Victory Gardens – Chapter 102

Novel

To everyone’s great relief, Papa makes the brachos on the Chanukah licht.

*   *   *

Watching Papa re-emerge was like watching a bear coming out of hibernation. The process was slow and painstaking.

After a few days more, Papa’s personality began to reassert itself, and Mama and Mutty could see glimpses of dear Papa emerging from  the shell. The recovery was almost as painful to observe as the illness had been, but the fact that the direction was moving upward and no longer downward was extremely heartening.

Mutty and Mama could hardly believe their eyes, and held their breaths that Papa’s recovery would be real and permanent. They weren’t sure what to expect, and were almost afraid to speak for fear that they would say or do the wrong thing and send Papa tumbling back down.

But they’d underestimated Papa. Whereas before Papa had been amenable to Mutty’s rigid scheduling, now he sometimes rebelled. Mutty had been uncertain now how to proceed — if he should just let Papa come out of it on his own, or if he should continue to gently guide him back to life — but it seemed as though the choice was taken away from him once Papa refused to cooperate. Of course there was little he could change, because Mutty had hewn fairly closely to Papa’s own schedule, but Papa was determined to reassert his independence, and Mutty and Mama were happy to let him do it even if it was sometimes, inadvertently, painful. It was infinitely preferrable to Papa’s earlier condition, and so they were able to bear it, comfortable in the knowledge that Papa was on the mend.

One evening after Maariv, Papa entered the house and called to them in stentorian tones. “Mama! Mordechai! Now, please.”

They each emerged from their rooms and met Papa in the entrance hall.

“What is this about a letter?” he stated. He had no memory of what the letter said, only that he’d picked it up and held it, and that it had left him with a disturbed feeling. It was perhaps that angst that had awoken him, but there was no way to know. In any case, Papa wanted to see the letter.

“Are you sure you’re strong enough, Papa?” asked Mutty.

Papa did not even dignify the question with a response. He merely stood there, dignified and alert, with his hand outstretched. Mama ran to make them all tea, and Papa sat down as Mutty hovered nearby.

“Move over son,” said Papa. “You’re in my light.”

“Yes, Papa. I’m sorry,” said Mutty.

He moved back but still kept a close eye on Papa as he read.

“All right then,” said Papa, once he’d finished. “Where do we find this Hearst person? I’m ready to give him a piece of my mind.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” asked Mutty. “You’ve just… You know… You’ve just…”

“Spit it out will you? I’ve just come out of my slump.”

“Right. Your, er, slump.”

“And you’re worried I’ll have a setback,” said Papa.

“I am. And so is Mama,” he added defensively.

“We’ll have to take that chance. I can’t let Emanuel continue on even one moment longer with hooligans breathing down his neck.”

“I’m coming with you,” said Mutty, with more bravado than he actually felt.

“I beg your pardon,” said Papa. “That will be my decision to make.”

“Of course Papa,” he acquiesced, even though he knew that no matter what Papa said, he’d be coming along.

After a moment, Papa said, “All right,” as though the topic had been under debate. “I’ll need you to come with me so you can direct me to the right place. You’ll have to come along,” said Papa.

Mutty breathed a sigh of relief that there wouldn’t be an argument over this as there had been over other things. Papa’s cantankerousness sometimes began at breakfast and then it was one thing after another, but his complaints were borne with stoicism. Just that morning, Mama had had to serve breakfast three times — first crackers and cheese, which Papa rejected, then toast and jam, and finally, toast, a soft boiled egg, and an orange. Mama had fairly danced in attendance to his requests, so thrilled was she that he was thinking for himself once again.

Mutty had had to polish Papa’s shoes three times until Papa was satisfied, and Papa had insisted that Mutty bring him to the barber twice. They had been kind there, and patient, and simply happy to have their customer back in good health, even if he was difficult to contend with. The barber had accepted his complaints magnanimously and tried to follow Papa’s explicit directions.

“When shall we go Papa?” asked Mutty.

“First thing in the morning, I should think,” said Papa. “So get a good night’s sleep. I’ll need you rested and alert tomorrow.”

“Yes sir,” said Mutty, smiling.

‘What are you smiling at?” inquired Papa, looking at him severely.

“Nothing sir,” said Mutty. “Nothing at all.”

To be continued. . . .