Victory Gardens – Chapter 93


Manny ponders what the Rav meant when he told him to seek out the good. Esther shares with him that she has begun a victory garden in the back yard. Mutty works hard to bring Papa back to health.

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It must have taken Mutty at least a week to notice the letter sitting, unopened, on the sideboard where Mama kept all the mail. Since Papa’s breakdown, Mama had been in charge of running the entire household. However, she wasn’t sure that she knew of all the things Papa did to make their lives run as smoothly as it had and as a result, tasks that had been Papa’s domain fell by the wayside.

It was only when the electricity was disconnected due to non-payment of the bill that Mutty realized he had to start to take the paperwork in hand. He too had noticed the pile of envelopes growing on the sideboard, but he had assumed that Mama knew what was in there and would take care of it in her own time. One candle-lit evening was all it took to convince him that it was time to get involved with that phase of running the Rothstein household as well.

Manny had arranged for a substantial sum of money to be forwarded to them by his accountant on the first of each month. He was very careful in his distribution of the funds: a certain amount went to them, and he had even arranged for Esther’s Mima Faiga to receive a sum as well, for upkeep of his apartment and whatever needs she might have. It was all very organized, and Manny had spared no expense in taking care of Papa and Mama.

The thought of delving into that ominous pile was indeed daunting to Mutty, but then so was everything else he was doing. Now, in the dim candlelight, Mutty dug into the pile to hunt for the electric bill.

What he discovered was disturbing in the extreme: unpaid bills of every stripe and sort, including fees on Papa’s now-defunct textile factory.  Mutty had purposely waited until a very distraught Mama and of course a clueless Papa retired for the night so that he could work without interruption, but now all he wanted to do was wake Mama up so she could explain everything to him or, even better, take care of it herself. He also felt a small twinge of frustration at Papa. All his life, Papa had somehow, for all his gruffness and hardened exterior, managed to raise his sons with an unassailable belief that everything that happens to a person is for his good. His belief was truly what had sustained him during the dark days in Chevron, and were keeping him afloat even now. How had this belief failed Papa so dramatically that now he could not even function?

But meanwhile, the pile had to be dealt with. Mutty fixed himself a strong cup of coffee and sat down to the task. He began by making piles of things that seemed to go together and when he finished, the story was not good. Gas bills, water bills, electric bills, property tax, telephone — most of them stamped Past Due in large red letters.

Mutty soon realized that the most recent bill of each type contained the final sum, so he took those and put them in a separate pile, and moved the rest out of the picture. He was soon left with one pile of bills to pay, and the rest was miscellaneous: wedding invitations, letters, advertisements, and the other flotsam and jetsam that make up a life.

He thought to leave that particular pile to Mama, but made one last run through to make sure he hadn’t missed anything important. That was when he found the strange-looking letter on the pile, almost hidden in a thin light blue envelope. The postmark was from Germany. Mutty still didn’t think anything of it, because he remembered that Papa still received communications from time to time from distant family members in Germany. Papa had believed strongly in the principle of keeping up family ties.

He pulled the envelope to him and debated whether he should open it, leave it for Mama or wait until the morning and give it to Papa to do with what he saw fit. He was still terribly uncomfortable with the caretaker role he was having to adopt with Papa, which was greatly challenging to carry out while still being mekayem the mitzvah of kibbud av v’em. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, and yet, it was.

He decided to wait until the morning and discuss the unopened envelope with Mama, and then abide with whatever she decided. It was a relief, actually – one less decision he had to make. 

To be continued . . .