Victory Gardens – Chapter 64

Novel

Esther has been able to protect Manny’s wealth. With his knowledge she sold his stock and bought gold with the proceeds, a week before the crash. She realizes that Papa and Mama Rothstein have been hard-hit; the bank in which they kept their money has failed.

*   *   *

Esther couldn’t decide whether to make her way over to Papa and Mama’s, or visit her aunt and uncle and see what needed doing there. She loved visiting her blood relatives. She was always able to put her many skills and talents to good use there, and they welcomed her lovingly. Visits to her in-laws, by contrast, left her feeling inconsequential and these days less-than-welcome, from Papa’s point of view anyway.

She knew the reason. Papa’s reaction to their not having children began early in her marriage to Manny. And while she knew that he couldn’t possibly believe it was her fault, that was how it seemed to her.

Their relationship had deteriorated to the extent that these days she only attended “command performances.” She would not have reached this point if Manny hadn’t gone off to Eretz Yisrael. But he had, and the changes his absence had wrought were a new reality.

Meanwhile, though, she knew it was her duty to visit her in-laws in their hour of need, and she was nothing if not dutiful. She wondered if she should buy some food for them on her way there, but decided to wait and see if her assumptions were correct.

It was a crisp and blue-skied autumn day, a day so lovely it seemed to mock the misery  taking place beneath its wide expanse. Esther decided to walk over to 18th Street, partly to enjoy the weather and get some brisk exercise and partly to delay the hour of her arrival.

 

She knocked lightly, and the door was opened quickly and quietly by Mama. One look said it all. Something, obviously, had happened, but Esther was surprised to note the lack of despair on Mama’s face. For not the first time she saw that Mama was just as resilient, if not more so, as Esther.

“Good morning Mama,” she said, stepping into the foyer. “How are you and Papa, really?”

“I’m sure you’ve heard by now, Esther, that there’s been some sort of a downturn in the stock markets. We’ve been affected by it terribly, as I’m sure you have been.”

“Fortunately,” answered Esther, “I sold most of Manny’s shares last week when they reached their sell-by lows.”

“Are you telling me that you were not harmed by the crash?”

“Not that I know of.”

Mama looked stunned, and Esther wasn’t sure why. “What is it Mama?” she asked, guiding the older woman by the elbow to the sofa in the living room.

“It’s a nes. Hashem made a nes for you. Baruch Hashem you were spared.” She sank onto the sofa.

Esther had come to that same conclusion this morning, but now she did not know what to say. She knew that if Manny were here he would tell his parents not to worry, that he would care for all their needs, that they would lack for nothing. Esther, however, could not say these words. For one thing, it was not her money to offer, even in Manny’s place. And although she loved Mama and would care for her with her own two hands if need be, she couldn’t see herself telling Papa not to worry. It would be like a mouse trying to lead an elephant to safety. Instead, Esther went to the kitchen to bring them both tall glasses of water. When she returned, she found Mama waving a small piece of white paper back and forth in her hand like a vanquished soldier reluctant to admit defeat.

“What’s that?” asked Esther, sitting down beside Mama.

“It’s a telegram from Emanuel,” said Mama.

Esther’s eyes brightened immediately. “Let me see! Can I read it?”

Mama handed it over to Esther and studied her face as she scanned the short missive. In a moment, Esther smoothed the telegram out on her lap like a cloth napkin.

“Well,” said Esther. “I never heard such big news said in so few words.”

Mama laughed out loud.

“I wasn’t trying to be funny,” she said.

“”I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings,” said Mama. “You just have such a pithy way of expressing yourself.”

“Not as pithy as my husband, apparently,” she replied, holding up the telegram between two fingers. “I should just drop everything and go?”

Mama looked surprised that Esther would even ask that question, and she nodded firmly. “Of course,” she said. “What else would you do?”

“I am not sure. My aunt and uncle need me. Manny doesn’t realize how much my life in New York has come to mean to me now that I am caring for them. How can I just drop everything and go?”

“Esther! How could you say such a thing?”

“Excuse me, Mama, but times have changed. If you were more in step with the times, perhaps you wouldn’t have wound up where you are today.”

Papa’s deep voice rumbled into the room, startling Mama and Esther. “And where exactly would that be?”

To be continued . . .