Victory Gardens – Chapter 70

Novel

After learning of his father’s financial downfall, Manny is concerned and uncertain which way to proceed. Zayit shows up at the boarding house just when Manny needs someone to talk to.

 

“Hello?”

Esther was busy with her plants, which she felt were more essential now than ever. Every day she noticed, despite her efforts, that someone had managed to traverse the fire escape and pluck some of her tomatoes and cucumbers. If only she could arrange a system where she could hand out food, instead of people having to  steal it. She wished she could make it different, and promised herself she’d work on it.

“Good morning, Esther dear.”

“Oh, Shvigger. How are you?”

Esther was still reeling from her last encounter with her mother-in-law, which had ended with her expressing her loyalty to Esther no matter how upset Papa got with her. The fact that Mama supported her hadn’t been surprising — she’d expressed tacit support many times over the years, but never had she spoken with such force and conviction.

“Fine, dear.” There was obviously a “but” in there somewhere, judging from the hesitancy in Mama’s voice, so she waited patiently for Mama to continue. “But I’m a little concerned about Papa.”

“Oh?” When Esther had returned that evening for dinner, it had just been her and Mama at the table. Papa had sat at his desk throughout the whole meal. It wasn’t totally unlike Papa, but it wasn’t like him either. He rarely, if ever, missed a meal with Mama.

“What’s wrong?” Esther asked. She realized, once she said it out loud, what a foolish question it was. Everything was wrong! She’d been very shocked to hear that Papa had told Manny to stay in Eretz Yisrael. Esther had been more forthright in her reply telegram to her husband. But she still didn’t know what Manny was going to do. Part of her hoped Manny would just come home. She still wasn’t keen on relocating to Israel, but she’d made her peace with it.

“Do you remember a few nights ago, he sat in the den while we ate?”

“Yes, of course,” said Esther.

“He hasn’t come out since then.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, he’s still sitting there.”

“What’s he doing?”

“As far as I can tell, nothing,” said Mama. “He’s just sitting there.”

“Has he been to davening?” asked Esther.

“Yes, baruch Hashem, at least that. But then he comes home, and sits.”

“Is he eating?”

“No. I put his food on the desk but he just takes a few bites and pushes it away. He’s been drinking tea though.”

“He’s in shock, Mama. I’m sure he’ll snap out of it soon enough. Have you ever seen him this way before?”

“Once. When he learned of his father’s petirah in Germany. But it was just for a day and a night. Not this.”

“Let’s be patient Mama. On second thought, perhaps Manny should come home to deal with this?”

Mama was silent.

“Right, Mama? I mean, can we handle all of this alone?”

“If that’s the reason to bring him home, then I don’t agree. It would be wonderful to have his support and help, but if it’s a matter of managing, we can manage. I would hate to disrupt his plans just to make my life more comfortable.”

“Manny thrives on duty, Mama. You know that.”

“I do know, and that’s why I’m hesitating. For the first time in his life he broke away from us, even if it was in an unconventional way.”

“But this is for real! This is a real tzarah!”

“I disagree. May you never know a real tzarah. I can tell you from experience that this isn’t it. I’d rather spare him now and wait for a time we really need his help.”

“And if I go? What will you do?” asked Esther.

“What I always have. Survive. Manage. Make do.”

“You’re one of a kind, Mama.”

“A person’s character is only truly forged through fire.”

Esther sighed. “All right Mama. Keep me posted about Papa. I’ll keep davening. You need some tomatoes? I’ve got them growing in every box.”

“They’re delicious, Esther. You’ve got some green thumb.”

“I can set the boxes up for you too, Mama. You’ll have as many vegetables as you need.”

“I might just take you up on your offer.”

“I’ll look forward to that.”

They ended the call, and Esther sat for a few minutes to collect her thoughts. This had all gotten complicated. True, Papa had acted strangely the other night, but she’d thought he was just angry with her. Was it something more? She’d need to go see for herself. She noticed that she was covered with dirt from her victory gardening, plus she was soaked. She’d have to get changed and freshen up before she went over to see her in-laws. It was good practice.

She wondered what the ladies wore in Eretz Yisrael. She’d have to start asking around about that. The last thing she wanted was to stand out more than she already would. If she went, that is. That still needed to be decided.

To be continued . . .