Rena asks Mrs. Nathan to contact the Asoulin family and tell them that their benefactor Rabbi Barkoff has passed away, and his family is sitting shivah nearby. Rena tells her mother their story, and asks if she minds if Mrs. Nathan contacts them, because she doesn’t want them to be surprised if Mrs. Barkoff tells them to move. Mrs. Barkoff is horrified at the suggestion.
* * *
It was Rena’s turn to be flummoxed. “I’m sorry Mommy. I just assumed…”
Mrs. Barkoff’s eyes flashed. “You assumed I would put a family out on the street? Is that
what you think of me?”
“No! Chas v’shalom!” Rena wondered how this conversation had gone so horribly wrong. “I just meant, it’s not a lifetime contract we have with them. If at any time…”
“I’m sure they will let me know when they are ready to leave,” said Mrs. Barkoff. “Until then, not a word to them. Do you hear me?”
“We hear you, but I don’t know about Mr. Shapiro. He might just go ahead and contact them on his own,” said Mattel, joining in the conversation.
“So one of you will make sure that Mr. Shapiro is apprised of the status quo. Have I made myself clear?”
“Crystal,” said Rena, backing away from her mother.
“Now, let’s hear some more stories about Tatty,” said Mrs. Barkoff. “Rena, we’ve heard your story. Suri? Do you have one?”
Suri smiled. “I don’t think I could top Rena’s story, but yes, I have one. It was right after the divorce.” The word still fell flat when she said it, like a stain on a rug, dull and implacable. “I called the house one morning and Tatty answered. I was crying, telling him how overwhelmed I was, and I didn’t know how I was going to manage everything. We didn’t talk for long, less than 20 minutes. And then six hours later, Tatty was knocking on my door.”
Mrs. Barkoff smiled, remembering. They had debated which one of them, or both, should go, and Rabbi Barkoff had insisted this was a task only a father could fulfill.
“He had a big bag of groceries already in his hand, and, of course, bagels and lox. He stayed with me the whole day, reorganizing the house, getting my bills and papers in order. He even fixed the banister on the stairway. He was afraid the kids would get hurt.
“He took the kids and me out when they came home from school, and then at around 10 o’clock, he gave me a brachah and left. It started out as one of the worst days of my life, and it ended up as a great day.”
“That was so Tatty,” said Rena. “He loved to do stuff like that.”
“I remember when he came home from that trip, Suri,” said Mrs. Barkoff. “I was so worried about you. I asked Tatty how you were and he said to me, ‘Don’t you dare underestimate our Suri. She’s a trooper, and she’s going to be fine.’ And he was right.”
“Well, sort of,” said Suri. “I wouldn’t say I’m out of the woods yet.”
They all nodded their heads, not in agreement but in support. It was the first time Suri could remember that they all just sat with her in her pain instead of yelling at her, helping her or ignoring her. It felt so good that she didn’t want the moment to end.
“What about you Mattel?” said Rena. “Got a good Tatty story?”
“Every story was a good Tatty story, because Tatty was a good Tatty,” she said.
“Tatty adored you, Mattel,” said Mrs. Barkoff. “‘My muzhinke!’ he’d tell everyone. ‘A big hot-shot in California.’ He was so proud of you.”
“He was proud of all of us,” said Mattel, turning pink. They all knew that Rabbi Barkoff had taken special pride in Mattel’s accomplishments, even though she was trying to play it down.
Again the feeling was one of mutual respect. “You worked hard for what you have, Mattel,” said Suri.
“You did really well,” Rena agreed. “Tatty was right to be proud of you. We’re all proud of you.”
Everyone was afraid to speak and disturb the odd peace that had settled among them.
“This was Tatty’s dream,” said Rena.
“What?” said Mattel.
“That we should all, you know, talk to each other. Be friends. Get along.”
“We are friends,” said Mattel. Her words dangled like a fish hook.
“We could do better,” said Rena. “I could.”
“Me too,” said Suri.
“It feels like Tatty is hiding in a closet somewhere, doesn’t it? Rubbing his hands together like he did when he was happy about something?” said Rena.
They all laughed, each one with their own special image of their father, his wide face wreathed with a smile, and his hands softly clapping against each other.
“Oy,” Mrs. Barkoff sighed. “You girls were so lucky.”
“We were,” said Rena. She looked at her mother fondly. “We still are.”
“I hope he knew how much we appreciated him,” said Mattel.
“I think he did,” said Mrs. Barkoff. “I’m sure of it, actually.”
“How are you sure?” asked Suri.
“Every night before he went to sleep, he said good-night to each of you and all the grandchildren, and he thanked Hashem for sending you all to him. He would daven that he should always do right by you, and that he should always have the resources and the ability to help you with whatever you needed. He was in awe of the fact that Hashem had actually sent him children.”
“Wow. It didn’t bother him that he didn’t have any sons?” said Mattel.
Mrs. Barkoff looked at her oddly, and then heaved a great sigh.
“Uh-oh,” said Mattel.
To be continued …