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Fallout: Chapter 50

This whole Torah thing, and Shabbos and kosher and looking for crumbs in pockets before Passover —I need to figure it out.


October 1964

Everything... except potatoes.

For dinner at the hotel that night there was gefilte fish and brisket and chicken paprikash and stuffed cabbage. Tzimmes and string beans and homemade pickles.  And, of course, three kinds of Hungarian pastries.

“You see, Marjorie darling, you once complained that everything we cook is made with potatoes,” Perele said, her eyes twinkling, “so I did not peel even a single one.”

The festive meal Mrs. S. had prepared was, Marjorie had to admit, a far cry from the greasy chips and burgers of her cross-country journey. Everything was delicious, generous... and strictly kosher.

If I’d gone back with Mother and Father, we might be eating pork chops. Or gone out for Chinese.

Am I ready for kosher food?

For a kosher life?

She glanced at Artie, sitting at the far end of the table.  He’d been oddly silent, just giving her a brief, almost formal, nod and hello.

What’s with him? Is he not glad to see me?

She turned her thoughts back to the conversations taking place around her. Everyone seemed determined to keep the atmosphere light and joyous. No questions asked about the Haight. Instead, they talked about Mutty’s commendation and, of course, the upcoming move.

Imagine, everyone going up to the Catskills all year round. I wonder if there’s skiing...

That is, if they’d take me with them...

The answer to that silent, unasked question came quickly. “We’re driving up tomorrow to see the premises of the new hotel, Miss Burton,” Moe said. “Want to come up to what we hope will be your new home?”


It was Annie who noticed Marjorie’s increasing fatigue. “It’s been a long day for everyone,” she announced, standing up with some difficulty, “especially Marjorie. Abe, why don’t you get the kids into the car?”

The group broke up. Marjorie said goodbye to her parents. Her mother, who’d hardly spoken through the meal, gave her a hug and an awkward, tentative kiss on the cheek.

“Tomorrow I’ll start working on getting the Mustang back,” Fred Burton told her. “That grocer fellow, nice guy, said he’ll help me out. And Margie — please keep in touch.”

“I will, Father.”

Annie had stayed behind. Marjorie looked at her, noticed her swollen ankles and her difficulty in walking. “Um, Mrs. L., do you need some help getting into the car?”

“No, dear, I’m still waddling around. But Marjorie,” she said, “I will need help soon. You were so helpful when I was on bedrest. I’d love to be able to count on you when the baby comes, for a little while?”

Pleasure mixed with panic. “But Mrs. L., I don’t know anything about babies.”

“It’s not for the baby. Our Ruchele, she’s always been the little one, the baby in the family. She’ll need a lot of attention and a lot of love. And my dear, I think you’re the best person to give that to her.”

“Well, yeah, I guess so, Mrs. L.,” Marjorie answered.  And then, for no reason she could think of except that she was overtired, overwhelmed, overstimulated — and maybe just plain crazy — Marjorie was crying, a mixture of regret, pain, and happiness.

And Mrs. L. was soothing her, like a woman soothing her child.

While Moe and Artie sat in the front seat of the Caddy driving up to the Catskills, Marjorie had the luxuriously upholstered back seat all to herself. Watching the endless forests speed by, she dreamily reviewed the events of the past few crowded days. Saying goodbye to Danny and his father, the plane ride, driving to the hotel with Rabbi Freed…

Hey, maybe now would be a good time to bring up my idea.

“Rabbi Freed?”

“Yes, Marjorie?”

‘I was thinking about you and… um… ”

Marge, are you nuts? Maybe this is, like, private? And maybe it’s none of your stupid business…

She faded into silence.

Too late. “About me and what?”

Okay, moron, you got yourself into this. Get yourself out.

“Well, I’m not sure I should be saying this, but… the thing is…

Say it!

“… have you ever thought about marrying Mrs. Schwartz?”

For one horrendous moment the silence in the Cadillac was so thick Marjorie could hear the wind outside, could practically make out the tires turning round and round.  And then, suddenly, Artie was laughing — no, guffawing — and seconds later, Rabbi Freed started to chuckle.

Embarrassed but emboldened, she soldiered on.

“Well, you know, you’re lonely, and she’s lonely, and you’re both religious, and you’re both so nice, and…”

And now Moe was laughing so hard he almost skidded on the country road.

“Miss Burton,” he said, when he could finally talk, “you are full of surprises. I’m so glad you are back. And,” he hit the gas pedal hard, “I will give your idea due consideration.”

While Artie and Moe pored over plans with the contractor, Marjorie roamed around the empty, shabby hotel. Moe and Artie found her in the basement. “There’s a big room here, Rabbi Freed. Maybe you could make a game room here for children.”

Moe grinned. “It’s been a long time since we had kids in the Freed Hotel. But that’s a good idea. And now,” he glanced at his watch, “John Shaw, the local lawyer who’s helping us out with some building code issues, will be here in a minute. Boring stuff. Artie,” a slightly mischievous grin lit up his face. “Why don’t you and Miss Burton take a quick walk. I’m sure you’ve got some catching up to do.”

AT first the silence between them was — not exactly uncomfortable. More like expectant, unsure.

“So…” Artie said, the same moment that Marjorie began with, “Um…”

They both laughed; the atmosphere lightened.

“You first,” Artie gestured with his hand.

“Um… I just wanted to tell you that lots of times, when things were like, not very cool, I would wake up and sing your Boker Tov song.”

“You mean, in California?”

“Yeah, in the Haight. Sometimes the vibes could get pretty… tough.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

She looked directly at Artie, at his eyes. Sympathetic eyes, without a trace of judgment in them.

Marjorie hadn’t spoken to anyone yet about her experiences. No one could possibly understand her, her feelings of never belonging, her yearning for something she couldn’t even articulate, her passion for freedom.

But Artie’s eyes said: We can understand.

“Yeah, yeah, I do want to talk about it.”

And so she did. About Mama Mumu and the soup kitchen and Eddie the dead little boy, and the grocer and his son, and Chrissie and the Mustang and feeling something she’d never felt before during sunrise in the mountains…

Finally, she wound down.

“Wow.”  Artie motioned to her to sit on the wooden steps in front of the hotel. He paused, looking for the right words and not really finding them. “Are you okay?”

“I think so.”

“Miss Burton. Marjorie. You know what you said to my Uncle Moey in the car…”

Marjorie giggled. “I guess I shouldn’t have, but it just kind of came out.”

Artie did not join her laughter. “About him being lonely, and Mrs. Schwartz being lonely. Well…  how about us?”

The giggles came to an abrupt stop. “You mean…”

“You know what I mean.”

He gets you, Margie, more than anyone you ever met. And he’s nice and kind and funny.

But it’s not about him. It’s about you, Marge. About who you are — and who you’re gonna be.

As usual, her words flew out, as if they had a life of their own.

“Not now, Artie.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means — not now. I need some time to figure things out. I need to talk to people like Mrs. Schwartz and your grandfather and your uncle and even your mom. This whole Torah thing, and Shabbos and kosher and looking for crumbs in pockets before Passover —I need to figure it out. You’re a religious guy, Artie, it’s your life, and I won’t take you away from that. I can’t…”  a pause “… I can’t marry you unless I know that it will be my life too.”

“And how long will that take?”

She flung out her hands. “Don’t know. A few weeks, a few months, a few years. Or forever. Don’t wait for me, Artie. Find yourself some nice Jewish girl and settle down.”

Artie gave a small laugh. “I did already.”

“You’re a pretty stubborn guy, aren’t you?”

“Yup. And all I ask, Miss Marjorie Searching For Yourself Burton, is that you let me know when you’ve figured it out. Deal?”


December 1964

Six candles flickered in the bay window, sending tiny dots of light onto the snow-covered lawn outside. The aroma of frying latkes mingled with the smoky sweetness of the flames in the fireplace of the Levine home.

The family had marked the first night of Chanukah with a party in the hotel for the boarders and the guests hardy enough to brave a Catskills winter for the pleasures of the new frum hotel everyone was talking about. Now, on this sixth night of the holiday, it was time for the family to come together in the Levine home.

Annie glanced at Papa, sitting next to Mutty, whose wounded foot was resting on an ottoman.

In this past year, Annie had learned well how conflicting emotions can live together, even if uneasily, in a woman’s heart. She felt those clashing emotions now, as she looked at her father and her son. What a shock it had been, when Papa had announced his plans, not just for retirement — but for his upcoming move to Eretz Yisrael. It had been his long-held dream, he’d told Annie and Moe, to sit and learn in the holy land, and now that he saw the hotel was in good hands and the boarders would be cared for, he was going to fulfill that dream.

Shock had followed shock, as Mutty announced a day later that he would like to go with the Zeide and stay with him until he’d acclimated. A grateful Uncle Sam had given a Purple Heart and an honorable discharge to the corpsman who’d saved several lives under fire and who himself had been badly hurt by a deep shrapnel wound to his leg. “I’ve got half a year before I start med school,” he’d explained to Annie and Abe. “I can help the Zeide and also do some serious learning.”

Annie had expressed her fears that he wouldn’t receive the care he needed, but Abe had assured her that Mutty would be fine. “You don’t argue with a war hero,” he’d laughed, but Annie realized that beneath the humor lay a serious insight. Since Abe had confessed to her about his years of living under the shadow of war memories, she understood what Abe instinctively knew: Mutty would need time and space to heal. Yes, Abe was right, and a change of scene would help.

The two would be leaving right after Moe and Perele’s chasunah, scheduled for next month. What a wonderful event that would be, she thought, her brother and her best friend starting new lives together.

The fire crackled, the guests chatted, and Annie looked around the room in quiet contentment. Her eye fell upon Moey and Perele speaking earnestly to each other, hardly noticing anyone around them.

Who would have believed that Marjorie would be the one to bring my brother and one of my best friends together?

She turned her gaze to Marjorie, sitting in a rocking chair with the baby while keeping an eye on Ruchele and 9-month-old Yitzchak as they scarfed down marshmallows and chocolate coins. With Moe and Perele so busy, it had been Annie who’d taught Marjorie all about Chanukah; with its messages of miracles and mesiras nefesh; Annie had found her an avid student.

Weeks before, Artie had told her about his conversation with Marjorie when she’d returned from Haight-Ashbury. “I’ll wait for her, Mama,” he’d said. “And I don’t think I’ll have to wait very long.”

Artie’s sweet voice broke into Annie’s thoughts, as he sat himself down on the carpet near the fireplace, picked up his guitar and began singing, first the traditional Chanukah songs, and then one of his own little ditties:

The war was over, and a flame did start

To light the darkness that had been in our hearts.

A little oil, after the fight,

Burned for eight days, through day and through night.

And remember this truth, so clear and so true

Miracles also happen to me and to you.

Annie caught the look that the two young people exchanged — the little orphan boy she’d raised and loved so dearly, and the passionate, unpredictable and exuberant girl who’d come into their lives with her bongos and her fiery red hair and her questions and her cooking and her tantrums and her kindness — and she knew that Artie had been right.

He would not have to wait very long.

March 1965

The snow had melted but the March winds were still strong as Yeruchum Freed walked through the rows of headstones. He’d put off his journey to Eretz Yisrael for months, but baruch Hashem, now that both Moe and Perele and Marjorie and Artie were married, it was time. He and Mutty would be leaving tomorrow.

Today, he had one more task to take care of.

He’d inquired at the office and found his way. Now he stood before a stone, the resting place of Mr. Morris Burton, Beloved Husband and Father.

“Meilech,” he said in Yiddish, “this is Yeruchum. Meilech, please, be moichel me for not having helped you when you were so lost. And Meilech, we were best friends once, and now your granddaughter, great-granddaughter of your father the Roiteh Rav, has become my granddaughter as well. She’s a roiteh, a redhead like you and the Rav were — and she is an eishes chayil.”

And with that Yeruchum walked quickly away. He had many goodbyes to say before leaving.



(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 894)

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