Victory Gardens – Chapter 118

Papa goes down to the pier himself, unaware that Manny has given his and Esther’s ship tickets to the Zayits.

*   *   *

The only time Mutty moved faster than he did that day while chasing after Papa was when he had been fleeing the pogrom. The feeling was eerily similar, although he couldn’t explain why. He flew towards the train station and hurled himself onto a subway car that was in the middle of closing its doors.

Once on the train there was nothing to do but wait for it to reach its destination. He’d been hoping to catch up to Papa before he reached the subway station — how fast could an elderly fellow walk? — but there must have been a train waiting in the station when Papa arrived, because he was nowhere to be found.

Mutty paced the subway car like the trapped being that he was. At last the train  pulled into the station closest to the pier, and Mutty raced out as if he’d been shot from a cannon. His heart was pounding as he berated himself for leaving this until the last minute. After all he’d been through, and after all he’d sacrificed to care for Papa, this was a major setback. The effects of the last great emotional shock Papa had sustained had paralyzed him for months. Now, when they’d started to see a light at the end of the tunnel, Mutty understood the great risk Papa faced once again.

Mutty also knew that his own future was at stake because of his negligence. Papa’s recovery had allowed Mutty the luxury to think and to plan for his own future. He knew that once Papa was truly on his feet again, it would be time to begin living as an adult. He’d been giving it some thought, and his mind had taken him in three different directions. The first, of course, was Eretz Yisrael. When he had first returned from there, he’d counted the days until he could go back. Lately, however, another possibility had emerged. He thought about whether he wanted to work in Manny’s shop. He’d paid several visits there, keeping an eye on things as per Manny’s instructions and familiarizing himself with the place. He’d been fascinated by the printing presses and the color separation process; they filled him with excitement.

The third road had to do with marriage and family, which, of course, could be fulfilled in either place, but the place would have to be determined before the process began. He couldn’t imagine a New York girl wanting to emigrate to Eretz Yisrael, or vice versa. So only when he figured out where he wanted to be could he consider marriage.

Mutty was jolted back to reality as he reached the pier where the Zayits would first come into view, certain he would also find Papa there, but a quick search did not reveal Papa’s whereabouts.

Although Mutty was frustrated, he was not surprised, for Papa had a way of getting into places others could not: When Manny told him he’d flown over the Atlantic on the Graf Zeppelin, Mutty did not believe him at first. Only when Manny produced proof of the journey did Mutty accept it as the truth, and then he burst out laughing. Manny joined him, knowing exactly what he found funny. “Only Papa, right?” Manny had said, and Mutty had agreed.

*   *   *

Mutty worked his way to the front of the crowd and peered around, hoping for a glimpse of Papa, or, better yet, the Zayits, where he would hopefully get to them first.

And in the end, that’s what happened. The Zayits emerged, looking slightly dazed but no worse for their journey. Thanks to Papa’s largesse on behalf of his son and daughter-in-law, the Zayits had traveled first class, and been spared the hardships that poorer passengers faced.

Mutty approached them, and Zayit embraced him warmly. After exchanging greetings, Zayit asked if there was anything else they had to do before getting settled, and Mutty explained quickly about Papa.

It was at that moment that Papa appeared, out of breath and worried almost to the point of panic.

“Mordechai, I can’t find them!” he bellowed, his eyes wide. “They weren’t on the ship!”

Mutty took his father by the arm and walked them over to the Zayits. Zayit recognized Papa immediately and put out his hand in greeting. Papa looked at it like it was a snake.

His face reddened and a vein bulged in his forehead as he struggled to maintain his composure. He looked at Mutty’s smiling face and glowered. “Who are they?” he hissed, loud enough for everyone to hear. “And what have they done with Manny?”

To be continued . . .