Victory Gardens – Chapter 99

Novel

Mutty continues in his daily routine with Papa, which now includes reading the letter from Eckart. 

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Papa had picked up the letter! He was holding it close to his face like it was a strange thing, but he had it in his hand. His eyes were moving slowly back and forth, as though he were examining each word. Mutty could barely breathe. He stepped slowly back into the kitchen, afraid to interrupt the wondrous thing that was taking place only a few feet away.

Mutty had already decided that if Papa didn’t show any improvement within the week, he was going to meet with Hearst himself. He couldn’t let much more time go by if Manny was really in danger. He wondered now, as he stood in the shadow of the kitchen and watched his father, if perhaps he might be spared that particular burden, that he would be able to go with Papa as a devoted son while Papa himself conducted the meeting.

As day flowed into day, Mutty felt himself changing, like a butterfly coming out of its cocoon. Mutty felt like that butterfly, enduring with Papa the cocoon that was his father’s condition, yearning to free them both of its confines. Mutty was growing weary of pushing against the cocoon, but he knew that to keep on was the only way.

At that moment, Mama walked into the room and also saw Papa reading the letter. Her reaction was entirely different. As she did every day, she sat down across from him and wished him a good morning. Papa usually said nothing, but this morning he put the letter down and nodded at his wife of so many years. Another woman may have exclaimed with joy at this long-awaited acknowledgement, but not Mama, who believed Papa had been aware of her presence the whole time despite his lack of response. “Where’s your breakfast?” she said, calmly and naturally. Papa did not reply, but Mama didn’t lose even an iota of patience. She understood that Papa had simply lost his footing, but and would be back when he was ready and able.

“Mama! Mama!” Mutty’s whisper was so loud he might as well have speaking in his normal voice. He could barely contain his excitement. Mama smiled at Papa and stood up to go into the kitchen.

“Papa’s reading the letter!” he said, still whispering but barely able to contain his excitement.

“Why are you standing there with Papa’s breakfast?” she asked, taking the tray from him.

“I didn’t want to interrupt,” said Mutty.

“You’re a good boy,” said Mama. She went back into the dinette to serve Papa his breakfast, but to Mutty’s disappointment, he didn’t even acknowledge it. He realized he was going to have to feed Papa, a task he did not relish. He was always trying to reconcile this version of Papa with the stern, stalwart, yet fond Papa he recalled from the pre-Chevron days. That Papa would have Mutty sit at the table until he’d finished everything on his plate. “A person needs to be accustomed to eating whatever he is served. Personal taste has no place when it comes to derech eretz,” he’d say. “A mentsch needs to learn to eat what is put in front of him. You eat to live, you don’t live to eat!” Mutty smiled at the memory, and couldn’t help but wonder (hoping that he wasn’t being disrespectful) what painful process was going through his father’s mind each day as he was unable to adhere to his own principles.

As far as he knew, he’d never been blatantly disrespectful to his father — although he thought with a flash of shame of the letters he had not written home during his time in Chevron before the massacre, despite the fact that he knew his parents were waiting for them. That was one thing he had to do teshuvah for. If he put his mind to it – and he knew that he would – other opportunities would no doubt come to mind. Meanwhile, he was doing as much as he could now to take the best are of Papa and bring him back.

His face had fallen by the time Mama came back into the kitchen. “False alarm,” he said, feeling dejected.

“No,” said Mama firmly. “First step.”

To be continued . . .