Victory Gardens – Chapter 81


Mutty and Esther argue about Papa’s condition, and Mutty insists that a doctor must examine him and some rehabilitation begin. Esther expresses her reservations about going to Eretz Yisrael. 


The next morning, even though he was exhausted from his trip, Mutty made sure to wake up and daven k’vasikin before he went in to attend to Papa. It would be the last day of the passive approach his mother and sister-in-law had adopted, and the first day of the new schedule.

He walked in to Papa’s room and flicked on the light. Mama was already up and moving around in the kitchen.

There was no reply from the sleeping form, so Mutty approached the bed. He had never entered his parents’ room in his entire life, but he had asked his mother’s permission to go in, and it was surely a case of pikuach nefesh.

“Papa, it’s time to get up and daven.”

When Papa didn’t answer, Mutty lifted him up gently by his arms and pulled him to a sitting position. Papa was wide awake. His dull stare was frightening, so Mutty resolved not to look into his eyes, and just do what had to be done.

“Papa, when I say three, I’m going to stand you up. One. Two. Three.” With that, he stood Papa up, and while Papa leaned on him — another first — Mutty led him to the sink to pour negel wasser over his hands. Mutty then brought him out into the salon. He went to the place in the bureau where Papa kept his tallis and tefillin and he was relieved to find them in their usual spot.

Carefully he took out the tefillin zeckel and slowly unwound the straps and straightened them out. He lay tefillin on his father, hoping to elicit a spark, but Papa said nothing. Mutty then covered him in his tallis, began saying the opening words of Tefillas HaShachar, and didn’t stop until he reached the Amidah.

He couldn’t say the Amidah for his father, so he said Chazaras HaShatz and moved on until Aleinu. He held the siddur in between the two of them and kept his finger at the place so Papa could follow. Mutty couldn’t help but reflect on the times Papa had done the same for him when he was small.

If he thought surviving the massacre was the most challenging thing he’d ever endured, this was indeed harder. The only person he could visualize doing this mitzvah with the absolutely correct amount of honor and dignity was Zayit. He went to the bureau and took out a piece of paper from the pile his father kept there, and a pencil.

He wrote a sign: Think what Zayit would do, hung it up on the wall in his room and tried to imagine his friend. In his mind’s eye he saw Zayit take Papa by the hand and lead him outside for a short walk, and Mutty realized that was the next thing he had to do.

“Mama, when was the last time Papa went outside?” he asked.

“I couldn’t tell you,” said Mama. “Honestly, Mutty, the days have just been sliding one into the other.”

“Have you heard from Esther? Has she phoned the doctor?”

“Yes, I’ve heard from her and yes, she has. The doctor will be here at seven this evening.”

“Is this a good doctor or just a regular doctor?”

“I don’t know, dear. I’m assuming he’s good. You’re going to have to rely on Esther for this.”

“All right, I will. Meanwhile, I’m going to take Papa out for a walk, and then I’d like to give him some breakfast. Can you prepare something simple, like crackers with butter?”

Mama’s eyes softened as she watched her younger son take charge. “Of course, dear. You know, you’ve been so busy with Papa we haven’t had a moment to talk. You’ve been through some tough times. I’d like to know about it.”

“I know Mama. And I’d love to talk to you as well. But right now I think Papa’s wellbeing is a much more pressing priority. I think you’ve begun to get used to him being like this, and I’m trying to change that.”

“A person can get used to anything, can’t they,” said Mama.

“Yes, and that’s why I’m pushing so hard about this. We will not get used to Papa being incoherent!”

Mama’s eyes welled with tears. “I’m glad you’re home.”

“Me too, Mama.” He turned to his father. “Are you ready, Papa?”

He gently helped Papa on with his coat and buttoned it, and grabbed his own jacket where he’d tossed it the night before. Mutty kept up a steady stream of low-pitched chatter so Papa would be used to hearing his voice. He hoped that at some point Papa would answer him.

He led Papa down the stairs and out the door, where a sharp breeze hit them. Papa didn’t flinch. Mutty missed his father’s pithy comments and sharp-edged observations, so Mutty tried to think of something his father would say.

G-tt shikt di kelt noch di klaider,” he said warmly, trying to mimic his father’s tone. There was no response, but Mutty was not about to give up. He took his father’s arm, wrapped it around his own, and began to walk.

To be continued . . .