Victory Gardens – Chapter 6

Novel

Mutty is anxious about the tension he is feeling in Chevron. He falls into a fitful sleep, dreams of his father, and then awakens before dawn. Stepping out for a walk, he passes an Arab home and overhears plans to harm Jews.

*   *   *

The moment Shabbos was out, Papa Rothstein was like a nervous lion let loose from a cage. He tensely paced the house; Mama was able to calm him down just long enough to make Havdalah.

Luckily he had insisted on both Rothstein families having phones installed. Mama and Esther had thought they were unnecessary, but if he had done it just for this moment alone, it would have been worth it. He picked up the phone and began shouting into it.

“CLOVERDALE 8-4141! Right away!” he said to the operator.

“One moment, please.”

Papa waited for what seemed like an eternity, but was really only three minutes.

“There’s no answer, sir. Would you like to try another number?”

“Try it again! The same number!” Surely Manny was home from shul by now, and where would Esther go by herself?

“One moment, please.”

After a few more minutes the operator came back on. “Your party, sir. And, sir?”

“What? What is it?” said Papa, anxious to speak to his son.

“Please don’t shout into the receiver. It won’t make your call go any faster.”

By the time Papa could sputter a response, the operator was gone and Manny’s voice was coming through the phone.

“Papa? Is that you? Is everything all right?” Despite having the phones for nearly a year, they used them very rarely, so Manny knew it could only be something very urgent.

“No, everything is not all right! Can you get down here right away?”

Esther sat on the sofa waiting for Manny to finish the call. She had a whole evening of activities planned. If Manny went down to his parents’ home, he would be back too late for any of them.

“Can it wait, Papa?” he asked, more for Esther’s sake than his own.

“No, it can not wait! Get over here right away!” Before Manny could reply, the connection was broken.

He turned around fully now to face Esther, knowing she would accept his need to go to his parents’ house without question. He tried hard to be careful to avoid adding any disappointments to her life. But from the sound of his father’s voice, it sounded like whatever had happened was of utmost importance. He hoped his mother was well, but he didn’t think that was the source of the problem, and wondered what else it could be.

“Esther,” he began.

“I know, Manny. Your parents need you.”

“I’m sorry,” he said earnestly.

“I’m jealous of you,” she said.

“Why?”

“At least your parents live close enough to visit!” Esther’s parents still lived in Europe. She had come over when she was twelve years old with her aunt and uncle, as a helper for their many small children. She was supposed to have gone back within a year, but her aunt always needed her help. And, anyway, Esther loved living in New York. Her parents knew she was well looked after, so they accepted the situation as best they could.

Day flowed into day and suddenly Esther was eighteen and firmly established in New York. It would have been impossible to go back to Poland then and try to find a shidduch. So her uncle, an acquaintance of Papa Rothstein’s, had arranged the shidduch with Manny despite their differences in background. Esther’s parents had disapproved at first of the prospect of Esther marrying into a German family. In the end, though, the shidduch had held, and Esther had taken to the different minhagim without a blink.

“That is true,” said Manny. “I suppose I should keep that in mind in times like now.”

“Go on, then,” said Esther. “I’ll keep some lemonade in the icebox for when you return.”

Manny bowed very slightly in her direction, then turned to take his hat and jacket from the hall closet. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

“Good night, Manny. Regards to your parents.”

“Of course.”

As he stepped outside into the warm evening, Manny wondered what was troubling his father so greatly. He demanded Manny to visit more frequently than before, and Manny wondered if his father believed that since he and Esther had no children, he had no other responsibilities. That was far from the truth, and he wondered whether there was a way to make his father aware of that fact while remaining within the boundaries of kibbud av.

He pondered briefly whether it would be faster to take the BMT line down Broadway and get off at the 23rd Street station, or if it would be quicker to walk. The subway could balk at times, so he decided to take the walk, even though he had already walked down and back earlier today.

Thank G-d he was young and healthy, and had the strength for it. He toned down his earlier musings as he thought fondly of his parents. They were getting older, and that must be frightening for them. He resolved to try to be more understanding of them in the future.

To be continued . . .