| Family First Serial |

Fallout: Chapter 48

“But the Army needs you in artillery. Here are your deployment papers. They’re waiting for you in Tan Son Nhut, where you’ll get advanced training. Good luck.”


October 1964

Midafternoon in the Haight. Among the beatniks, hippies, and mods; among the flower children and potheads; among the bell-bottom pants and tie-dyed shirts, walked two men. One was clean-shaven, wearing a well cut dark-gray suit with a matching tie, a disapproving fedora sitting stiffly on his head: clearly, in the parlance of the street, a fuddy-duddy. The other was a bit more interesting. Clad in the boring suit of an older generation, he sported a large, black silk beanie on his head that set him apart from the squares, from the establishment that the neighborhood had turned its much-tattooed back on.

Reb Yeruchum Freed and Mr. Fred Burton walked through the crowded streets, Burton nervously grasping a postcard in his sweaty hand like some kind of talisman.

Maybe it was just fatigue. After all, Marjorie had slept perhaps five hours in the last 36, subsisting on Danny’s sandwiches and endless packages of chips. Whatever the reason, this off-the-wall optimism that something would work out, that she’d somehow find the way to wherever it was she wanted to be, wrapped her in a misty and yet warm cloud of hope as the Mustang roared its psychedelic way back to the Haight.

IT was quiet today on the base hospital, with just the usual background noises: the growl of the generator, three nurses chatting while taking a break, the occasional groan from a soldier whose bandages were being changed. From outside came faint noises of soldiers throwing a ball around in a pickup football game and the even fainter pop-pop sound from a nearby shooting range.

The wail of a siren broke the peace. Three short blasts — like shevarim, Mutty thought as he watched the hospital staff race to their assigned positions. Some grabbed stretchers and equipment and disappeared outside, while others rushed into the operating theater and began sterilization procedures.

Feeling useless, Mutty followed the staff who’d gone outside and were now anxiously scanning the skies.

With nothing going on, Mutty found the courage to speak to a corpsman who’d been friendly to him.

“What’s happening?”

“Dust off.”


The corpsman rolled his eyes. “Dust off. Medical evacuation of wounded personnel after combat. And,” he added, looking at his watch, “if they’re not here in four minutes, it means the enemy is holding the choppers back with anti-aircraft.”

“And that means?”

“It means more guys dying, while the choppers try to get through.”

But the NVA’s guns had apparently not been targeting the skies, and two minutes later the air above seemed to tremble under the shriek and roar of three “air ambulances” landing in front of the base. Five victims in all, with injuries ranging from head and neck wounds to mangled legs to shrapnel in an abdomen, and, in one unconscious soldier, a serious spinal injury.

Triage was quick and professional. Mutty watched as IVs were attached, fractures splinted, tourniquets applied, and the most badly wounded man prepped for surgery. The chopper pilots, their mission completed, waved a quick goodbye to the staff and jumped back into their Hueys; soon, their rotors were slicing through the steamy air.

Mutty glanced at his watch. His shift in Supply would begin in half an hour, but he’d been told to report to the CO’s office first. With his adrenaline pumping, he walked swiftly to his appointment.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s about a transfer to corpsman training.

The CO returned Mutty’s sharp salute with a weary gesture. “So Levine, I hear you’re getting a personal tour of our hospital.”

“Yes sir, and—”

“And I’m sure you would make a fine corpsman.”

A wave of hope. Maybe....

“But the Army needs you in artillery. Here are your deployment papers. They’re waiting for you in Tan Son Nhut, where you’ll get advanced training. Good luck.”

And with that, Mutty’s dream exploded with the force of a four-ton howitzer.

The two men stood in front of the house with the hot-pink facade. If that postcard was any indication, this was where Chrissie and, possibly, Marjorie were staying. They walked up the dim stairway, and Fred Burton gave a sharp and impatient rap on the psychedelic poster hanging on the door.

No answer.

They’d come straight from the car rental in the airport. Now, stymied, Burton suggested they go and check into the hotel. “They must be out working,” he said.

“From what we’ve seen on the streets,” Yeruchum answered, his face grim, “these lost children aren’t doing much work. Why don’t we walk around the neighborhood a little? Perhaps we’ll find her, or at least your car.”

“Good idea.”

They walked slowly through the surging crowds of young people. They moved into the street to avoid a woman sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk, next to a large pot and a sign asking for money. They’d gone a few yards past her when Burton came to a sudden stop.

“Wait a minute,” he said, pivoting. He quickly returned to the beggar and stared at her, with her greasy brown hair, paisley shirt, and dirty blue jeans.

“Oh my G-d,” he muttered, half to himself. “Chrissie?”

The girl, who’d been humming a tune and staring at nothing, suddenly noticed the man standing before her. Her eyes, sparkling and yet oddly blank, took in the hat, the suit, the face. A grin, like the delighted smile of a six-year-old staring at a frosted birthday cake, lit up her face.

“Hey, man, cool. It’s Marjorie’s old man. Whaddayou know. Hey there, Mr. Burton.”

Fred Burton was clearly at a loss for words. It was Yeruchum Freed, the man in the black silk beanie, who spoke, his voice deliberately soothing and calm.

“Hello. Is your name Chrissie?”

A pause, to think about it. “Yeah. Yeah, it is.”

“And you have a friend named Marjorie?”

Again, that odd, almost plastic smile. “Yeah, how did you guess?”

Burton seemed to come out of a trance. “Where is she, Chrissie?” he said, his voice urgent.

The plastic melted. “Hey, those are bad vibes, Mr. B.” A tear began to run down her slightly dirty cheek.

Yeruchum put a steadying hand on Burton’s shoulder. “No, Chrissie, no bad vibes. We just want to say hi to Marjorie.”

“Oh. Groovy.”

“Do you know where she is?”

“Yeah. I mean, no.”

“Has she been living with you?”

“Kind of. But she’s gone.”


“Yeah. But she’ll be back.”

“Do you know when?”

“Maybe when the stars come out. Or when the sun shines. It’s all about love, don’t you see?”

“Yes, Chrissie, we see that. We will come back later. And Chrissie, if you see Marjorie, don’t tell her about Mr. Burton. We want to surprise her.”

“Oooh, like a party. Cool.”

They walked away slowly,

“Oh my G-d,” Burton repeated, his face white. “She was the smartest girl in her class.”

Yeruchum sighed. “My son-in-law Abe warned me about this. It’s drugs, and it’s a terrible plague, especially here.”

“What if—” Burton hesitated, not even wanting to say the words, “what if… Marjorie—”

“We’ll find her, Fred. We’ll pray — and we’ll find her.”

“So you see, Mama, we can expand the kitchen outward and create a bay window. It’s a southern exposure that will flood the space with natural light.”

Annie smiled. How wonderful to see Artie so happy and excited. The legal aspects of selling both a home and a hotel and buying new ones, though complicated, were moving ahead smoothly, and Artie and Moe were spending hours closeted with architects and contractors, poring over blueprints and home design magazines.

“You really love construction, don’t you?” she said, gazing fondly at the little boy she’d raised, and loved like a son.

“I sure do. And, Mama—” He stopped.

“What is it, Artchik?”

“When I’m done helping build your house… Mama, I want to start thinking about building my own.”

There. She’d known it would come. And she’d thought about it, deeply, seriously, drawing upon all the love that builds up in a mother’s heart throughout the years of caring for a child.

“You’re talking about… Marjorie?”

“Yes. Mama, when she comes back—”

Her voice was firm but kind, “If… no, when she comes back, Artchik, we will have to see what she has become. What kind of life she wants to lead. And,” now it was her turn to take that deep, encouraging breath, “if she has chosen a Torah life, well… I will welcome my redheaded daughter-in-law and love her like my own.”

Fred Burton did not look well. His face was still drained of color, and his walk was slow and heavy: a man who’d just sustained a serious blow.

Now it was Yeruchum’s turn to suggest checking into the hotel to rest for a few hours.

“Absolutely not. Rabbi, I won’t have my daughter spending even one more minute in this horror.”

“Well, at least get something to drink. We passed a grocery store a few blocks down. We’ll get you a bottle of Coca-Cola and then we’ll continue looking.”

The Mustang roared into Haight-Ashbury. Home sweet home, Marjorie thought, then snickered. Chrissie’s pad was lots of things, but it was certainly not home. And even the Haight itself. She’d had some fun here, but home?

No way, Jose.

It was too nice a day to crash on the mattress on the floor that served as her bed. Anyway, she was starving. I’ll head to the grocery, open one of those million cans of tuna that I stacked. And maybe Mr. Lefkowitz needs help.

She parked the Mustang and walked inside.

Two men in business suits — a rare sight — were standing near the cash register, counting out change. Mr. Lefkowitz looked up and his face wrinkled up into a broad smile.

“Hey Margie, welcome back!” he cried.

The men whirled around.

Sam Lefkowitz turned to his customers. “That will be twelve cents,” he said.

No one heard him.

Fred Burton and Yeruchum Freed stared at a girl wearing a T-shirt, jeans, and a colorful scarf on her blazing red hair.

Marjorie Burton stared at the two men standing before her. And she saw something she’d never, ever seen before: tears pouring down her father’s face.

Fred Burton opened his arms. “Margie?” he said, his voice tentative, almost frightened. “Margie, please… come home.”

And suddenly — crazily, completely unexpectedly — she was in her father’s arms.


Come home?

She wriggled out of her father’s clasp and stared at him, at this stranger whose cheeks — there were wrinkles there, little lines she’d never noticed before — were moist.

“You… you really want me to come home?”

Fred stepped back, like someone kicked – hard – in the gut. Before he could say anything, Yeruchum broke in, his voice carefully controlled. “Of course, your parents want you to come home, Miss Burton. Your father has hired detectives, made dozens of phone calls, and when we finally discovered your address, he was on the first plane out to come find you.” He paused for a short moment, then added, “And your mother, Marjorie, has hardly stopped crying since you left.”

Marjorie’s emotional landscape seemed to reflect the psychedelic posters she loved to hang on walls: swirling and surreal, an intense, passionate and ever-changing tapestry of surging feelings. Hurt, anger, bitterness, and suspicion became intertwined with longing, compassion and — could it be? — stirrings of love.

But… home?

No, not yet.

Her raging thoughts and emotions slowly began to subside into something different and eternal. Something… good.

“Father,” she said, “I will go back with you. But not home, not yet.” Her glance fell on Rabbi Freed standing nearby, a pillar of calm. “If it’s okay with you, can I come back to the hotel?”

To be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 892)

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