Table Talk

 

Table Talk

By Saul Golubcow


 

Yes, he reflected at the end of a wonderful day, Proust was surely right that through chance encounters with textures, shapes, colors, and smells, certain life objects call and awaken us to the dead elements of our past: the events, conflicts, victories and losses, the departed people with their voices and spoken words, their laughter and tears, gestures and silences, the departed liberated from oblivion and visiting with us before we ourselves pass on and retreat into our own inanimate past.
 
Here Ira was, well, alive and next to Hannah as he had lain for nearly fifty years, she asleep now for the last few hours, and he, not one to toss and turn, lying still and thinking about the joyful day with Hannah, his two children, their mates, and each with a toddler grandson at the children’s farm museum. A warm, sunny June day running after boys who were chasing after the chickens, ducks, turkeys, baby goats, and the cow barn with his holding up each of the boys to pat a cow, and there the smell of manure and that blink of memory.
 
Later, all of them together at their favorite local diner for dinner, the meal itself diner adequate, and the boys fairly well-behaved in their child seats, eating this, rejecting that, sauces smearing their faces, food droppings hitting the floor, a scream or two lifting surrounding brows toward them, and Hannah their defender, champion, and interpreter beguiled by them, and he beguiled by Hannah’s beguilement. And the manure smell still with him, but kept to himself, and not in the least interfering with appetite.
 
He was miles and years away from the chicken farm in South Jersey with the coops and its clucking inhabitants, the well water that would freeze in pipes during winter, the sewage overflowing his house’s wide lawn when the cesspool people didn’t come regularly, the explosive growth of vegetation the next spring around the cesspool, the sweltering summers before a sole window air conditioner was placed in his parents’ bedroom. He was successfully removed from the hand-me-down clothes sent by cousins in Brooklyn and from the second-hand Columbia bike also brought from Brooklyn that let him experience freedom, exploration, adventure, camaraderie as he rode one used tire replacement after another as far as his legs could pedal.
 
He was also a different world away, born in a displaced persons camp in Germany, the child of Holocaust survivors, Yiddish his first language, and then new to America at two, and thanks to HIAS and a thousand dollar loan from his mother’s Brooklyn uncle, living in this town called Vineland. The name was created a hundred years earlier to reflect grape growing regions of Italy, but after the War it was a sort of Jewish American shtetl where Holocaust survivors who had never worked a day on a farm were encouraged to embrace the spirit of Israeli chalutzim and raise chickens. He lived amongst other Jewish kids whose parents had survived the Holocaust, none with grandparents, he somehow falling in love with the English language, earning a doctorate in English literature, and becoming a full professor, erudite and well published, specializing in the nineteenth century American novel, having for years and years embraced the courage of Hester Prynne, the rage of Ahab, and the cold sweat of Henry Fleming.
 
Now seemingly so far away from the little Jewish boy who first learned to breathe in the curious and contradictory, the perfumed and malodorous, the apparent and hidden, the ironic and direct, the wondrous and the seemingly ordinary; and onto his beautiful life to this very moment here in his bed next to Hannah in freshly laundered linens, and the manure smell from the cow shed lingering in his nostrils, and so he remembered.
 
*
 
Mr. Gribetz crossed his long legs under the table, and his right foot, with chicken manure sticking in a clump to the shoe, dangled a few inches away from Ira’s nose. Ira wasn’t bothered much by the manure’s smell, nor by the thought that Mr. Gribetz had probably dragged the manure through the kitchen and into the dining room, dirtying the way to his chair at the table. His mother minded, though. How many times had his mother said while mopping the floor after Mr. Gribetz had paid a visit: “God in heaven, a dear person, yet a man who doesn’t have the sense to change his shoes when he comes from the coops.”
 
Of course she would say this in Yiddish because she spoke very little English, and hardly any around the house. Ira understood and spoke both. He thought it amazing what had happened two years before when he entered kindergarten. In the beginning when Miss Lord or the other children spoke, he would quickly change their English words into Yiddish ones. And when he spoke, his mind would think the Yiddish words and then he would translate out loud into English. But very quickly, the Yiddish disappeared from his mind when he was at school, and reappeared at home when he spoke to his parents. Yiddish-English, it became all onelanguage to Ira. You never spoke Yiddish at school, not even to the other Jewish kids, and you spoke English at home only when his mother or father said: “Mir muzen lernen Ainglesh. Heint mir vellen reden nor Ainglesh.”
 
Ira couldn’t quite figure out why English came so easily to him, while his parents said things like “take eer eashy,” or “how much cust.” He sometimes asked his mother about this, and she would answer as if it were all so simple: “What a question! You’re young. It’s no wonder.” But it was a wonder for Ira. It made no sense to him that grown-ups who had done so much fighting during the war and who always had cake for him when he wanted some, and scratch and mash for the chickens when they were hungry, couldn’t, after all this time, learn to speak English.
 
As Ira crouched absolutely still under the table waiting for the stories to begin, nobody at all was speaking. He heard the tea being sipped and the sponge cake being munched, but still no one spoke. Some of his muscles started to tighten and hurt, but this pain was a price that Ira gladly paid to hear the stories.
 
An hour before, although he wasn’t tired in the least, his mother insisted that he go to sleep because, as she explained, he was only seven and tomorrow was a school day. But tonight Mr. Gribetz was supposed to come over right after his own farm chores were done. He would probably stop in along the way and make Mr. Silberburg come, too because, as Mr. Gribetz always said, he was afraid to walk alone in the dark in America.
 
Guests always meant that war stories were going to be told. These stories were more exciting than listening to sports on the radio or even going over to the DeMarco house across the street to watch television. So when Ira heard his mother in the kitchen washing the supper dishes and his father reading aloud from the Yiddish newspaper, he quietly slipped out of bed and, ontiptoe, made his way to the dining room.
 
The table in the middle of the room was rectangular with a straight leg at each corner. A large white cotton tablecloth covered it and hung evenly on all sides just an inch or two from the floor. Four straight-backed chairs were placed around the table. Upon entering the dining room, Ira dropped to all fours so as not to be seen from the kitchen. The floor was of linoleum, with cracks and bulges throughout. Ira knew that it creaked easily. Patiently he crawled the ten feet toward the table, a few feet a minute, listening to his parents chatter in the kitchen and resisting the urge to crawl more quickly. After five minutes, he was safely under the cover of the tablecloth where he positioned himself in the middle, hopefully out of range of everyone’s feet, and began his wait for the “mayses” to begin.
 
“Yisrolkeh is already asleep?” Mr. Gribetz asked his parents. Mr. Gribetz always seemed surprised that he had already gone to bed. You couldn’t miss Mr. Gribetz’s voice when he was asking a question, even if there were not just four, but as many as fifty people sitting around the table. The words always sounded as if they had traveled through his nose. Mr. Gribetz seemed not to speak the words, but instead, by breathing in through his long nose, appeared to snatch sounds out of the air and then let them out as words through his mouth. But Mr. Gribetz’s thinking it strange that he was already in bed confused Ira very much. After all, on the nights when Mr. Gribetz came over and he was still up, Mr. Gribetz would ask him, in the same tone as just now, “Yisrolkeh, aren’t you asleep yet?”
 
Well, that was a confusion to be explained some other time. Right now, Ira was growing impatient for the real talk to begin. The light coming in through the space between the floor and the tablecloth was sufficient for Ira to see that Mr. Silberburg’s shoes were not only clean, but also all shined up. They sat on the floor to the left of him. Ira knew there was no danger from Mr. Silberburg’s feet. Once seated and his feet in place, Mr. Silberburg never moved until it was time to leave. His mother never complained about Mr. Silberburg making the house dirty. He always changed his shoes when he came from the coop, even in his own house where he wasn’t a guest.
 
Besides Mr. Gribetz’s question, the only other thing mentioned was Mr. Silberburg’s comment about the cake. “Shaindel,” Mr. Silberburg said, loudly to his mother, “the cake is good, as good as it can be, but no cake in America tastes as good as it did in the “heym.” His mother said “Nuh,” and then told him to have some more cake.
 
Mr. Silberburg was older than Mr. Gribetz or his father and mother. He was married to Mrs. Silberburg, but she was a second wife. The first one was killed in the war. He married the new Mrs. Silberburg in the lager right after the war was over. Ira heard his mother a few times say that Mr. Silberburg couldn’t live not married. He was sure always to have a wife to cook for him and to wash his clothes.
 
Mr. Silberburg had two sons from his first wife who were older and who already had children of their own. They didn’t have a farm in Vineland, but instead lived in New York and were partners in a grocery in the Bronx. Their names were Chaim and Yudel. Like Ira, they also had American names: Charles and John. But they were luckier. Both of them were teenagers before the war began and had actually lived in the vald for four years until liberation. Chaim, whenever he came to visit his father, was always willing to tell stories about how he fought against the Nazis. In the funny way that he spoke English, Chaim would always say: “I kilt a lot ov dem besterds.” Yudel visited as often as Chaim, but never told war stories. Ira supposed that Yudel had killed some Nazis, too, but without his telling or someone telling about him, Ira could never be completely sure.
 
Opposite and away from Ira, at the far end of the rectangle, were the stockinged legs of his mother. She didn’t tell many stories, but there was one especially good one she told about how she and her younger sister were separated from the rest of their family and spent the war with the Russian Army. His mother’s younger sister was his aunt; she was the only aunt he had. But it was almost as if he didn’t have an aunt at all. She was in Russia, and he had never seen her.
 
While his mother and her sister were with the Russians, her sister met a major who was a doctor and a Jew. They fell in love and got married as soon as the Nazis were driven out of Russia. His mother had an old photo of his aunt and uncle. Both were in Russian Army uniforms and wore large boots up above their knees. They were holding hands and smiling at each other’s face. Ira supposed that this was the best way to take a picture of people loving each other.
 
When the war was over, his mother left the Russian Army and his aunt was supposed to leave too, but said she wouldn’t without his uncle. His uncle wanted to leave, but his aunt became hysterical and cried that because he was a doctor and an officer, if he were caught leaving, he would be shot. And it would be the Russians who would shoot him, not the Nazis. He listened to her, and that was why his aunt and uncle and cousin Yuri weren’t in America, but living in Russia with the Communists who, his father always said, were as bad as the Nazis.
 
To the right of him, his father’s feet in dirty white cotton socks stuck under the table. His father’s legs were short, barely touching the floor. From the way his father talked, Ira couldn’t quite figure out who were worse, the Nazis or the Communists. Whenever Stalin’s name was mentioned, it was followed by “may his name be damned,” just as when Hitler’s name was spoken.
 
A year before the Nazis came into Myor and killed his father’s family and almost killed him, too, the Communists had entered the town. His father told this story as often as the one about the vald. “This man,” his father would say while usually shouting, “who called himself the Commissar, walked into my store and said that nobody owned private property anymore, that everything in my store now belonged to what he called ‘the people.’ He then unbuttoned his tunic, walked into my office, and shut the door behind him. I rushed home and hid whatever gold, silver, or furs I could, before another commissar came into the house and told me what belonged to me and what belonged to ‘the people.’ I thought I was going to be shot or on my way to Siberia like the other kulaks, but then the Nazis came, and the gold, silver, and furs made no difference. That was that.”
 
This story about the Communists Ira also always heard whenever the news was on the radio about what the Communists were doing in Korea or Greece or Guatemala. His father always told the story about the commissars then, and Ira imagined that commissars must be taking away property from people all the time and all over the world. How his father survived the Nazis, Ira also knew perfectly well. But the only time his father told the story was when he thought that Ira was asleep.
 
Five SS soldiers with an assortment of Ukrainian and Polish helpers entered Myor at six o’clock on the first day of Shavuot in early June, 1942. They surrounded the Jewish ghetto and rounded up every Jew. They marched the Jews to the edge of town where they gave the men shovels and ordered them to dig one large hole until told to stop. While they were digging, the murderers with mounted machine guns encircled the group. After an hour’s digging, the hole was about thirty feet wide and about ten feet deep. The one thousand or so men, women and children were then told to stand evenly around the pit. When the last Jew stood in place, someone in the crowd shrieked, “They’re going to kill us!” The shriek set off other people screaming. Then people began running in all directions away from the hole. Some of the murdereres rushed to meet the fleeing mass, and machine guns began firing. Ira’s father said that the last thing he remembered was seeing a rifle butt raised over his head, while all around him people were screaming, running, and falling.
 
When his father awoke, it was dark, and he was lying atop hundreds of people in the mass grave. He had dried blood all over his head and face and clothes, but it wasn’t until later that he discovered it was more the blood of others than his own that covered him. The moon was fairly full. He could have identified the people who were lying there, but he said that, when a few seconds after awakening he realized where he was and what had happened, he didn’t look because he didn’t want to know.
 
He climbed over bodies and out of the pit. Ira couldn’t help but shiver when his father got to this part and said: “I looked around and saw that I was the only alive person there. The last thing I remembered was the shooting and screaming, and then when I awoke, everything was so quiet.”
 
Even though his father heard no one around, he decided it was best that he get down on the ground and crawl the few hundred yards to where the vald began. When he got there, he discovered that his stomach and chest were scraped raw from the crawling and hurt almost as bad as his head. He stumbled into the vald and continued walking until, tired and in pain, he could walk no more. He sat down on a log and waited for morning. He dozed off while sitting and, when he awoke, it was light out and he was staring at about twenty other Jews from Myor, all teenage boys or young men, who had made it to the cover of the vald after the shooting began and had then eluded the murderers’ patrols until night fell. It took Ira’s father only a few seconds to see that no other members of his family had survived.
 
There was one part of the story about his father in the vald that Ira loved best. Once a German patrol set up camp in the vald and stayed in one place for eight days. Ira’s father, who was caught between the patrol and the partisan unit he had joined, spent those eight days lying in one position on his belly, afraid that any movement would expose him to the Nazis. For food, he ate the grass and leaves as far around him as he could reach, and for water he drank the rain that luckily fell a few times. Finally, the patrol moved on, and his father made his way back to his people. Ira thought that if it was going to be his father who talked tonight, he wouldn’t mind hearing that story again and others he told about the partisans.
 
But it was Mr. Gribetz who was going to talk tonight. Ira was sure of this because he had seen the first signs. His mother’s feet had disappeared from under the table; she was clearing off the tea glasses and cake plates. His father’s feet still just barely touched the floor, and Mr. Silberburg’s shoes remained glued to the floor. But Mr. Gribetz’s legs, which were the longest under the table, began their series of movements which always meant that he had something to say. If someone else was telling a story and Mr. Gribetz’s legs started going, Ira knew that Mr. Gribetz would soon interrupt and begin his own mayse.
 
Ira thought that Mr. Gribetz might just have the longest legs of anyone living in Vineland. There were people such as Mr. Adamo, the Italian feed dealer, who were taller, but Mr. Gribetz, whose body was a straight line from the tip of his balding head to the manure-clumped soles of his shoes, seemed to be one long leg. Mr. Gribetz was married to Mrs. Gribetz who looked to Ira as if she were all one round belly. His friend Martin called Mrs. Gribetz “Mrs. Smoky Burgess,” after the catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates whom the baseball announcers always called “the little round man.” But Martin never called her this in front of Morty Gribetz, who beat up anyone who said anything bad about his family. And Morty could do it, too, because he was bigger than everyone. As long as Ira could remember, Morty was always biggerAs much as he himself grew in any one year, it seemed that Morty grew even more.
 
When Mr. and Mrs. Gribetz both came over, Mr. Gribetz hardly ever told a story. When he did begin one, Mrs. Gribetz would always interrupt him with: “Sholem, nobody wants to hear your stories.” Ira could never understand why she should say this. He certainly wanted to hear. And he wanted to hear Mrs. Gribetz tell a story. After all, he had heard Mrs. Chaikin tell his mother that in the vald, Mrs. Gribetz was still young and beautiful and as brave as any man. She had been a messenger between partisan units, and it was a miracle she wasn’t caught. Why wouldn’t Mrs. Gribetz want to tell her own story?
 
Next year Morty was supposed to go to the new Jewish day school they were starting in Vineland. Ira was going to continue inpublic school; his father said that they’d wait and see how Morty liked it and then decide for the following year. Rabbi Weiss, who collected the pushka into which Ira’s mother dropped pennies before lighting candles on Friday nights, was going to be the principal, and two other rabbis with beards who had just arrived from Brooklyn were going to be the teachers. Rabbi Weiss’ face was clean-shaven and as smooth and pudgy as a baby’s. Ira heard him once tell his parents that he didn’t wear a beard because the antisemites in Vineland would give him a hard time if he looked too different from them. Ira supposed that the two rabbis from Brooklyn would have a hard time living in Vineland.
 
This whole business about antisemites confused him. The Nazis were antisemites, of that he was certain. But Mr. Gribetz said that Eisenhower was an antisemite. And Mr. Silberburg said that Stevenson was one. His father sort of had an explanation for all this. He claimed that under the surface all goyim were antisemitic. But that didn’t seem completely true, either. Miss Mott, the second grade teacher, surely wasn’t an antisemite. One day during recess, Michael Trentacosta called Ira “a dirty Jew.” Miss Mott heard him say it and came over and hollered at Michael. She said, “Just because Ira is Jewish and doesn’t believe in our Savior doesn’t mean that he isn’t a nice person. We should all remember that there are good Jews and bad ones, and Ira certainly is a good one.” Michael said that he would remember, and they both ran off to join the dodge ball game. Yes, about this Ira was certain: Miss Mott was not an antisemite.
 
And Mr. Gribetz was definitely going to tell a story. He crossed and uncrossed his legs and kicked out a few times. He scratched one leg with the toe of the other and got manure all over his pants. His feet moved so quickly that Ira thought the three separate movements were all one motion. No one was speaking when Mr. Gribetz ended his contortions under the table with an angry stamp of his right foot on the floor as his voice erupted with a sneering shout of “Farmers!”
 
Then his feet and voice were absolutely still for a few seconds. “Farmers,” he continued in a glum voice. “Who would have ever thought we would wind up as farmers?” And then another stamp on the floor. “Giborim!” Mr. Gribetz shouted. “We were all heroes during the war. How we survived is a miracle. We fought with our hands against guns and tanks, and we survived.”
 
Ira didn’t know what Mr. Gribetz had against farmers, but when he talked about being giborim, Ira loved to hear it.
 
His father crossed his legs at the ankle. “We’re living, yes,” he said. “But as for a miracle, remember it can go the other way, too. There are six million who aren’t living. You’re right, Sholem, who would have ever thought that we’d end up as farmers? Is this really a life? Is this what God wanted?”
 
Mr. Silberburg’s feet did not move. “Yechiel.” Mr. Silberburg addressed Ira’s father with the same voice that teachers use when a usually well-behaved child misbehaves. “You sound like an apikores.”
 
“I am an apikores,” his father shot back. “I’ve been a non-believer ever since the Commissar marched into my store, ever since the Nazis marched into Myor, and I crawled into the vald. Why shouldn’t I be an apikores?”
 
His mother had returned. Her feetwere back under the table. “Big shot, Yechiel,” she said to his father. “If you’re an apikores, then why do you put on tefillin every morning and pray to a god you don’t believe in?”
 
His father didn’t answer. Ira was furious with him. Every once in a while, his father said that he was an apikores. When Ira heard this, he would feel angry and sometimes nauseous. How could he say that? Ever since Ira could remember, God was always a part of his life. When he was three, he could already read Hebrew; his father had taught him from the letters in the Yiddish newspaper. On Saturday mornings, he would have to read aloud to his father from the siddur. His father must be saying it for some reason and not meaning it. Ira was glad that his mother told Mr. Gribetz and Mr. Silberburg about his father putting on tefillin every morning. That seemed to have stopped him from saying he was an apikores.
 
Mr. Gribetz began telling again. “I don’t care if you believe in miracles or not. That we were giborim, nobody can deny. Let me tell you this story as an example.”
 
Ira began to listen very hard now but wondered: If Mr. Gribetz was heroic during the war, why was he afraid to walk alone in the dark in America?
 
“It was in the spring of 1944,as I remember it. There was a tremendous amount of German movement in the area. We were getting all sorts of encouraging news on the short wave. We heard that the Russians were opening up a spring offensive in the East, and that the Americans might open a new front in the West.”
 
Ira’s father uncrossed his legs. “The Russians,” he interrupted Mr. Gribetz. “May they burn in hell with all the Germans.”
 
“Well,” Mr. Gribetz continued, “the Germans began to relax their pressure on us. We finally had enough food to eat and a steady stream of guns, ammunition, and powder began coming to us from partisan units to our east.”
 
Still Mr. Silberburg’s feet did not move, but now he interrupted Mr. Gribetz. “I’ll bet you that those guns came from Jewish units and not from the Polish resistance.”
 
“You’ve got a sure bet there,” Mr. Gribetz answered. “Those antisemites wanted us dead so that there would be a Jew-free Poland after the war. We always had suspicions that the Polaks were giving our camp locations to the Germans. But we couldn’t have done anything about it even if we were sure.”
 
‘It’s sure, it‘s sure,” Mr. Silberburg chipped in again. “Some of them were worse than the Germans.”
 
“Anyway, at that time we had with us in camp Mendel Feinstein who had studied inthe gymnasium and knew a little something about powder and fuses. We felt that we had run enough and that now we would become the attackers. So we decided to blow up the bridge on the Narew River that linked Matkinia to Ostroteka. Our camp was only five miles to the south, and we could see that the Germans were moving men and materials away from the Russian front. Feinstein worked on the explosives for a few days. When he finished, five of us left camp just as it got dark, with the plan ofblowing up the bridge and returning to camp before it was light the next morning.”
 
“Who were the other three with you?” Ira’s mother asked.
 
“Do you remember Motl Zimmer from Druye? He was with us.”
 
“Did he have two sisters, one with a club foot and the other very beautiful who wanted to be an actress?” Ira’s mother responded. “I think they both died in Treblinka.”
 
“Yes, that’s the one, Motl Zimmer from Druye.”
 
“As I remember, a very dear man from a very dear family.”
 
“And there was Yankel Henoch, he came with us that night.”
 
“The Yankel Henoch from Grodno?” Mr. Silberburg wanted to know. “They say that he was a miserable coward that when the Nazis entered Grodno, he went out the back window and left his wife and children behind. And in the vald they say he took up with a girl named Sorul, and she had a baby by him.”
 
Mr. Gribetz became very angry. His feet again began an agitated movement under the table as he screamed at Mr. Silberburg.
 
“I can tell you from being three years with Yankel Henoch in the vald that he was no coward. When he went out looking for food, he brought back not only for himself or Sorul, but for as many people as he could. And he married Sorul after the liberation. They’re now in Israel.”
 
Ira’s father’s feet left the floor completely. “Shoo, shoo, don’t upset yourself, Sholem. Zamkeh,” he said to Mr. Silberburg, “we shouldn’t go around accusing certain people of what we all did. For God knows what reason, we all decided that we wanted to live and went about doing just that. The exact way we did it doesn’t matter. So who was the third, Sholem?”
 
“The third was Lazer the Goy. He never missed any of the action.”
 
Lazer the Goy also owned a farm in Vineland. He wasn’t really a goy; they just called him that. Ira supposed it was because he was broader than most Jews, and his large face with its bushy eyebrows was frightening, especially when he opened his mouth and a full line of gold and silver teeth shone in it.
 
“Good,” Ira’s mother said. “Now that we know who was there, go onwith your story.”
 
“We had no trouble getting to the bridge. Feinstein placed the charges as we kept watch. He lit the fuse and ran back to us. We waited for the explosion, but it didn’t come. Feinstein went back a second time. When he returned, he was running again. He told us that the fuse had gone out, but that he had lit it again. We waited, but still there was no explosion. By now we were very nervous. Motl said he thought he heard movement around us. We quickly decided that we would forget about the bridge and return to camp.”
 
 “A lot of good the gymnasium did that Feinstein,” Mr. Silberburg said.
 
“AsI mentioned, the camp was five miles from the bridge: two miles of vald and three of open land. We were just outside the vald when we noticed the fire of a German patrol on the other side of a wheat field. We could see that five or six German soldiers were all asleep, even the one sitting up keeping guard. Lazer stopped us and suggested that, so the night shouldn’t be a complete loss, we should sneak up on the patrol and shoot them as they slept. He said it would be easy. We didn’t argue with him and began crawling about a hundred yards through the wheat field, and came still unnoticed upon the mamzerim. We surrounded them and, upon a pre-arranged signal from Lazer, opened fire.
 
“The only thing we heard werethe clicks of five guns. Theyhad all misfired. The sentry woke up from the clicks. We all looked at each other for a split second and started running toward the vald. The sentry started shooting. We all made it except for Motl, who fell a few yards from the vald. Later we discovered that our guns had been full of grain from when we had crawled through the wheat field.
 
“I tell you this story to show you what bravery we were capable of when we were in the vald. This,” Mr. Gribetz concluded with a final stamp on the floor, “is what I mean by we were once giborim.
 
Ira’s father began to speak, and Ira was afraid he would dampen the whole spirit of Mr. Gribetz’s story. “But what were we giborim for?” his father asked. “To come here to America to die? What the Russians and Germans started, America will end through its assimilation. Did you read the Tyerer Redacter column in the Tog today? A father writes in about his son. He says that he struggled during the war to keep his son alive, brought him to America, and now the son fell in love with a shiksa and wants to marry her. I predict that in fiftyyears there won’t be any Jews left in America. They will all be assimilated.”
 
Mr. Silberburg didn’t seem to share Ira’s father’s concern. “They say that the Messiah is supposed to come within the next fiftyyears. So maybe there’s nothing to worry about. Are we playing a little casino tonight?”
 
His mother’s feet disappeared from under the table; she had gone to get the cards. That was a fine story Mr. Gribetz told. Ira had heard before the story about blowing up the bridge, but this part about attacking the patrol was all new. He wondered if Morty had ever heard the story from his father. Tomorrow after school he would go over to Morty’s house and ask him. If he hadn’t heard, Ira would tell him all about it. And then when they both knew the story, they would play it out. They could use the DeMarco corn field as a substitute for the wheat field of the story. Ira hoped that Morty would want to play tomorrow. And although he was getting very sleepy, Ira still looked forward to the night’s final adventure of sneaking back to bed without being found out.

         

Copyright © Saul Golubcow 2020

Saul Golubcow writes from Potomac, Maryland and has published essays, reviews, and stories in various Jewish forums. He was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany and grew up in New Jersey. He attended Rutgers University as an undergraduate and earned a Ph.D. in English Literature from SUNY-Stony Brook. His story “Table Talk” was almost fifty years in the making, drafted when he was a graduate student, put aside in a desk drawer as he dedicated himself to family and career interests, and retrieved and reworked after his retirement.


 

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