Mutty boards a ship to sail back to the United States to care for his parents. He and Manny have an emotional parting.
* * *
“Mima Faigy, there’s one more thing I need to tell you.”
The two women were seated in the kitchen of Esther’s apartment, where the whole family would be staying until Manny and Esther’s return from Eretz Yisrael. The children were playing quietly in the spacious bedroom that had been allotted to them. Even though they were used to being in Esther’s apartment, at the moment they walked around as if it were a museum.
“What is it Estherke? You’ve told me everything I need to know a thousand times over. What could possibly be left?”
She looked at her young niece, feeling a mixture of love and gratitude. Esther’s offer had come at just the right time. Fetter Zalmy had been sent to a sanitarium; his condition had been diagnosed and this was the only possible cure. For a few weeks afterward, Mima Faigy had felt like she was falling, like the earth had opened up beneath her feet and simply sent her tumbling, without ever hitting bottom. And then just when she thought she couldn’t stand it another moment, Esther had come with her life-saving proposal.
“Manny and I would like you to come and mind the apartment while we’re gone,” she’d requested.
“What will we do when you return?” replied her aunt.
Esther had put her young, soft hand over the older woman’s hard, cracked one and squeezed it firmly. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there, all right? In the meanwhile you’ll stay here and live comfortably. Everything will be taken care of. Pretty much all you’ll need to do is basic upkeep on the apartment, and to take care of those precious children of yours.”
Mima Faigy was speechless for a moment, but then she regained her composure and registered a protest. “I can’t possibly. I couldn’t. We could never repay you.” But they both knew she’d relent in the end, and she had.
“But what about Mama and Papa Rothstein?” said Mima Faigy. Esther’s eyes had filled with pain.
“Whatever you could do for them, we would so gratefully appreciate. Mama and Papa might not say so, but I believe they’d appreciate your help as well.” They had refused her and Manny’s offer to move in to the larger apartment, and were just beside themselves with joy that Mutty was on his way home. Mama had helped her to book passage, but there was still so much to do before she departed.
There was only the one final thing left to take care of.
“My gardens,” said Esther.
“Your gardens? Oh, you mean your vegetable flats?” said Mima Faigy.
“Yes, I need you to care for them, please. The children know what to do, but I need you to make sure they are tended to.”
“I’m grateful for those gardens,” said Mima Faigy. “It was a clever move on your part, sheifelah. We could take as much as we wanted and we never felt like we were getting tzedakah from you.”
Esther smiled shyly. “They helped me too. A woman needs to … to take care of something.” She was suddenly overwhelmed by a feeling she couldn’t name.
“I understand,” said her aunt quietly. Esther rarely wore her heart on her sleeve, but when she did, Mima Faigy tried to honor the younger woman’s pain. “I’ll take care of them for you. I give you my word. Maybe …” the older woman hesitated, afraid what she wanted to say might be taken the wrong way.”
“What?” asked Esther.
“Maybe one day you won’t need them anymore.”
“Amen,” said Esther. There was a moment of quiet between them before Esther began bustling around the kitchen once again. “Tea, Mima?”
“Please.” The moment was gone but the seeds stayed planted.
Later on, Esther walked downtown to visit with her in-laws, an excursion she’d taken on every day since the “kapporeh,” as they referred to the loss of their money, the factory and all of their assets. Mama’s routine hadn’t changed much. The only exception was that more often than not Esther was the one who bought the groceries and brought them when she came.
Although she’d known it was a possibility under discussion, the telegram from Manny informing them of Mutty’s imminent arrival and her imminent departure had still come as a shock. She could not figure out how Manny had convinced Mutty to come home. And if she were to peel off the layers of emotion that shrouded her heart, she’d know she had been secretly hoping Manny would just forget this impulsiveness and come home. Which business proprietor leaves everything to go live in Eretz Yisrael?
In another time, she might have voiced her feelings to Mama Rothstein. She and her mother-in-law had built up considerable trust, particularly during the time Manny was away. But like so many things, the time for that was past. Mama’s first concern was how to run her household, essentially alone. Papa was all but camped out in his office, and no new problems could cross its threshold. He thought now only of the past. As to the present, he was no longer listening.
To be continued . . .