Victory Gardens – Chapter 63


Papa and Mama try to find out if Manny’s business has been ruined by the stock market crash, and they suspect that it has. A telegram arrives from Manny saying that both brothers are staying in Eretz Yisrael, and he would like Esther to join him there.

*   *   *

Papa reread the telegram and looked at Mama for her reaction. She was stricken. First her precious Mutty disappeared, then he was found to be safe, and then, just when she thought she would have him back again, both of her sons decide to remain in the Holy Land — indefinitely? Although she knew she should be thanking G-d for His great kindnesses to her, as a mother she wanted her children as near to her as possible.

“Jozef, no,” she said. “They can’t do this!”

“They can, and perhaps they should. We have nothing more to offer them here.”

“How can you say such a thing? We have so much!” said Mama, but even as the words left her mouth, she knew that she and Papa were speaking about two completely different things. She was thinking of how much love she had to offer, while Papa was referring to money.

“I’m not even sure I have enough left to book her passage,” said Papa heavily.

“Who knows if she will even agree to go,” said Mama. “Especially now that she is caring for her aunt and uncle. She may be loathe to leave them.”

“I’m not sure she will have much of a choice, especially if we are not able to support her.”

So many questions were on the tip of Mama’s tongue, questions she would never dare ask, but she knew Esther well enough to know that — unlike herself — she would not only ask them but she would expect answers as well.

*   *   *

Across town, Esther began her morning routine, wondering about the strange conversation with her in-laws. She had been so busy with her gardens and caring for her nieces and nephews that she had little time for much else. And when she wasn’t visiting, or cooking, or planting or sewing, she had been staying on top of Manny’s business interests and trying to keep up with his financial affairs. Why, just the other day she had spent the entire morning at the broker’s office. Manny had instructed her to contact him once a week and make sure all of his buy and sell orders were implemented properly, and it so happened that, after going over all of the statements, she noticed that a number of his holdings had reached their must-sell levels.

When she first learned he had invested in the market, she was horrified and told him to stop. When he told her that was impossible, she had asked him to find a way to protect their finances from this game of chance. And so he had set limits for each stock so he would never ever lose all their money.

Last week, she had gone over to the broker’s office and signed form after form, selling off what it seemed to her were most of Manny’s holdings. Then, also per his instructions, she purchased gold bouillon, and placed it in the safe he kept beneath a floor-board in their den. She’d come home that day dusty and tired, but at peace. She loved the way the gold had felt in her hands, its dull shine and its deep heft. Handling it had filled her with a sense of satisfaction, that here, finally, was real money, feeling as it should feel in the hand and looking the way it should look.

This morning she finally put on her hat and coat and went out to do some shopping. The first glance she took around her as she strolled over to First Avenue told her that things in the world had changed drastically. People were milling about on the sidewalks, normally overflowing with people on their way to and from the day’s business. Meanwhile, many of the normally bustling shops were shuttered. She didn’t know what to make of the change. It was only when she passed by the newspaper kiosk and saw the screaming headlines that she began to understand the enormity of the crash.

She bought a newspaper from one of the boys hawking the dire headlines and opened it up to read it right where she stood. A quick glance told her most of what she needed to know, and she involuntarily clutched her purse closer to her side, grateful for its presence and suddenly fearful that someone less fortunate than she might come and make a grab for it.

She started to put together the pieces of her mother-in-law’s cryptic responses earlier that morning, and she realized that Papa must have lost most, if not all, that he had. How could this happen to someone like Papa Rothstein, self-professed expert and titan of all things, she thought.

How their downfall would affect her had not yet registered. All she could think about  was how fortunate she and Manny were to have been spared. 

To be continued . . .