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|An Onion for the Doctor
and other stories
by Sudy Rosengarten
First published 2004 ISBN 0-9743911-3-1
Jerusalem Publications Jerusalem, Israel
To Meir Yaakov and our children - the constant reminder of how blessed I am.
The house was full of people coming to say good-bye to Motti, who was leaving that night to study in Israel. Though fifteen was a bit young for a boy to be going so far away from home, that had been the deal made with Tatte in return for his afikoman matza.
Although Mommy had tried to keep all the guests in the dining and living rooms, determined to get her money's worth out of the company rooms that were seldom used, everybody kept drifting into the kitchen. I never could figure out what made the company rooms so special. There was certainly nothing fancy in them. For five years, Mommy had been running around, shopping for a dining-room set. When she finally realized that nobody was going to sell her a three-thousand-dollar set for three hundred dollars, she bought a dozen folding chairs and a tremendous second-hand table that was so heavy, we moved it only before Pesach. Every so often, one of the folding chairs folded up while you were sitting on it, but that was always our fault. "Don't you even know how to sit on a chair?" was Mommy's only concern at such times, her voice turning staccato, while we nursed our wounds in silence. Sympathy was the one thing you couldn't get from Mommy.
As for her, when Mommy was ready to sit down, which didn't happen too often, we'd pull in one of the more dependable kitchen chairs for her to sit on. Once she was sitting, though, it was hard to get her up again, and we inevitably ended up finishing the serving, cleaning off the table, sweeping the floor, and doing the dishes. Why we couldn't do a little mitzva happily, she could never understand.
Since Pesach, the whole family had been involved with one subject only: should Motti go to learn in Eretz Yisrael, or shouldn't he? What's wrong with the yeshivos here? Good for the boy? Bad for the boy? Too independent? Too attached?
Then, one morning, Mommy came downstairs, eyes all red and puffy from crying. Tatte had made his decision. He'd promised Motti Eretz Yisrael in exchange for his afikoman matza, and a deal was a deal. He was a man of his word.
Mommy took Motti to get his passport and injections, and bought him whatever clothing he might need in the Israeli climate. Every time Tatte saw the checkbook, he would get pale and look for a chair to sit down on. Motti would try to calm him by reassuring him that, for two years, he wasn't going to need a thing. The way he figured it out, he was actually saving Tatte a lot of money. A few more such kids, and our parents would be rich!
People kept coming and going. There were aunts and uncles, cousins and friends, neighbors and people from the shul. Mommy didn't know how to handle so much company in the house at the same time, and kept bringing in trays of cookies and candies and drinks. Except for our own kids, nobody paid any attention to the treats, but that didn't stop her from refilling the plates as fast as we emptied them. When Uncle Shea asked Mommy if she could bring him "a nice warm glass of milk," Mommy was thrilled. It was wonderful having Uncle Shea for company. He always needed "a nice warm glass of milk." It seems he had ulcers or something.
Cousin Heshy, mind you, had even cut classes in college to come say good-bye to Motti. That was really a sacrifice for the future psychologist, and duly impressed us with the importance of the occasion.
The phone didn't stop ringing. Motti graciously accepted all the good wishes, reciprocating with blessings that could have made him worthy of taking kvitlach. The kids were making a list of all the gifts he was receiving from everyone who came, and it looked as though he'd have enough spending money to last him the whole year. Tatte could never figure out why, a month later, the appeal letters started arriving.
Tatte looked at his watch. It was getting late. Mommy put the baby to sleep in her room, and closed the door softly. The other little ones she chased upstairs with varying degrees of threats and bribes. Chani, Naomi and I were going along to the airport, to see the plane take off. It was scheduled to leave at 12:30, but everybody knew that El Al kept "Jewish time," so there was really no reason to rush to get there on time.
Mommy warned us that if we didn't take a nap, we couldn't go. But who was tired? And, of course, on such an occasion, we were sure she wouldn't keep her word.
Tatte kept telling Mommy to "eat something already," but Mommy claimed that the mere thought of food made her nauseous.
I was beginning to feel a little sick myself. I had been lying on the couch most of the day, trying not to concentrate on the pain in my leg. I had had a post-polio operation several months before, and was still in a long leg cast. I tried not to think of what was actually taking place. It was impossible for me to contemplate the future without Motti. He was fifteen months older than I, and the best friend any boy could wish for.
Just as soon as he'd get home from the yeshiva, I'd come alive. He'd get me to tell him what I'd been doing all day at home, and where Mommy had taken me in the wheelchair, and he'd tell me all kinds of funny things to get me to laugh. Then he'd study with me, and talk to me, and get me to tell him whatever was bothering me. The days were so long and boring at home, but they were bearable, because I knew I had something to look forward to, that in a few hours Motti would be home. He was not only my big brother, he was my best friend. I tried not to think how much I would miss him.
Tatte weighed the valises for the last time and started loading the car. After arranging and rearranging all the luggage for the tenth time, he announced in total exasperation that there was no room for the wheelchair. He looked at me and asked gently, "Are you sure you want to go?"
Mommy saved me from answering.
"Of course he's going! I promised Baruch that he's going to the airport, and, wheelchair or not, that's exactly where he's going!" she said in a voice that left no room for discussion. "There are probably wheelchairs available in the airport."
I sure was relieved that Mommy had come to my rescue, because I wasn't sure that I'd won with Tatte. When he looked at you that way, you usually gave in, and I really had my heart set on going to see Motti off.
All of a sudden, Tatte was rushing us all into the car, and saying how late it was, and what would we do if the car broke down, and Motti still hadn't picked up his ticket. Then Bubby, who had come to baby-sit, kissed Motti good-bye, and started to cry, and we suddenly all realized that he was really going away, and we all cried along with her.
The next thing I knew, we were at the airport. Somebody got me a wheelchair, and I had a ball exploring the place at top speed. When the girls were chased off the escalator, I generously gave them free rides. None of us minded when the flight was twice delayed.
My parents went around speaking to other solemn red-eyed parents. They all seemed miserable to be sending their children so far away. Mommy really looked a wreck. She had forgotten to put on lipstick, and her sheitel looked as though it had never been combed. She wore the same pained expression that had become her face during the past weeks. She scolded me for riding around like a maniac, and asked if my leg still hurt. Mostly, she kept asking what time it was. A gigantic wall clock stared down on her, she wore a wristwatch, and we had already told her a hundred times but we told her again.
Motti suggested that we all go up to the observation deck, so that he would know exactly where to look for us before getting into the plane. There was no elevator to take me up in the wheelchair, and the administration refused to let the wheelchair out on the airfield.
I was beginning to feel pretty sorry for myself, and angrily squashed the tears. More than anything else, I had wanted to see Motti getting on the plane, and not even Mommy's offer to stay behind with me helped me feel any better.
Tatte was angry at Mommy for insisting that I come along. Mommy was angry at all of us.
"Chani, get the hair out of your eyes!" "Naomi, get your finger out of your mouth!"
How are they ever going to wake up in the morning to go to school, and how would she ever live through the day, with them all at home, she asked no one in particular. And she still hadn't given Motti last-minute instructions on how to behave like a gentleman!
I slouched deeper into my winter jacket. The tears were sliding hot and fast into my ears. Tatte managed to lift the wheelchair, but it was impossible getting it up the stairs, even with Mommy helping. We were all pretty miserable.
One by one, everybody in the family came over to sit down next to me on the bench. Nobody seemed to have any more interest in going up to the observation tower to wave to Motti as he got on the plane.
Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, two boys, about sixteen years old, appeared, and with a gallant flourish asked my parents for permission to take over. Before I realized what was happening, they had me, wheelchair and all, thumping up the steps to the observation deck. By the time the rest of the family got there, I was all smiles, and the boys rushed off, promising to return later to bring me back down again.
Before allowing us to explore the deck, Mommy had to have one of her famous last words.
"Just see what a wonderful, beautiful thing a mitzva can be," she exclaimed. "Do those two boys even know what they've done? If only we could each be worthy of bringing joy and happiness to others as these two boys have brought to us right now!"
Although most of the time we didn't pay too much attention when Mommy was busy making one of her many impassioned speeches, right then, with our hearts so full of gratitude, we really agreed with her every word.
Up on the deck, a fierce wind was blowing. Tatte took off his coat and wrapped it round my head and shoulders. The girls crouched behind the wheelchair to escape the force of the wind. Motti was telling us exactly where to stand, so that he would know where to look for us, when he was down on the airfield, before getting on the plane.
The microphone was paging all passengers. There were hurried embraces, tear-filled kisses, stifled sobs, and Motti was gone.
We pressed against the railing, hoping to get a last glimpse of him. After what seemed like a long time, he appeared down below, started up the ramp to the airplane, and turned to wave.
The ramp was removed, the propellers started shrieking, the plane shuddered and bounced.
Maybe it's still not too late for him to get off, I thought in panic, certain that something terrible was going to happen. But the plane was already gliding across the field.
Mommy's eyes were fastened to the plane as it circled the field again and again. She held tightly to Naomi's hand, and cried in deep gasps. Chani looked at Mommy with a worried expression. This was no way for a mother to behave, she seemed to be thinking; certainly not in front of her children... and all those strangers.
People were beginning to leave, but Mommy still stood at the railing, her eyes fastened to the plane. She never even bothered to wipe at the tears. She just stood there crying, as if her heart was breaking.
At last, the plane ascended, and was on its way. As it lifted into the heavens, it became smaller and smaller, until all we could see was a red, revolving light, that, when we finally left, looked like a flame in the night.
Online book sample chapters from - An Onion for the Doctor
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