Victory Gardens – Chapter 98

Novel

Esther is resting to preserve her health. Manny receives a reply telegram from Mutty telling him that Hearst wants to speak with Papa, but that Papa is unable to meet with him. Manny feels overwhelmed by unknown dangers. .

 

For once, Mutty was moving about before the alarm clock roused him from his normally deep sleep. Despite his newfound responsibilities, he still would have enjoyed sleeping in had it been possible, and his self-imposed early morning schedule was difficult to maintain. But the night before had been long and restless; Mutty had tossed and turned until he finally gave up trying to sleep, and instead watched the sky get lighter and lighter. He tried not to let himself think, because if he gave in to his worries, he would never be able to help Papa.

At the appointed time, he wearily dragged himself out from under the blanket and washed negel vasser from a basin he’d left by his bed the night before. This was another thing that he’d learned from his roomate in Chevron, and after he prepared his own sefel and basin, he’d begun preparing for his parents as well. Mama had been pleased, but Papa had been oblivious. When Mutty would come in to help him out of bed in the mornings, Papa would first reach out his hands and let Mutty pour the water over them.

This morning, to his surprise Papa was already up and seemed to be waiting for him. Mutty gently raised him to a sitting position, and when he looked at Papa, for the first time, Papa seemed to be looking back. But Mutty had had his hopes raised and dashed before, so he didn’t read much into this gesture.

After their morning routine was complete, and he and Papa were seated at the breakfast table, Mutty took out the letter from Eckner and read it aloud to Papa. He had been doing this ever since he first opened it, hoping to spark a response in Papa. The old Papa would have stampeded — or carried out the reserved German equivalent — over to that Hearst building to meet the situation head-on. He had to believe that that man was still inside the shell of his father who sat before him now so listlessly.

Mutty read the letter out loud three times a day before each meal, except when Mama was within hearing distance. She usually left Mutty alone to feed Papa because it was hard for her to witness that. She had done it as best she could before Mutty returned home, but it was one task she was happy to relinquish into his ever-more-capable hands.

“Herr Rothstein,” it began. “I hope this letter finds you well. We have a problem.” He read it through till the end, while Papa sat staring straight ahead. Mutty blew out a sigh and went to serve Papa the delicious breakfast Mama had lovingly prepared.

While he was in the kitchen, he became distracted by the newspaper from the day before that he hadn’t had a chance to read, as it was Shabbos. He tried not to alter their routine too much on Shabbos, only what was necessary for davening and the seudos.

He felt his stomach twinge as he looked at the front page. Despite his family’s German background, the threatening letter to Papa from Captain Eckner had made him jittery over all things German. Now he read of a failed attempt to introduce a “Law Against the Enslavement of the German People.” The law, proposed by German nationalists, would formally renounce the Treaty of Versailles and make it a criminal offense for German officials to co-operate in the collection of reparations. Although it was approved by 94.5% of voters, turnout had been just 14.9%, while a turnout of 50% was necessary for it to pass. The article mentioned an up-and-coming new voice in the Reichstag by the name of Adolph Hitler. Mutty sighed, and, putting the paper aside, turned his thoughts to Chanukah, which was four days from now. He’d have to remind Mama about the oil and the wicks, but he had a feeling she’d already gotten ready everything they would need right after Sukkos had ended. Mama was like that, and it was a trait he admired in her immensely.

His thoughts a minefield of worries, he took down plates and carefully placed two crackers and the poached egg Mama had prepared, and put two pieces of bread in the toaster.

He poured out two cups of hot coffee and placed everything on a small tray, and turned back toward the breakfast nook where Papa was sitting. What he saw nearly caused him to drop the tray to the ground.

To be continued . . .