Recap: Harry Truman became Vice President. Bayla and Mimi are spending a lot of time with Gloria Jacobson and she’s becoming interested in Judaism. The girls are hopeful that the war in Europe may be ending soon.
A month later, Margie told me that her grandmother was not doing well and the family called in Dr. Laurent.”
At the mention of this name, my cheeks flamed. “Dr. Laurent is in Europe fighting,” I said.
“He was. He got sick and was transferred back a month ago.”
“Is he all right now?”
“Yes, but you’re not asking about my grandmother,” she teased.
“Of course I want to know how your grandmother is.”
That week, Eliana appeared at the Cantors’ door with a large trunk.
Mrs. Cantor welcomed her in. Eliana greeted each of us. She yawned. “It was such a long train ride. I am so dusty.”
“You’re back,” I said.
“Yes, it’s such a tiresome trip. I’m back.”
We’d cleaned out the special guest room for Eliana.
“I’m going to lie down,” she said.
After she’d closed the door, I turned to Mimi. “Do you think she’s back to, to get officially engaged?”
I felt my cheeks flame. Stop, I told myself. Hashem is in charge. He will bring you your zivug. Dr. Laurent is meant for Eliana. Now be happy for her.
Mrs. Cantor spoke to me. “If you go off to Washington now, you’ll miss my niece’s engagement. Maybe you should stay.”
“My parents would want me to go,” I said. And I really don’t want to be here when the engagement is announced. “There’s a nice boy who goes to our shul, Harold Jackson. His parents are interested in me redting the shidduch to you,” Mrs. Cantor said.
I knew who he was. I felt my stomach knot. “Thank you so much, Mrs. Cantor. I …I really want to wait until my parents come. They would want a say in this.”
“Well, we don’t know when that will be. It’s a good family and the only reason he didn’t go to fight is because of his asthma. I invited him for dinner. Go put on a nice dress, please.”
I wanted to run away. How could she do this to me? Harold was a nice person, but I could never imagine marrying him. What was she thinking? She could make us work hard and do things in the house, but that didn’t mean she was in charge of our lives. I wasn’t a slave to be married off.
Now what should I do? I ran to Mimi. “Mrs. Cantor invited Harold Jackson for dinner.”
Mimi was busy folding tablecloths and putting them away in the dresser in the dining room. “Mimi, did you hear me?”
“She invited Harold Jackson. So?”
“She wants him to be my shidduch. She worked it out with his parents. She didn’t ask me. She assumed she could do something like this without asking Papa and Mama. I’m not coming to dinner. I’m leaving.”
“Where will you go? It’s not a nice thing to do to Harold.”
“But I don’t want him for my shidduch.”
“So, it’s a free country here. You don’t have to marry him, but she invited him and you don’t want to hurt his feelings.”
“I guess you’re right. But I really don’t want to date him or anything like that.”
“You can say no.”
I plodded towards my room to dress for dinner.
I put on my pale blue Shabbos dress. It had been very pretty when Tante Aimee first sewed it for me. I’d added material to lengthen it as I’d grown and it was frayed by the sleeves. I brushed my hair till it shone, and then I braided two thin braids on either side and folded them to form a crown across the top, and I brushed the rest of my hair down. I wished this dinner was over.
Harold arrived, wearing a suit and a silver tie. He reminded me of a telephone pole, he was so tall and skinny.
I tried to be polite. Mimi kept throwing me warning looks.
“Bayla is a wonderful cook and she’s a great help around here,” said Mrs. Cantor as she passed a bowl of rice to Harold.
“My father offered me a job at his bank. I plan to study accounting and finance and he has a job ready for me to start even while I’m in college.”
“Very practical,” Mrs. Cantor said.
Mrs. Cantor passed me a plate with chicken and I took a piece, but my stomach was in too many knots to actually eat it.
Harold, on the other hand, devoured three pieces of chicken and four servings of potatoes.
I wondered how he stayed so skinny.
“Now you two have a lot to discuss. We’ll all go into the mudroom.” Sophie and Mimi followed the Cantors out of the room.
Sophie shot me a sympathetic glance.
Harold cleared his throat. “It was a delicious meal. Did you help prepare it?”
“Well, I peeled the potatoes.”
“Yes, the potatoes were the best part,” he said.
How I longed to leave the room. This was torture.
“How do you like Missouri?” he asked.
“It’s fine,” I said.
I wasn’t helping him with conversation.
“Do you have other siblings?” he asked.
“A brother and a baby sister.”
There was an awkward silence.
“Would you want to go for a soda with me?” Harold’s voice cracked.
I felt bad for him. He was a gangly 19-year-old. “Harold, thank you for asking me but I don’t think so. I’m actually leaving for Washington soon, and to start a relationship now it just doesn’t make sense. I hope you understand.”
Harold’s cheeks flushed. “I…uh.” He nodded. “I guess I’ll be going then.”
I escorted him to the door.
He trudged away.
I felt bad. I hoped I hadn’t hurt his feelings.
Mrs. Cantor stepped back into the room. “When will you be going out with him?”
“I’m not,” I said.
“Didn’t he ask you?”
I couldn’t lie, though that would have made this whole thing easier. “I, he did, but I don’t want to go out with him.”
“Foolish girl. His parents have a decent living. He’s a member of our shul. I don’t understand you. You turn your nose up at a perfectly good opportunity. Don’t be surprised if you end up an old maid,” she said and stomped out of the living room.
To be continued…
Susie Garber is the author of Secrets in Disguise (Menucha Publishers 2020), Denver Dreams (a novel, Jerusalem Publications, 2009), Memorable Characters…Magnificent Stories (Scholastic, 2002), Befriend (Menucha Publishers, 2013), The Road Less Traveled (Feldheim, 2015), fiction serials, and features in various magazines, including A Bridge in Time, historical fiction serial (Binyan Magazine, 2017). Fiction serial in The Jewish Press – Falling Star (2019), article in the Winter 2019 Jewish Action Magazine. She contributes to the community column for the Queens Jewish Link and writes freelance for Hamodia. She works as a writing consultant in many yeshivos and teaches creative writing to students of all ages.