Grandma Klutsky's Ordeal

A Moe Minsky Tale
Written By Al Geto


   Built 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.

   Mrs. 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.

   Grandma 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 in Russia.

   Without 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.

   Ada 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.

   It 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.

   "A 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 rag!"

   There 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.

   "Good 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.

   The 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."

   Instead 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.

   Sonya 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.

   The 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.

   They 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 asked, softly.
Sonya looked up at her through foggy eyes. "Take me home," she said.
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.

Home    Storybook

Right Out Of Ripley  |  What's In A Name  |  The Day I Almost Became A Vegetarian

Ah, Sweet Mystery Of Life  |  The Nervous Young Man  |  Everybody's Wild About Harry

The Planet According To Higgins  |  More Stories!

Copyright Š August 3, 2000-


Home More Stories Right out of Ripley What's in a name The day I almost became a vegetarian Ah, sweet mystery of life The nervous young man Everybody's wild about Harry The planet according to Higgins