| Family First Serial |

Fallout: Chapter 47

Fred Burton snorted. “Generation-gap nonsense. What the girl needs is discipline and a dose of reality”



September / October 1964

Yeruchum Freed had no problem staying occupied on the seven-hour coast-to-coast flight to San Francisco. He kept his eyes firmly on the pages of his small Gemara, ignoring the narishkeit on the movie screen at the front of the plane. Fred Burton, though, was restless. He’d brought a galley of a novel that was being prepared for print, read a few pages, and put it down. He fumbled with his seatbelt, scanned the headlines of the New York Times without much interest, tried watching the movie flickering on the screen, wondered why the airline had picked such a turkey to show its passengers. He ordered a small bottle of whiskey from the stewardess and guzzled it down in less than a minute, picked up the galley again, put it down in disgust.

Finally, after hours of frustrated inaction, he gave his seatmate a slight nudge.

“Rabbi Freed?”

Yeruchum took a swift glance out of his sefer. Thankfully, the screen had gone dark, and he turned his attention to Mr. Burton.

“How are you doing, Mr. Burton?”

“Call me Fred. And I’ll tell you how I’m doing. Lousy.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“And you know why I’m doing lousy? Because of that daughter of mine.” His tone, primed, perhaps, by the liquor, grew louder, more aggressive. “I don’t like flying. I don’t like throwing money, loads of it, at some inefficient private eye who couldn’t find his lost daughter if she were playing ping-pong in the basement of his house. I don’t like hippies, I don’t like my wife crying half the day. And when I get my hands on Marjorie....”

Yeruchum fingered his beard, lost in thought.

“What that girl needs,” Burton continued, “is a good talking-to. She’s always been undisciplined, but this takes the cake.”

Finally, Yeruchum broke in, his voice calm and deliberately soothing.  “Mr. Burton — Fred — I was also once the father of young people. And I had a rabbi, a wise and kind rabbi —his eyes lit up at the memory of his rebbi, Reb Leibush, now undoubtedly learning with other tzaddikim in the Olam HaEmes— “who taught me to speak with them, not at them. To listen to them, understand them, and accept them, even with their follies and mistakes.”

Fred Burton snorted. “Generation-gap nonsense. What the girl needs is discipline and a dose of reality.”

Another moment of silence: Yeruchum Freed was not one to jump into words without giving them serious thought. “Fred, your daughter lived in my hotel for some months. I saw a girl who is impulsive, even rebellious, but also smart and caring. My grandchildren loved her, and my daughter, who knew her well,” he paused for a moment, “over time, began to admire her many good qualities.”

Fred Burton shifted in his (uncomfortable) airplane seat. He’d never heard anything like this about his Marjorie. “You really think—”

“I know, Fred. She’s a good girl, with a good heart. And if you want her back, you will try to accept her, whatever foolishness she’s done.”

Both men lapsed into a thoughtful silence. Burton picked up the galley again, took a quick look and dropped it onto his lap with a resigned sigh. He turned back to his seatmate. “Well, you’re the rabbi. And I admit, we haven’t done very well with her. Okay, Rabbi Freed, I’ll give it a try.” He hailed a passing stewardess. “Hand me another bottle of scotch, dear.” He gave a short laugh. “I’m going to need it.”


hat excitement! The fourth-grade class was going to celebrate Halloween with a masquerade party. All the eight- and nine-year-old boys and girls were to come wearing costumes, and a prize would be given to the child who had the best one.

Mother, of course, was determined that her little Marjorie would bring home the brass medal. No mere toy store for her; they took a trip to Manhattan, to a large warehouse that supplied costumes for school plays and even the occasional low-budget off-Broadway show.

Speeding through New Mexico, Marjorie suddenly remembered that day, the floor-to-ceiling mirrors, the thin-lipped saleswoman whose blood-red nail polish fascinated her, the pile of costumes Mother urged her to try on.

In the course of that memorable hour, Marjorie became a ballerina, an Egyptian princess, a hospital nurse. As she tried on each costume, she would stare at her image in the mirror and ask herself: Is this me?

No, she wasn’t about to prance around a stage in a frilly tutu. She was no princess, Egyptian or other, and she certainly was not an angel of mercy wiping a patient’s fevered brow.

It was only when she stared at a grim pirate, with his three-cornered hat, eye patch and, best of all, a sharp-edged (plastic) sword that she recognized herself.

Well, Mother had nixed that idea (and the Dracula costume, another contender), Marjorie had thrown an epic tantrum, and had been banned from attending the party at all.

Now mulling on the costume party debacle, Marjorie had a kind of crazy idea: Let me try on some different lives and look in a mirror. And then answer the question: Is this me?

After all, Danny’s balance sheet idea had come to nothing. No surprise there: Accounting was just not her thing. Her search for holiness? Failure: On this visit she’d just felt the faint echoes of the emotions that the canyon had raised within her that first time.

She remembered Danny’s words: “You’re a big girl, Marge, a college grad…. Why don’t you think about a career? Or if you want to be domestic, find yourself a nice husband and raise some nice kids.”

A career? Doctor or nurse, lawyer, accountant (horrors!), social worker, or (double horrors!) work for her father’s publishing company? Nope — none of those costumes fit. She’d had more than enough schooling; no way she was stepping into a classroom again. Besides, who wanted to work in the same place day after day? Might as well put on the costume of a prison inmate….

A nice husband and some nice kids? She had a feeling if she set her mind to it, she could get Danny to marry her. He would make a nice husband. He was considerate and sweet and funny, and she’d have the world’s greatest father-in-law. Two kids, a big shaggy dog, a station wagon. House with doable mortgage, neighbors who dressed just like she did.

She tried it on for size. It was safe and secure, and she’d probably be happy.

Marjorie passed the state line. The speed limit in California had recently been raised to 70 miles per hour; she glanced at the Mustang’s speedometer and pressed the gas until she reached a much more satisfactory 85 mph.

Do I really want to be safe and secure?

Bad fit.

So what’s next, Miss Pirate and Vampire?

The weird alternative: the Freed Hotel. She fingered the gold necklace under her T-shirt. It was strange, but kind of nice, how they didn’t gossip about others. (As someone who’d more than once been the subject of nasty gossip in school, she could appreciate that.) Unlike her parents and their suburban friends, the Levines didn’t define their lives by what other people thought. Shabbos could be boring, but it had its groovy moments. Hashem, G-d, was a noticeable presence in their lives, as real to them as the boarders in the hotel.

And then there was Artie. He was sensitive (so am I, a little), musical (so am I, a lot). He’d suffered, and he sometimes felt as if he didn’t belong anywhere (ditto for me).

Marry Artie? But that would mean… becoming religious. Really religious. Searching for crumbs in pockets before Passover, ditching her shorts and pants, saying no to burger joints and five-star restaurants.

Maybe one day but… I’m not ready. Besides, who says Artie would marry a girl like me?

So… another nothing.

She rolled down the window and let her hair fly in the wind. Unexpectedly, and for no rational reason, she felt a rush of optimism pass over her.

Something will turn up. Hit the gas, Marge, get back to the Haight, to Mr. Lefkowitz’s tuna fish.

Doc Muddy was a pest. He knew it, all the guys in the base hospital knew it, his CO certainly knew it.

And Mutty didn’t care.

In one of life’s ironies, it was not Mutty’s Jewish observance that made him stand out among the men on the base. A consultation with a sympathetic and understanding chaplain, his tefillin, small siddur and Gemara, and Mama’s generous food packages took care of his religious needs.

But what other grunt spent every moment of his free time haunting the base hospital, soaking in the smells of alcohol, pus, and sweat, staring at each IV pole and stitched wound, reading the fine print on every bottle of medicine?

Until his advanced training in artillery began, he’d been given the incredibly boring job of supply clerk, sitting in a stifling warehouse filling out endless lists of material that came in and went out. The kind of posting most guys dreamed about: no hidden mines, no jungle rot, no Victor Charlie snipers aiming their Soviet Union scoped rifles directly at your brains.

But this was not the kind of posting Mutty Levine had given up a year of med school for.

By the second day in, he had climbed the chain of command relentlessly, requesting corpsman training. No dice: Uncle Sam apparently needed him to shoot the enemy, not bandage his own comrades.

When he got his final, “Enough of this nonsense, Levine, we’ve got better things to do than to pander to every unhappy soldier,” from his CO, he began to visit the base hospital whenever he had free time. First a corpsman, then a nurse, and then finally a doctor ordered him out. He would leave, then sneak in from another door. He shrank into the dim corners, avidly watching the staff tending to the wounded.

Finally, inevitably, after a day of this cat-and-mouse game, someone called the hospital commander to get rid of this nut job. Major Preston looked him up and down. “Son,” he said, his deep voice sympathetic, “there are confidentiality rules in hospitals. You can’t just stay here and watch.”

Something in his voice told Mutty that here was a person who maybe, just maybe, might even listen to him.

“Sir, it’s not idle curiosity. My father, sir, is a physician, and before I enlisted, I was premed in Columbia.” The story came out, his top grades on the MCATs, his decision to spend a year learning hands-on as a corpsman before starting med school. “And since they won’t let me train for it, at least I’d like to learn what I can from what’s happening here.”

Preston, himself a Columbia grad, announced to the staff that “Doc Muddy” should be allowed to stay and absorb all the information available. And for three wonderful days, Mutty did just that. He learned how to treat the malaria that was endemic to the area, watched the operating staff amputate a 19-year-old soldier’s leg, sat quietly while a nurse comforted a man who was sobbing from the only eye he had left. He learned the correct way to tie a tourniquet and the most effective means of removing a bandage from a badly burned arm.

It was grisly. Frightening. Horrific.

And he loved every minute of it.

To be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 891)

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