30 September 2015

Family Pictures

“Good heavens, she’s got a face like a catcher’s mitt,” said my father. 
He was peering unhelpfully over my shoulder, as I sat at the dining room table with a fraying cardboard box full of yellowing photographs spread out in front of me. 
“Sit up straight, you’ll wind up bent into a bow. Nobody wants a woman who can double as an archery tool.-Good HEAVENS, she’s ugly,” he said, picking up the thick, yellowed cardboard rectangle from where it lay in front of me. “Plain to see all the good looks came from your mother’s side of the family.” 
He held the picture up close and frowned at it. “This is your great grandmother, so don’t get too smug. You only dodged this bullet by a chromosome or two.”
“What was her name?” I asked. 
 He’d handed me back the picture, and I frowned at it myself, trying to make her face- broad, wide, and with an expression that could politely be described as “disagreeable”- connect to anyone I knew. It was tough. It wasn’t doable.
Dad was now reaching over my left shoulder to pick some pretzels out of the smooth oval wooden bowl in front of me. “Watch out for these”, he said, waving an admonitory pretzel at me. “They look harmless, but at 100 calories apiece, they’re lethal. Of course, by the time you gain the weight , the salt will have bloated you anyway. Win-win situation, really.” He chewed thoughtfully. “But they are good. Just watch yourself.”
I was impatient. “What was her NAME, please? And stop scolding me. I’m 123 pounds, for God’s sake. ” 
“Good thing you’re tall. That could be a deadly number if you were my mother’s height.” He looked off into the middle distance. “Did I ever tell you that she got so fat that she would fall off her feet? She would just be standing there, and boom. She was very vain about her feet. They were a size 2. Like bound feet, really. And SHE was 123 pounds, once.. And look what happened to her.” He leaned over me to grab some pretzels again. “And don’t be shrill, young lady. You’re one of nature’s contraltos. Shrill doesn’t suit you.. And  the catcher’s mitt's name..hmph..what was her name? Binah!", he said triumphantly. "Binah. I think. I remember it having "beans" in it. Not good for a name.”

“Bean-ah? I have a great grandmother named Beanah?? Who is really unattractive? 
This is not good.” I looked at the photo, and tried to match his tone.  "She can’t afford a bad name. Wow, she really DOES look like a catcher’s mitt. But ..wait, is this the one, the grandmother-"
-"GREAT grandmother."- said my father-
"-who was such was such a great baker that everyone came from neighboring shtetls for miles around to buy her stuff?” I asked.
“I think so. Yeah, yeah. Although God knows how they paid for anything. Nobody HAD anything. “I’ll give you two dusty rocks and a potato for that brownie.”Shtetl life was no month in the country. -Well,  it was, really. Just not a country you’d ever want to live in. “
I smiled. “Throw in a kidney and my first born son for the carrot cake.”, I said.

“BLASPHEMY!” My Dad recoiled in mock horror. “NEVER sell your first born child for health food! Carrot cake. You are not my child. Sachertorte, sure. Those pastry pig ears, of course. All butter and sugar.  But… Root vegetables with frosting on em? No. And not for you, if you don't want to take chances with those fat genes."

“Dad. Your mother was four ten and one twenty three. I’m FIVE ten and 123. AND I have really big feet.”

“You know, I never noticed that. But you do. “I Love You Honey But Your Feets Too Big,””, he warbled. “Is that Fats Waller?”

“Dad!!! What does “Binah” mean?”

He was already bored, walking away. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s Hebrew for “flatulence”. How would I know? I married the least Jewish girl on the planet. Your mother is truly the Shiksa’s Shiksa.” 

He was on his way out the door. “I think I’ll drive to the Stop and Shop and get some Haagen Daazs."
It was ten pm, but we were used to his odd peregrinations. He was a a city boy, never got used to the suburbs.  He stopped in the doorway and turned around and looked at me, his eyes actually focussing on me, rather than doing what I thought of as his usual “periphery check”.

“That’s interesting. You know what?”

“What, Dad?”, I sighed, in that teenage way.

“I think you are my only Jewish child. “ He looked at me quizzically, and then, unexpectedly, came back and kissed the top of my head.

I was thrilled but was successful at hiding my happiness. Boy, break out the Taittinger, I thought. But I made sure not to let him see that.

“Remember dog food.”, I said, frowning at Binah’s photo, still.

“Your mother and her damned dogs. Now THAT’S a WASP thing. Don't understand that."

 He stood behind me, his hand still absentmindedly on my shoulder. I hardly dared breathe, lest I draw attention to his attention and break the magic. He stood completely still for a moment, and then chuckled.

“What? What?” I had to ask.The moment trembled in the air, half broken between us, but still present, before it would, as always, fall and shatter.

He shook himself, and removed his hand from the vicinity of my shoulder. “I was just thinking about how  your brother and his exquisite Irish Catholic socialite “Nancy Reagan was my Mom’s best friend” wife would react if they saw THAT face peering out from the bassinet."
"Wait, whose face? You mean, in December?"I asked.

" The catcher’s mitt. That face. Ha!” he said happily,”The Shtetl’s Revenge. Binah’s Back. --Alright, Miss Feet’s Too Big , do you want anything else? Dog food, ice cream…” 

He shuddered theatrically. “I refuse to BUY anything else. That’s a GHASTLY combination.”

He looked down at the photo in my hand.

“I will tell you this much, though. Ol’ Binah  would have had to have been a DAMNED good cook.”

“Um…Well, Dad, if you’re going to get ice cream, I guess I want-"

But it was too late, by seconds.

The screen door had already swung behind him then.  My handsome father, was gone.

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