| Family First Serial |

Fallout: Chapter 29

But stay? Forever? Eating endless potatoes and talking to the old fogeys who wanted to marry her off to just about anyone?


July 1964

She’d show them!

At two in the morning, the Burton house — and the houses of all their neighbors — slept quietly, secure in their prosperity and self-righteousness, with only a night-light here and there casting dim rays into the darkness. There was no one around to notice a figure creeping silently out the door and stepping into the red sports car parked in the driveway.

All of suburbia might be sleeping, but once Marjorie reached her destination, the vibrant energy of the neighborhood enveloped her like the embrace of a manic and overexcited old friend. Greenwich Village was alive and pulsing, a crazy quilt of flickering neon signs, jazz melodies, and artists and poets drinking in smoky basement clubs. Here was youth, fresh, alive, rebellious: Exactly what Marjorie was searching for.

Here was her dream. The dream her parents were bent on destroying.

It wasn’t fair!

She’d had it all figured out. She’d believed Father’s promise, as he dangled both rent for an apartment and a car of her own as a trade for finishing college. She would graduate, move to the Village, and then grab life by the shoulders and really shake it up!

By the time she’d reached her senior year, though, the atmosphere of her home was stifling her. She just couldn’t do it: If she stayed at home she knew there would be an explosion before she managed to wear that stupid cap and gown that Father and Mother worshiped. And then her lucky star intervened, in the unlikely shape of a Coney Island hotel. Shabby it might have been, the Freed Hotel, but it was certainly respectable, and even Father and Mother couldn’t object to her living there.

What a plan! No more stealing out to the Village from under her parents’ watchful eyes. She’d discovered a rarely used back entrance in the hotel, perfect for sneaking in and out when she wanted to have some midnight fun.

Now, mourning the failure of her scheme, Marjorie sulked into the smoky confines of a neighborhood café. Two long-haired men were playing guitars and singing folk songs about being free, free, free, just you and me.

“Yeah, sure,” Marjorie muttered, sitting at a scratched wooden table sipping an espresso. “Free, free, free, everyone but me.”

“What’s the matter, babe?”

An enormous woman plopped down beside Marjorie, her chair creaking dangerously beneath her. Marjorie recognized her: Mama Mumu, a Village regular nicknamed for the enormous, tent-like dresses she wore. Tonight’s mumu was bright pink with orange flowers. Mama was about 30 years old, ancient in this place, and many of the inhabitants of the Village found her shoulders excellent for crying on.

With tears of frustration running down her face, Marjorie blurted out the story: her father’s promise, her months in (of all places) a friendly and welcoming Orthodox Jewish hotel, her parents’ betrayal.

“Don’t cry into the espresso, baby, it ruins the taste. So you don’t want to live at home?”


“And you don’t want to stay in that Jew hotel?”

Marjorie took a long and bitter sip of espresso.

Stay in the hotel?

True, they’d all been nice to her, except maybe Mrs. L., though even she had calmed down. Shabbos was interesting when it wasn’t boring, and sometimes Rabbi Freed told her some really cool stuff. And it would be fun to see if Mrs. L.’s new baby was a boy or a girl.

But stay? Forever? Eating endless potatoes and talking to the old fogeys who wanted to marry her off to just about anyone?

“No, doesn’t work for me.”

“Well then, babe, maybe it’s time for you to catch some rays.”


“You know. California. The Haight. Don’tcha have some friends there?”

Her tears vanished in an instant. “Yeah, I do. Chrissie, and Dana, and Kim….” She pulled a postcard from her pants pocket and read it carefully. Then she bounced off her chair, gave Mama Mumu a gigantic hug, slapped a five-dollar bill for a fifty-cent espresso into a waiter’s astonished hands, and flew toward the Mustang.

If they wouldn’t let her have her own pad in the Village, if they’d insist on imprisoning her in some office job in Father’s company, which was what everyone who showed up at her graduation party hinted, or said, or expected — they wouldn’t have her at all.


awn was breaking, bathing the Burton house in a lovely orange-pink glow that Marjorie hardly noticed; she was too busy trying to get back to her room without waking anyone. The first step in her escape plan was to get back home without anyone noticing she’d left.

Done! She slipped in the back door, crept up the stairs, slowly closed the bedroom door behind her. And though she worried that her beating heart and fevered thoughts would keep her awake, fatigue overtook her, and in minutes she was fast asleep.

It was midmorning when she awoke. She peeked out the window and saw that the family station wagon was gone, while the Mustang was there. Just as she’d hoped: Father had taken the train to his Manhattan office, and Mother must be at some planning meeting for one of her countless organizations.

Packing was quick and easy. Those sleeveless shifts, A-line skirts, and the elegant dresses that tried to make you look like Jackie Kennedy; and the long sleeved, high-neck shirts and past-the-knee skirts that she’d worn in the hotel — they all belonged to a different planet, to a world she was leaving far behind. A few T-shirts and slacks, just enough to get her to Haight-Ashbury, where she’d find the psychedelic, flowing maxi dresses she longed for.

And now, one more inconvenient but necessary item. Money.

She didn’t have much. She knew that Father had put money away for her — “In safe investments, dear, for when you’re ready to marry and have a home of your own” — but she had no way of accessing it. The pocket money she’d earned in the Freed Hotel had long been spent on greasy fish and chips and cups and cups of espresso on those nights she’d spent in the Village.

There was the money that Mother kept in a piggy bank on a kitchen shelf, and Father often left some cash in his desk drawer. She considered it for a moment then shook her head. No! She might be an ungrateful daughter, as Mother had called her more than once. She might be a rebel and a holy terror — all words that had been used, at one time or the other, to describe her. But Marjorie Burton was no thief.

Where else? Of course! A pawn shop! There were plenty of them in the Village, creepy little stores where poor people — or rich kids, trying, like her, to escape their parents — brought all kinds of different items. You got a loan based on the item’s value, which you repaid with sky-high interest. If you didn’t repay the loan, the pawnbroker was free to sell whatever you’d brought in.

Marjorie opened the jewelry box she’d gotten for her tenth birthday. Her face wore that stubborn look her parents knew and dreaded, as she remorselessly took piece after piece and placed it in a paper bag: the bracelet Aunt Dora had given her for her sweet 16; her high school graduation necklace; endless rings, bangles, and earrings from birthdays gone by.

She picked up one more necklace: gold, with a pendant that had the word “Chai” on it. She stared at it, and, smiling at her own weakness, firmly closed the clasp around her neck.

There. She would drive to a pawn shop, get herself enough money for gas and food, and be on her way.



hough their sleep the night before had been, to put it mildly, a little disturbed, Annie and Abe were smiling as they ate breakfast together. The twins had caught the school bus on time, and Artie offered to drop off Ruchele on his way to the hotel, leaving the two of them with some blessed quiet time together.

They didn’t discuss the previous night’s drama and Abe’s confession of weakness, a secret he’d kept from Annie for decades. They didn’t need to: Despite the dark lines under Annie’s eyes and a few gigantic yawns from Abe, they both felt lighter, happier as they ate their scrambled eggs and corn muffins.

Annie poured cups of strong coffee, fortifying them for the day ahead. Abe picked up the Times that was delivered daily to their door. “Mind, sweetheart, if I take a look at the news?” he asked.

“Sure,” Annie replied. Politics didn’t interest her at all, but she enjoyed reading that relatively new paper, The Jewish Press. She skipped the headlines and flipped through it, stopping to read some women’s columns and local news.

“Oh dear,” she said, putting down her coffee cup and frowning.

“What’s the matter?”

“Oh, Abe, remember that nice man, Chatzkel Perlstein, who owned the hotel we stayed in? The Manor House? Baruch dayan emes — he passed away.”

“Sorry to hear. He was pretty old, but seemed to be in good health.”

She skimmed the death notice. “Sounds like it was sudden. His children are sitting shivah in his hotel up in the Catskills.” She looked up. “Maybe we should make a shivah call?”

“It’s a good two-hour drive. And we hardly knew him, and we don’t know the kids at all.”

“I guess. But it was just so nice up there, so quiet, just when I needed it.”

Abe looked up from the paper. “You liked it up there? In the Catskills?”

“I really did. So green and tranquil. Far from all the honking and pushing in the city.”

Abe shifted, a little uncomfortably. “Would you consider… I know this sounds crazy but… would you want to move there?”

Annie looked at him, astonished. “What in the world do you mean?”

“You know, honey, how we talked last night about not keeping secrets?”

Annie looked apprehensive. “Yes?”

“Well, I had… not really a secret. Just something I didn’t bother telling you about, because I didn’t think you needed to know.”

“I need to know everything, Abe, if it’s about us. What is it?”

“Well, a while ago a fellow, name of Dr. Sloan, offered me a job in the new NICU in his hospital.”


“Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. They’re opening it, and they’ve offered me a position there.”

“But what does that have to do with the Catskills?”

“Well, that’s the thing. The hospital is in the Catskills. I didn’t tell you about the job offer because  I figured it was impossible, not fair to shlep you and the kids so far away. So I told him no. But he’s still bothering me about it, and he says he’s keeping the offer open. And if you really like the Catskills…” his eyes sparkled just a little, “you know, tummies and ears can get a bit boring after a while. This would be a new challenge.”

Annie’s gentle voice became uncharacteristically strident. “But Abe, we can’t… Papa… the baby… the kids… and now, Mutty gone…”

“Calm down, sweetheart. I told him I couldn’t take the job. We won’t be going anywhere.”

Annie looked around her, at the kitchen that she’d decorated so carefully, at the oven where she baked her challahs every week, at the pantry and the counters and the new GE Americana refrigerator that they had delivered just last week.

And then she looked at her husband. At his eyes.

And she saw: The sparkle was gone.

To be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 873)

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