Victory Gardens – Chapter 62

Novel

Papa discovers that he is among the thousands who have suffered a disastrous financial loss in the stock market crash.

*   *   *

Mama Rothstein rose and walked into the kitchen to prepare some tea for her husband. There was nothing else to do. A strange quiet settles over a home, a family, a city, when disaster strikes. Mutty’s disappearance, with the real threat to life it had entailed, had been so terrifying that the loss of the business was pale in comparison.

But still, there was at that moment nothing to do. There was no reason for Papa to go to the bank to salvage what he could, because there was nothing to salvage. When Schultz had laid out the books across Mama’s fine pale yellow tablecloth, Papa could spot the disaster as clearly as if a blindfold had finally been whipped from his eyes.

And now Mama proceeded to take stock of the rest of her charges.

“We must phone Esther immediately,” said Mama.

“Why?” asked Papa. “What does she have to do with this?”

“We need to know if Manny’s plant has survived this,” she replied.

“It’s none of our business,” said Papa.

Mama said nothing, but rose to bring the heavy telephone to the table. “We sent Emanuel away to find Mutty, and now we must look after his interests as though they were our own. We promised him we would do that.”

“And look how well that’s worked out! His wife is taking in strays in his absence.”

Shaindel clucked her tongue in rebuke and placed the call to her daughter-in-law. The voice that answered was cheerful and relaxed.

“Good morning, Mama. How are you and Papa today?”

“Well, first tell us how you are, dear,” said Mama.

“I’m fine, baruch Hashem.”

“Have you read the news at all today, or listened to the radio? Has the manager from the plant been in contact with you today?”

Esther paused a moment, trying to understand the conversation. “Why no. I haven’t heard or seen or read or spoken to anyone yet except you. What’s happened Mama? Is Papa well?”

“Papa was very well, but it looks like the world is not so well, and this has made Papa not so well.”

“Shaindel,” Papa said. “Will you stop speaking in riddles? Say what you have to say.”

“Esther, are you still there dear?”

“Yes, Mama.”

“There’s been some trouble on Wall Street, some financial trouble, and Papa’s business is ruined.”

“Ruined? How?”

Papa grabbed the phone from Mama’s hand, after listening to Esther’s voice squawking through the telephone receiver. “Go out and get a newspaper,” he told her. “Phone us when you’ve finished reading. I’ll phone the plant.” He closed the connection, banging on the phone cradle until the operator came on again.

“Operator. What number please?”

Papa gave her the number of Manny’s plant and waited while she tried to make a connection. “I’m sorry,” said the voice. “There is no answer. Can I get another number for you?”

“No!” said Papa, closing the phone again. “Nobody’s answering there.”

“Let’s wait and see what happens,” said Mama. “Drink some tea, Jozef. I’m afraid it’s going to be a long day.”

“Yes, Mama,” said Papa heavily. “We have become adept at waiting, haven’t we?”

“Yes, Jozef, we have.”

They sat quietly, the air punctuated by Papa’s heavy, phlegmy sighs and Mama’s softer ones. She had selected her mother’s sefer Tehillim from the bookcase and was silently uttering words of supplication that the events of this morning had been a bad dream, and that in a day or a week or a month everything would return to normal. “Not for my sake,” she made sure to qualify her prayers. “But for the sake of my family. They are not as strong as I am.”

The world as they knew it had ended. As if to stamp the moment in their memory for all eternity, a knock on the door revealed a Western Union deliveryman, standing at attention, his crisp and pressed uniform a jarring contrast to a disheveled day.

“Telegram for a Mr. Jozef Rothstein. Is that you, sir?”

“Yes it is.” Papa could barely contain his impatience, hoping that the answer to all his problems lay in the small, discrete envelope. Papa turned away from doorway, neglecting to tip the young fellow, but Mama, always alert, gave him a penny, and closed the door gently as he departed.

“What does it say?” she asked.

“It’s from Emanuel.” Papa’s hands were shaking.

“Open it,” she said. “They are probably on their way home already.”

She watched Papa’s face as he read, waiting for the familiar look of satisfaction to break across his features, but what she saw was disbelief shading to dismay.

“What is it?” she asked. “What does it say?”

Papa sighed again heavily and sat down at his place at the table, folding his hands over his eyes. He tossed the telegram across to his wife so she could read its message for herself:

“MUTTY AND I REMAINING IN HOLY LAND.

ARRANGE PASSAGE FOR ESTHER POST HASTE.

THANK YOU AND BLESSINGS.

YOUR LOVING SONS.”

 

To be continued . . .