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Yardsticks: Chapter 18

“We can’t help them. We can offer help. It’s up to them if they want to accept it”

Mina

Was I such a feinshmeker that I didn’t like a single menorah Batya Myski offered us?

Shlomo, Shevy, and I stood on the other side of the counter as Batya placed two more menorahs on the glass surface. I hated both of them. Or maybe I was just tired? My feet ached after a whole day standing in the boutique, draping fabric over kallahs.

I ran my fingers over the branches of one of the menorahs. I didn’t expect Italian or even Portuguese options at the Wedding Center, but the menorahs she showed us simply didn’t cut it.

My eyes fell on Shevy’s finger, resting on the glass display table. Her diamond ring gleamed under the exhibit’s display lights.

How could we give Gavriel — the Engels’ only son — a less-than-beautiful menorah?

We narrowed down the options to three half-decent pieces. Shevy didn’t seem to have much of an opinion, and Shlomo, whom I’d dragged along because he purportedly “understood silver,” didn’t seem to have much patience. I gave up.

“We’ll come back to finalize,” I told Batya.

We left.

“Can we go to a normal silver store tomorrow?” I muttered to Shlomo as we walked to the car.

“Huh?”

“Never mind.”

When we arrived home, I stayed outside with Shlomo on the front porch and told him about Yocheved’s surprise.

“Wow,” he said. “That is really generous of her.”

“I know. I was shocked. I mean, I would’ve expected her to offer a discount, but cost price? That’s like a several-thousand-dollar gift she’s giving us. And really, it wouldn’t be easy to get a gown for Shevy anywhere else. I’m exposed to the nicest gowns out there, I’m too discriminating.”

Shlomo sighed. “This is exactly the problem.”

“The problem with what?”

“The takanos plan. The Wedding Center. People are so used to seeing their friends’ high-quality stuff, they hear the furniture is Chinese, they turn up their noses. Seriously, these couples are going into tiny one-bedroom apartments, they barely have space to walk, the girls work from nine to five to cover the rent so their husbands can learn, but, aaah, the furniture? Where they’ll be hanging laundry to dry? Only Italian will do.”

I frowned. He was probably right. But I thought about the unappealing menorah options we’d just seen at the Wedding Center. What had I done if not chafed?

“It is a problem,” I conceded. “But can we blame them?”

“We can help them.”

“We can’t help them. We can offer help. It’s up to them if they want to accept it. The Wedding Center is great and beautiful, but if someone insists on Italian furniture — or silver — they won’t find it at the Wedding Center.”

 

Shlomo rocked his chair. “Making a wedding costs so much money,” he said dismally. “I’m afraid to look at our credit card bills these days.”

“I know,” I said. “Believe me, I think a hundred times before every purchase, and I really hope we’ll come in under 40K.”

He shrugged. “We’d better, or we’ll be in serious trouble. Shevy is not our only child.”

But for our next child, we’ll sign up for the takanos plan and get a 40K loan with doable payment terms, right? If our mechutanim agree, that is. “At least we’re saving on Shevy’s gown,” I mumbled.

Shlomo sat up. “Look, Mina, we got lucky with Shevy’s gown. That’s great. But this situation is ridiculous. Not everyone has a sister in gowns. You need to help me with this issue.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Consignments,” he said automatically.

“I tried!”

“I know, but can you try some more? How about creating a directory, a list of people who got gowns from Yocheved’s boutique. We’ll ask them if they want to sell their gowns, and offer these gowns to takanos members.”

“And steal Yocheved’s customers?” I stood up. “Shlomo, that’s insane. It’s totally treacherous. Especially now, when she’s giving us such a generous gift. No. I’m sorry, Shlomo. I just can’t do it.”

I thought the day would never come, but at last, it arrived. The Kohlmans were picking up their gown.

“Remember the gift,” Yocheved warned me for the fifth time.

We always gave our kallahs a gift when they picked up their gowns — a pretty umbrella stand embossed with the Lewin logo. For Kohlman, Yocheved had gone out and bought a special gift, a beautiful crystal fruit bowl.

“I won’t forget,” I reassured her.

When the royal family finally showed up, I looked at the kallah and was filled with an overwhelming sense of, but she’s just an ordinary human being. What was it about wealth that commanded such respect — an almost fearful reverence — from society? They were rich, so what?

But when the kallah stepped into the showroom wearing her gown, I forgot my grievances and froze, openmouthed.

All the seamstresses stopped working and came out of the sewing room to take in the scene. They formed a semicircle, staring wide-eyed at the girl. Anuradha stood with her arms folded between layers of fringed fabric, unabashedly smug. It was silent in the showroom, the air charged with a dumbfounded awe.

Quietly, I lifted the camera that dangled from my neck and waved it before the party. “Please?” I asked.

The kallah slipped her hands under her hair and swept it forward. She planted her hands behind her back, tilted her chin down and flashed a smile. I snapped.

After that, everyone started talking at once. Yocheved packed the headpiece carefully in a Lucite box. Anuradha swung her braid over her shoulder, chattering in Hindi as though anyone could understand. Kate patted Yelena’s back and even Olga produced a crooked smile. The invitation went up on the wall to a round of applause.

The seamstresses returned to the sewing room, but Yelena lingered. I watched her curiously. This gown was her baby. How did she feel watching these people walk out with it?

She seemed agitated, her eyes narrowed. I followed her gaze. The Kohlmans stood at the reception desk, while Yocheved processed the final payment.

Was that it? Did Yelena feel cheated, knowing that Yocheved was turning an incredible profit off her talent and labor? Was she resentful? My sister should give this woman a raise. I should tell her.

Yocheved was in a blissful mood the rest of the afternoon. Okay, I got it, the Kohlmans were the customers of her dreams. Let a girl bask.

Later, I made us both coffees and sat down at her desk. I cracked open the appointment book.

“So?” I asked. “Should we pencil Shevy in?”

“Of course!”

We sat schmoozing, throwing around ideas. This was my daughter’s gown, it had to be something special.

“I finally get all those mothers,” I told Yocheved, laughing. “I’m always talking myself blue in the face, begging them to keep things simple, understated. But for them, it’s their one gown, they want to pack in all the beautiful things they can get.”

The bell rang and I buzzed the next appointment in. It was a kallah Yocheved had been working with from the start, and she didn’t need me around. I picked up the schedule chart and headed over to the sewing room.

The seamstresses were plugging away, cutting, sewing, pressing. I went from table to table, inspecting work and offering guidance. But when I got to Yelena’s table, I stopped short. The woman’s head was down. She was sleeping again.

I took a step closer. Was that—?

What was that? I moved a mountain of tulle aside and stared. On the table was a blue piece of fabric. Pinned down the sides, a half-sewn… garment.

Decidedly not a bridal gown.

I stood still for several seconds, my head reeling. Then I placed the tulle back quietly and tiptoed away.

I paused at the door, biting my lip. I had to tell Yocheved. This was her business, and something was very fishy with this seamstress. But on the other hand, Yelena always did perfect work and completed it on time. This was none of my business.

Pulling open the door, I was hit by a powerful stench of fish. I took a few steps and glanced to the left. Sure enough, Anuradha was sitting in her corner, eating something white and slimy with her fingers.

I marched over to the reception area and clenched my teeth. “Yocheved Lewin, why is this crazy Indian woman still sitting here?”

“Because,” Yocheved said, clicking her pen. “Anuradha is now part of our staff. She did such amazing work with Kohlman, I hired her this morning.”

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 662)

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