| Family First Serial |

Fallout: Chapter 43

Some events in life you think, you hope, you’re convinced, will never happen, even though you know they will



September 1964

NO one came to her rescue.

Not that she needed rescuing. Marjorie was a strong swimmer, her muscles toned from years of lessons in the local YMCA. She’d hated that pool, with the strange sound of children’s shouting voices echoing off the steam-covered ceiling, the lifeguard’s shrill whistle, the choking smell of chlorine, and, of course, the weekly argument she had with Mother about attending. But here, surrounded and embraced by the blue waters of the park’s manmade lake, and with Earth’s unfriendly voices silenced for at least a short while, she again felt a surge of joy, a certainty that one day, one day soon, she would find the freedom she’d been yearning for all these years.

When she reached the shore and clambered out, dripping wet, she was laughing.

She found Danny calmly tying up the boat.

“Hey, why didn’t you dive in after me?” she shouted, shaking the water off her soaked T-shirt and pants like some overactive little puppy.

“You looked just fine, like those unsinkable rubber duckies I used to play with in the bathtub. So why should I ruin a perfectly good pair of pants?”

They began to walk through the park and, drying up in the late-summer sun, she brought up the point again, half laughing, half serious. “But it would have been, you know, heroic for you to plunge into the depths and rescue the damsel in distress.”

“I’m not heroic. I’m logical.”

She looked at him, her eyes thoughtful. “Yes, yes you are. Like one of those adding machines that accountants use.”

“Bookkeepers. We accountants are too busy helping rich people cheat the government.”

Marjorie giggled.

“Anyway,” Danny continued, “I won’t be able to convince you that accounting is a perfectly valid profession, so let’s just agree to disagree.”

“I’d rather agree to argue some more.”

“Yes, I know you would, but it’s much too sunny for fighting. I’ll walk you home and you can show me that Mustang you love so much.”

But when they came to the rather seedy block where Marjorie had parked the car, the Mustang wasn’t there.

Some events in life you think, you hope, you’re convinced, will never happen, even though you know they will.

And then they happen.

As hard as it is to grieve, Annie thought, it’s so much harder when you’ve got to keep smiling. And smile she would, for the next few hours. How wise she’d been to forbid any mention of selling the hotel. Now, as they gathered together for a farewell breakfast, Mutty, her bechor, her boy, would go off to war with happy memories of his parents, his sisters and brothers, his grandparents, and the hotel where he’d been born, where he’d spent so much of his childhood, with no distractions or arguments.

Perele had outdone herself: pancakes with syrup, bagels and lox, cold cereal for the kids, hot oatmeal for Abe’s parents, chocolate milk for Ruchele and the twins, fresh-squeezed orange juice for everyone else.

Mutty had already said a cheerful goodbye to the boarders. Now, sitting around the table that had been set up in a corner of the dining room just for the family, it was time to drink the fresh-perked coffee, nosh on Perele’s kokosh cake, and give the hero his parting gifts. Keep the presents small, Annie had cautioned everyone, so they’ll fit into Mutty’s kitbag. Something he can remember us by when he’s far away.

From Grandma and Grandpa Levine came an expensive Rolex wristwatch. Zeide gave him a small siddur and a brachah, holding his hands, which shook slightly, on Mutty’s head as he recited the holy words. Abe and Moe each offered objects that had served them well during their own army experiences. From Moe there was the small Gemara, with four amudim on a page, which he’d learned from during his years in England. Abe handed him a blank journal, a Parker pen, and his heartfelt advice: “Here’s where you can put in the real story of what you’ve done and seen. It will help when things get tough.” Ruchele’s picture of her and Mutty in a slightly crooked red heart went right into his pocket, while the tiny teddy bear wearing combat fatigues that the twins, laughing, offered him, fit nicely in a small compartment in his kitbag.

Artie had been uncharacteristically quiet during the meal, Annie noticed, not even making up a farewell ditty for the occasion. Perhaps it was because he’d become more involved, and more outspoken, about the war in Vietnam. Baruch Hashem, he did not discuss his feelings with Mutty, but he had told Annie that he was considering joining what was beginning to be called the anti-war movement.

Now, with a smile that seemed to Annie to be just a little forced, Artie handed Mutty the gift he’d spent weeks trying to find: a Frisbee manufactured in the camouflage colors of green, yellow, and black. “I’m sure you’ll have plenty of time for play,” he said, throwing it to Mutty across the table.

And Annie? What gift could she give to her son as he went off to war? Her prayers? Her hugs? Her heart?

All these she put into the photograph they’d taken at the beach two years before: a black-and-white picture of the Levine clan, Abe and Annie in the center, surrounded by their laughing children. She’d spent hours paging through the family’s many photo albums, searching for the perfect photograph, one that captured the love and closeness of all the family. She sent it as a talisman, almost, something to remind Mutty that he had a home to come back to, a home waiting for him to return safely.

The gifts given and stashed safely away; the bentshing said with more than the usual kavanah; the thanks to Perele and cheerful wave to the boarders crowding the porch to see him off; the “one last hug” to each of his siblings — and it was time. Abe, Annie, and Mutty climbed into the Cadillac for the two-hour drive to McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey: the beginning of Private First Class Mordechai Levine’s journey to Vietnam.

The Mustang was gone!

“Someone stole it!” Marjorie shouted, panic in her voice.

Danny stayed infuriatingly calm. “I haven’t heard about any car thefts in this neighborhood lately. Are you sure it was parked here and not somewhere else?”

“Of course, I’m sure.”

“Well, if it’s been stolen, you’ll have to notify the police. Do you have theft insurance?”

A blank look. “How should I know? Father takes care of all those things.”

Danny repeated her words slowly. “ ‘Father takes care of all those things.’ Marjorie,” he said, his voice serious and stern, “don’t tell me you stole your father’s car.”

“I didn’t steal it! He promised me a car if I graduated, and then he wouldn’t give me one, so I—”

“Stole it.”

“Took it without permission.”

“Stole it.”

“Okay, okay, yeah, I stole my dad’s car. Shoot me.”

“I won’t shoot you, Margie, but you have yourself quite a problem here. You can’t—”

Whatever Danny felt she couldn’t do would remain a mystery, because his words were cut off by the roar of an engine racing around the corner.

“My car! But what—” Her words fell into silence as she stared in shock and horror.

Yes, it was the Mustang, with its New York plates and whitewall tires, but what was this? Her gorgeous firehouse-red Mustang was now a riot of color! The word “Love” jumped out in bright orange, “Peace” was green, and those blobs of purple and blue looked suspiciously like psychedelic flowers.

And was that a huge dent in the trunk?

The car jerked to a stop. The door flung open and Chrissie and another girl jumped out. Chrissie grinned widely when she saw Marjorie. “Surprise, Marge!” she shouted.

Even in California’s summer sun, Marjorie’s voice was frigid. “What have you done to my car?”

Chrissie’s smile grew wider. She cocked her head. “Looks great, no?”

The ice turned to fire, as Marjorie began to rant. “Who gave you permission to drive it? And that horrible paint? And the trunk is all dented! You’ve ruined everything!” she wailed.

Chrissie looked puzzled. “You mean, you don’t like it? We wanted to surprise you. The car was so middle class, something my father would drive, and now it looks so groovy. Cool-o.”

“And you’ve wrecked the trunk!”

“Oh, sorry about that. Hit a hydrant on the way home.” A giggle. “I kind of got mixed up and put it in reverse instead of first gear.”

A small crowd had gathered to watch the screaming lady and her friend. A young teenage boy with shoulder-length hair turned to Marjorie. “Keep your cool, doll, we’ll take care of this jalopy.”

She answered with a scream: “Stay away from my car!”

From among the growing group of interested bystanders came a woman dressed in a huge green and yellow dress.

“Mama!” Marjorie cried. “Look what they’ve done!” She put her head on Mama Mumu’s hefty shoulders and burst into tears.

“Hey, baby, turpentine cleans cars better than tears do.”

“But Mama…”

“I just came to say goodbye.”

Panic put an abrupt stop to weeping. “What?! You’re leaving?”

“Had enough of the sunshine. The Haight isn’t what it used to be. Too much peace and too much love. Bad for people and for cars. But,” she continued, putting a hand on Marjorie, “you’ll be okay. Just stack those cans and keep on searching.”

The car was forgotten. Danny and Chrissie and the long-haired kid still hoping to fix her car seemed to vanish along with the crowds of gawking hippies.

And as she watched the heavyset woman disappear down a side street, Marjorie felt the despair and fear of being utterly, completely alone.

Driving back from New Jersey to the hotel to pick up the children and return home, Abe carefully kept the conversation practical and light. Annie hardly heard him as he discussed mortgages, title searches, and different possibilities for selling his profitable medical practice.

With an effort, Annie pulled her attention back to her husband, banishing the image of her Mutty smartly saluting the sentry at the gate and then disappearing. Plenty of time for worry later; back to real life now, Annie.

“When do you think we should talk to Papa about selling the hotel?” she asked, as the Cadillac sped down the highway.

“No time like the present. We’ll be there anyway, might as well face the music.”

“Do you think Papa will be devastated? After all, the hotel has been his life.”

“Don’t know. Your Papa doesn’t exactly wear his emotions on his sleeve.”

After they arrived, they had a hurried conference with Moe, who agreed that it was time to talk.

As the hotel had emptied out, Moe had turned one of the rooms into a small office. It was there that he asked Papa to join them.

“Papa,” Moe started, “I’ve been giving this a lot of thought. A lot of thought. And it seems, well, that what with Coney Island changing so much, and—”

Yeruchum broke in. “And you think we’re going to have to close the hotel.”

“Yes, Papa.”

Yeruchum gave a small smile. “Took you long enough to figure that out. I’ve known for months.”

To be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 887)

Oops! We could not locate your form.