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Fallout: Chapter 40

Finally, Annie spoke. “Abe, quiet them down. We’ve got to tell them”


September 1964

The twins, of course, were the first to break the shocked silence. “A house in the country! Wow!” And with that wild shout, pandemonium broke loose. Within seconds the two boys were racing around the house, pointing to a dilapidated but tempting barn in the back, whooping and yelling as they started climbing a large chestnut oak tree. Ruchele gazed in wonder at the riot of color — pink, purple, and a blaze of yellow — in the garden that adjoined the house’s wraparound porch; Mutty and Artie punched each other’s forearms in a classic brotherly gesture of triumph; the other adults started to shoot questions at Annie and Abe while baby Yitzchak, awakened by the uproar from his auto-induced nap, started to wail.

Only Annie and Abe seemed untouched by the excitement. Annie gazed at the house’s pleasant exterior with a face, not exactly sad, just thoughtful, while Abe, enjoying the noise and ruckus, smiled broadly.

Finally, Annie spoke. “Abe, quiet them down. We’ve got to tell them.”

Abe, with his confident and relaxed personality and his years of experience working with children, rarely had to raise his voice in discipline. But when he did use “Dad’s Voice,” as Mutty once called it, the results were dramatic and immediate.

“Okay, everybody, get on the porch, we’ve got to talk.”

There was still a buzz of conversation as everyone piled onto the porch, the children sitting on the steps, the adults leaning on the white wooden fencing surrounding it.

“Great idea, Dad,” David, older of the twins, sang out. “We’ve been saying for years we need a summer place in the country.”

“Yeah,” Yonason echoed. “No more Coney Island sand for us!”

Annie braced herself. It was time. But let Abe be the one to pop the balloon.

“Well, not exactly, kids. It’s not a summer home. It’s…” a moment’s hesitation, “it’s where we’re thinking about living all year round.”

Utter silence fell on the porch, a silence that seemed almost palpable, as if it were echoing off the emerald-green mountains surrounding them.

Taking advantage of the quiet, Abe began to discuss Dr. Sloan’s job offer.

“But Dad—” David interrupted. Abe put out a hand. “Let me finish, Davy. Mama and I have been talking about this for some time. To be honest, we haven’t decided. It’s not an easy decision, and—” Again, a warning hand, as this time Yonason broke in, “we decided that this affects everyone, and so we will make the decision together as a family. Now,” he said, ruffling Yonason’s hair, “let’s talk about it.”

Annie watched the atmosphere change from nervous tension to mild apprehension and then to deep curiosity, as Abe explained more about the move, what kind of schooling the children could expect, how Artie could either find work in the Catskills or stay in the hotel during the week, who their neighbors would be, what a NICU was, and how he could save babys’ lives.

Abie was smart, to bring the kids into the discussion. He’d come up with the idea after another fruitless midnight conversation between the two of them. Is it fair to the children? But what about all those premature babies? How will Papa feel? What will Artie do if we leave? Is it fair to sacrifice Annie’s friendships for Abe’s career — or vice versa? On and on, with no resolution in sight.

“Hey, Annie,” Abe had finally said, “if we’re so worried about the kids — and we should be — why don’t we ask them?” His eyes got that sparkle that showed he’d come up with another jaw-dropping idea. “Let’s make it a surprise.” He and Annie had spent one Sunday afternoon with a realtor, and this converted farmhouse, surrounded by a glowing lawn, a blooming garden, and space — so much space, after the crowding in Boro Park — had captured Annie’s interest; to be honest, it had captured her heart. So different from the houses in Boro Park that huddled together like sheep looking for warmth. And the grassy surroundings, so unlike the harsh and cracked sidewalks of Brooklyn.

Though she wasn’t certain it was a good idea — whoever heard of children being involved in such fateful decisions? — it seemed there wasn’t much choice; she and Abe simply couldn’t come to a decision. So she agreed to a Sunday picnic right there at the dream house, complete with sandwiches, nosh… and a family meeting to decide their future.

“Okay, gang.” Abe glanced at his watch. “We’ve got two hours before I have to get the key back to the real estate agent. I want everybody to explore. Check out the rooms, the kitchen, the grounds. In an hour we’ll walk to the nearest frum neighbors, who invited us for coffee and cake — and kids get homemade lemonade with lemons from their tree! Let’s all get a real feel for what living out here would be like. Then we picnic on the lawn, and everyone gets to speak.”

Moe and Abe stayed out on the porch while Annie shepherded everyone else into the house. “Can I borrow the car for an hour or two?” Moe asked when everyone else was gone.

Abe gave him a quizzical look, then smiled. “Sure,” he replied, throwing him the keys.

Moe roared off, and Abe walked slowly into the house that one day might be theirs.


he voice that had broken into Mr. Lefkowitz’s and Marjorie’s conversation turned into a young man, clean-shaven, dressed casually but neatly in a sky-blue button-down shirt and carefully pressed pants.

Sam gave him a delighted handshake-turned-hug. “Hey, Danny-boy, come and meet my newest friend. Margie,” he said, “this is my son Dan, the boy genius. Danny, Marjorie Burton,”

“The girl goofy,” Marjorie added, giggling.

Danny Lefkowitz gave a gap-toothed but charming smile, while his father continued to speak, his pride and love so apparent it seemed to light up the shelves of the rather dim grocery store. “Danny’s finished his coursework in UCLA and is studying for the CPA exams,” he added, giving his son’s cheek a cheerful pinch. “No more adding up numbers on brown paper bags for this boy.”

Accounting? Marjorie just managed not to roll her eyes. When a high school guidance counselor had suggested accounting or law for her as possible career choices, she’d jumped out of the chair and raced out of the room, stopping for just a few seconds in the doorway. “Accounting?” she said, her voice rising dramatically, “I would rather die!” Accountants and lawyers (and, for that matter, book publishers) wore gray flannel suits, worked in stuffy offices if they were starting out, and in fancy corner offices — still stuffy — when they’d climbed the corporate ladder by stepping on the heads of people below them.

But… this guy wasn’t wearing a gray flannel. And he had crooked teeth that didn’t look like he’d straightened them so he could smile at clients while he figured out how to squeeze more money out of them. (Besides, with a father who owned a tiny corner grocery, where would he find money for braces?) And what was that he’d said, while Margie and Sam were talking about being a good Jew?

Maybe, just maybe, Mr. Accountant Danny-boy was worth talking to.

“Um… you said not everyone thinks like your dad, about, you know, Shabbos and mitzvos and stuff.”

“Are you interested in Judaism, Margie?” His voice, like his smile, was charming and natural. A voice you could learn to like.

“Yeah, I guess.” And, once again, she recounted her days — sometimes weird, sometimes intriguing — spent among Orthodox Jews who didn’t make a move without consulting their Torah.

“I took a course in comparative religion in my freshie year,” Danny said, “and while there wasn’t too much about Orthodoxy, I did learn, Pop, that for some Jews, keeping Sabbath is a vital component of their observance. If that’s Margie’s path, I think we should respect it, no?” He paused for a moment, rubbed his clean-shaven cheeks. “Tell you what, if the store gets busy, I can man the register for a couple of hours.”

“He’s not only smart, my boy, he’s got a good heart.” Sam gave the other cheek a pinch and laughed. “Okay, Margie, two against one. Don’t worry, worse comes to worst I’ll get some other hippie-dippie to lend a hand. And since Margie will have Saturday off, Danny, why don’t you take her to see that soup kitchen you’re so set on?”

“Soup kitchen?” That sounded interesting.

Danny’s smile broadened even more. “Yes. Since Haight-Ashbury became a magnet for youth, we’ve got kids, some as young as thirteen or fourteen, runaways, showing up here. Some of them live on the streets, get involved with drugs and other really bad stuff. And before the Haight became full of what Pop calls hippie-dippies, it was a poor neighborhood, so there are also the elderly residents who need financial help. A local organization opened a storefront that serves soup and bread, and I try to get there for a few hours on Saturdays to help out. There can sometimes be as many as eighty people there. So you see, Marjorie, even accountants have hearts.”

Marjorie’s eyes opened in startled appreciation. “How did you know what I was thinking?”

Danny laughed. “Eyes have a way of talking, Marjorie. Beware of people who can hear what they say. Pop, I’ve got to go hit the books.” He turned to Marjorie. “So, Saturday at eleven. We’ll meet here. Okay?”


She watched, puzzled and surprisingly excited, as he walked swiftly down the street.


hough it most certainly had a history, Annie thought as she walked slowly through the living room, this house was not haunted. Built as a farmhouse in the late 1800s, it had been demolished and reconstructed in the 1920s, when a young couple bought it. For more than four decades they’d raised their family here, and now, with their children all married, they were ready to give it over to another family. A happy house, Annie felt, a place to raise happy children.

No, no ghosts here. Except, perhaps, for the one that was following her, whispering warnings, articulating fears.

Here was the bay window, looking out upon the lawn, the fruit trees and, in the background, the mountains themselves. She imagined herself lighting the Shabbos candles here, watching their glow as sunset streaked the sky. And then came that ghostly voice: With your nearest frum neighbor a ten-minute walk away, and you’ll have Ruchele and the new baby and no eiruv, how will you fill the long wait while Abie and the boys come home from shul? The kitchen was old-fashioned, and Abe had promised to replace it. She could envision herself in this sun-drenched room, cooking and baking for… whom? For her family, of course, but would the Shabbos guests she enjoyed entertaining take the long ride up?

And the hotel? No more spontaneous decisions — “It’s been a busy week, let’s go to the hotel for Shabbos.” No more chats with Perele. Leaving Moey — who’d lived so far away for so long and was finally just a short train or car ride away. Taking his only grandchildren away from Papa. Of course they would visit, but it wouldn’t, couldn’t be the same.

She could hear the children’s shouts and laughter. No ghostly caution there: The twins were already arguing about who got which side of the large, airy bedroom they would share and, as they told her, looking forward to dorming when they reached high school. Once assured that her dollies would make the trip with her, Ruchele was happy. Artie didn’t seem daunted by the prospect of spending weekdays at the hotel, and Mutty’s head was completely in Vietnam. Abe, of course, though he tried to hide it from her, was aching to take on this new challenge.

No, it was only Annie Levine — wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, neighbor, and, yes, individual with her own needs — who would be making this decision.

The house had been emptied, but Abe found a folding chair and placed it on the porch for her. She sat down and stared at the beauty surrounding her.

Imagining. Thinking. Anticipating. Hesitating.

And praying for clarity.

To be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 884)

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