Victory Gardens – Chapter 101


Esther watches pensively from the sofa as Manny prepares to light the Chanukah licht.

*   *   *

“Tonight is Chanukah,” said Mutty. Papa had gone in for his daily nap, which Mutty had insisted on for both their sakes. The old Papa had never lain down during the day, but the new Papa was both exhausted and exhausting. He and Mama were seated together at the kitchen table. Mama was busy checking eggs while Mutty was passing the time.

“As if you had to tell me,” said Mama, smiling. “The menoros are all polished and ready.”

Menoros? Plural? What do you mean?” asked Mutty.

“What do you mean?” she replied. “One for Papa and one for you. Like always. And I’ve invited Mima Faiga and her children as well. They have no one to light for them since Zalman has gone to the sanitarium.”

Mutty sat silently, trying to absorb this. It wasn’t only the fact that Mama believed Papa could light the menorah himself. That would already be enough. But to invite others when Papa was still in this condition? How could Mama think that was a good idea?

“Mama,” he began carefully. “Are you sure that’s wise?”

“We’ve been living like hermits,” she said. “It’s not healthy for any of us. And it will be so nice to hear some children’s voices around here.” Mutty remembered once again how fiercely and unflinchingly optimistic Mama could be. He had recently concluded that children never really know who their parents are until they have grown and become adults themselves.

“I don’t think Papa is up to it,” said Mutty.

“Then it’s a good thing it’s not your decision to make. Now,” she said, hauling over the tall bag of potatoes she kept in the cool corner of the kitchen. “I’ll need help peeling these potatoes. We’re having latkes tonight, so we’ll need plenty.”

A chastened Mutty rolled up his sleeves and pulled the first potato out of the top of the bag. Mama handed him a sharp knife, and mother and son sat peeling companionably for the better part of the morning. Working together like this made it easier for Mutty to converse.

Mutty realized there hadn’t been much time to talk since his return home. All his attention had focused on Papa and his well-being. As they peeled, he peppered her with questions. He even touched on the subject of the massacre, but held back from offering too much detail. The last thing he wanted to do was upset Mama.

The funny thing was that after all that had happened with Papa, the massacre seemed like it had taken place a hundred years earlier. Mutty only remembered the pain of it in the evening, before sleep, when he was entirely alone. He treated it carefully, like a rare diamond that could only be handled with gloves on. He tried now to keep the conversation light, asking Mama all about her friends and her activities, and the look of delight on her face proved to Mutty that this was a long-overdue conversation. Mutty had often been the one to keep Mama company in the kitchen while Papa was either working or learning, and while Manny was out doing big-brother activities.

*   *   *

Later on, Mutty took the sparkling menoros out and placed them by the window. “Are you sure about this, Mama?” he asked again. “I’m happy to light for us.”

“I know. But Papa has lit the menorah every single Chanukah since our marriage, and I’m not about to start changing things now.”

Later on, just before sundown, Mima Faiga knocked on the door and came in with her lively brood. Mima Faiga was laden with plates of dipped candy apples, and the children handed over Chanukah cards to Mama. The atmosphere became instantly festive and joyous, and Mutty thought Mama was on to something after all. He took a deep breath and stepped into the den where Papa was sitting quietly. Mutty noticed that he’d straightened his beard and put on his frock coat and hat.

“Papa!” said Mutty. “It’s Chanukah today.”

Papa looked over at him but didn’t reply.

“It’s time to light the menorah,” said Mutty. “Are you ready?”

Papa only nodded, but it was enough to make Mutty’s heart soar.

He walked over to Papa and, gently helping him to a standing position, placed Papa’s hand on his arm and escorted him into the living room, where the family awaited. A smile edged onto his face when he saw the children, and he turned his face to Mama, whose face was beaming.

Papa walked over to where the menoros were positioned, took a birchon in his hands and made the blessings in a loud clear voice. Even the children realized something momentous was occurring without knowing for what it was. By the time Papa got to Shehechiyanu, Mama and Mima Faiga were crying openly. The children looked confused, but they understood that these were not unhappy tears, and so their youthful mirth was undampened. Mutty was afraid to move, afraid to break the spell.

Mutty quickly made the brachos and lit his menorah, but by the time he turned around, Papa had left the room. Mutty wasn’t worried though. There had been enough of a miracle for one day.

To be continued . . .