Moe Minsky Tale
Written By Al Geto
into most everyone are feelings they don't understand but can't escape
from - even if they put their head in a bag. For instance, there are
people who from the day they are born can't stand asparagus. There are
those who cannot face a boiled lobster. If you don't know your limitations
you are in danger of ruining your life. Suppose you can't put up with
the sight of blood, it would be a big mistake to become a doctor. Of
course, this closes the entire medical profession to you and cuts you
off from a possible appointment as Surgeon General, just as fainting
at lobsters would end your career as the operator of a seafood restaurant.
Or take a dislike for people with slinky eyes or long noses or a lack
of chin. Something on that order is what drove eighty-two year old Sonya
Klutsky into a tight corner one Friday night when she found herself
in such a depressed mood that her chicken soup tasted like hot water
and the matzo balls in it sank to the bottom and became waterlogged.
Klutsky never weighed more than ninety pounds, had a small face, skin
the color of a walnut shell and twice as wrinkled, strands of silvery
hair pulled tight across her head, with startlingly large blue eyes.
Thin as she was she moved with the speed and stillness of a shadow.
Despite her delicate structure and no visible sign of muscle she felt
she could push a piano around. She was the mother of Ada Dorfman, a
pigeony, gentle lady quietly planning to vote for FDR if he ran again
although she hadnšt yet mentioned this to her husband. She had a habit
of postponing unpleasant scenes. Sonya lived in the single room in back
of the kitchen of the Dorfmanšs large house. Ada, her husband, and their
four children occupied the upstairs bedrooms.
Klutsky spoke English like a Russian bear and for the last ten years
acted as Commander-in-Chief of cooking and cleaning with an extra stripe
for shopping. Her husband had died two years ago, probably from exhaustion
at watching her perform. She'd been seventy when she and her ailing
spouse accepted her daughter's invitation to move in with them, since
he was no longer able to work. They were almost penniless. The little
room in back of the kitchen was a haven. All they took with them were
their clothes, especially her precious afghan. It was from the old country
and so much a part of her life she would sooner have given away anything
else, including her husband, who had grown totally useless, than part
with it. It had acquired a gaping, irreparable hole so she now wore
it sparingly. It was her remnant of youth. She had worn it as a bride
and at the funeral of six of her eleven children, all of whom had died
Grandma Sonya's help Ada would have been lost. The ten-room house, the
meals, the kids, and feeding the coal furnace in the basement where
Sonya also pressed sabbatical wine grapes with her bare feet, was all
part of the American dream, with lox and bagels. But when Ada heard
her mother secretly cursing old age under her breath, calling it putz
and momzer, words that do not appear in any decent dictionary, Ada spoke
to her husband and they agreed to provide relief. She mentioned nothing
about it to her mother, aware that it would be not to her liking, and
withheld it hoping once the newcomer arrived it would settle matters
on the spot.
was upstairs finishing her shower when the front doorbell rang. Grandma
Sonya shut off the vacuum cleaner she was using in the living room and
hobbled to the door. She opened it. Towering over her stood a woman
who must have weighed nearly two hundred pounds and was entirely black.
Sonya had never seen anyone other than white in that neighborhood since
she had come to live there a decade ago. She slammed the door closed,
stumbled down the foyer to the telephone, picked it up and shouted into
the wrong end of it, "Police! Police!" A sharp rapping at
the door caused her to grab the hockey stick leaning in the corner near
the clothing rack as Ada ran down the stairs in her robe.
took the whole afternoon to try to explain what a wonderful idea had
struck the family but Sonya refused to accept it. She retired to her
room, shut the door, and refused to come out. She did not cook dinner.
She wouldnšt eat. The following day after the children had left for
school she confronted Ada in the kitchen.
schwarze!" she shouted. "To take my place! Here! In your house!
Is that what you want? You think she knows anything about cleaning,
about cooking? Look at her! She's like an elephant! Shešll break the
stairs when she walks up them. Look what you're doing to me, my own
daughter! Wait! Wait! You'll see what happens! What will happen here!
What a filthy place you'll have. Why are you doing this? God will punish
you for this! For doing this to your mother, treating her like an old
was no pacifying her and she again retired to her room. The battle lines
were drawn. Although Sonya held on to all the cooking, the maid, Betty,
did all the cleaning. On the very next day Grandma Sonya paced the foyer
like a nervous rat. No sooner had the maid come downstairs, Sonya went
up. She went up every day for two weeks, a spy, checking every corner,
every dresser, every bed and under the beds, the window sills, the toilet,
inside the medicine chest, the shoe racks in the closet. She was stunned,
particularly by the kids' rooms. As though some superhuman force had
invaded the house it began to respond with a new, one would could say,
magnificent glow. The latest polish was applied to the mahogany furniture,
to the piano, the mirrors. The carpets blazed with color. Ada hid her
joy in having discovered Betty, a professional if there ever was one,
humming in a deep voice as she wielded the mop. Sonya, in awe of this
powerhouse, choked back her feelings as Betty smiled whenever she saw
her. Furthermore, the maid mortified her by the way she slung the huge
outside garbage pail about and dragged it down to the curb for collection.
morning," Betty said quietly every day, as if trying not to intrude
as she barged in like a ship gracefully gliding across the bay. The
maid moved so lightly, weight and all, she hardly made a sound. On the
fourth morning when Sonya heard a dish drop and split in the sink she
ran in ready to gloat, but it was Ada who had dropped the dish. Sonya
glared at her. Whenever Betty took her lunch break Sonya puttered around
keeping an eye on her. Once, when Sonya returned from shopping she saw
her daughter having a cup of tea together with the maid, both of them
laughing over something. As soon as Sonya shuffled in the woman grew
solemn. Sonya eyed her suspiciously.
"What was she saying that one?" she demanded
of Ada afterwards.
"She was saying she has three children. Two
boys and a girl. She showed me their pictures."
"All black!" Sonya said.
"Mama!" Ada cried in a low voice. Then after
a moment, she added, "We're all Jews, mama. Remember that."
"A klug tsu Columbus!" muttered the
old lady, the standard curse on America's discoverer for having discovered
America in the first place. She went away wounded.
afternoon before the Day of Atonement Sonya prepared the feast for the
following night when the family and invited relatives would be starving
after the fast. She had it all in the oven, a deliciously prepared roast,
sweet potatoes, vegetables, the works, and she left for some last minute
shopping around the corner. She met an old neighbor and they sat down
on a bench in front of the grocery becoming involved in the discussion
about the best way to prepare chopped liver, with or without schmaltz.
Almost an hour later Sonya was startled on hearing the grocer cry, "I'm
closing early today. It's four o'clock. Last sale, ladies!" Sonya
jumped up, her heart pounding, and fainted away. By the time they brought
her to and took her home it was a quarter to six and she knew she faced
total disaster. Everything had burned to a crisp unless Ada had turned
the oven off.
"Ada" she cried as she rushed into the house
in a panic.
"Mrs. Dorfman ain't here," Betty said. "If
you are worried about the oven, I turned it off on the time I heard
you say it would take."
of thanking her for saving the dinner, Sonya turned away and fled into
her room. There, staring into the back garden, she saw her doom. The
maid knew everything. She was only concealing her cooking ability until
she could spring it on the family (she had already made one meal when
Sonya was ill) and take over from top to bottom.
held on for two days, scheming how to save herself. She thought of dismissing
the maid when she was leaving on a day Ada was out. But Betty knew who
was boss and would come back. Then she saw more drastic measures had
to be taken. Her ultimate plot was to deposit one of Ada's precious
bracelets - the star sapphire - in the maid's purse. That would end
that career on the spot. Of course Betty would deny it. She would look
Sonya in the eye. But Sonya knew she couldnšt look the maid in the eye.
next afternoon when Sonya's dwelling on the situation had brought her
to her lowest point in months, she saw the two of them in intimate conference
over a major household problem, the re-arrangement of the living room
furniture, surely more Sonya's domain than the maid's. She broke down
entirely. She went to her room quivering, threw her afghan around her
shoulders, drew her babushka about her head, took her cane and her purse
containing five dollars worth of mad money, stumbled out of the back
door down the alley to the street and wandered off looking for the way
back to Russia.
searched for her for hours but it was Betty who found her exhausted
in a distant enclave off Kings Highway, alone.
"Grandma, what are you doing here?" Betty
Sonya looked up at her through foggy eyes. "Take me home,"
Betty hailed a cab.
"That is such a beautiful shawl you're wearing,"
she said, after they rode for a few minutes.
"You don't know it's not a shawl? It's an afghan!"
"I can fix that up to be like new again for you.
I used to be a seamstress."
"You're a seamstress, too?"
"Would you like me to do that?"
They discussed it all the way home.
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Copyright Š August 3, 2000-