now and then. I would hate for them to be disappointed.”
“Thank you, Motti. I agree with you.”
Yehuda, however, from his hiding place behind the door, made no such promise.
To be continued . . .