“You know how much your mother likes us to come to dinner with her and her friends.”
“Didn’t we . . .?
“We didn’t,” Rona said. “At least not this year. Last winter once or twice but . . .”
“We should,” I quickly agreed, knowing we would wind up there for dinner no matter what excuses I might make. Among other things I hate eating at 5:00. And then there is . . .
More about my resistance I am reluctant to reveal. So we made arrangements to join my mother and the “girls” last week.
“The menu isn’t that bad tonight,” my mother assured us in the passive voice and without much conviction. “But there’s always the chicken. I like it without skin. Which is the way they serve it. Without any sauce. Too much salt.”
This didn’t excite my appetite. But as Rona has said in the past, it’s not about the food. “And you should think about eating at 5:00 as late lunch. Just nibble and then at 7:30 we can go to Toa Toa for some wonderful dim sum. You know, your favorite, chive dumplings.”
I love Rona, especially when she tries to encourage me to see things in the best possible light.
Bertha ordered the brisket (“I can still chew it if it’s not stringy”), Rose the vegetable plate (“I’m eating healthy these days”), and Ruth the fish (“I know it’s frozen. But I can use the brain food”).
My mother, Rona, and I ordered the chicken. “Do you have any with skin?” I asked, “I like skin. And, for me, please include the sauce. I like salty food.”
Rona and my mother exchanged glances.
“So what have you been doing with yourselves?” Ruth asked as she dug into her side salad. I was fascinated by someone having such an appetite in the middle of what felt to me like the afternoon.
“A little of this, a little of that,” I said. Rona kicked me under the table. “Taking beach walks, seeing family and friends,” I continued, “Also, getting a lot of reading and writing done and . . .”
“Reading what?” Rose asked.
“And writing what?” Bertha wanted to know.
“A little of this, a little of that,” I said and again got kicked. This time a little harder.
“I just finished a book my brother-in-law recommended. About the American ambassador to Nazi Germany just before the war started. It’s . . .”
“I read that too,” Rose said. “I forget the title. These days I forget everything. Including who I am.”
“You do not,” my mother assured her. “You have an excellent memory. And you know who you are. Rose is who you are,” she added with a gentle smile, wanting to remind Rose in case she in fact, for the moment, did forget her own name. Which sometimes happens. Rose is nearly 100. Yet, amazingly, a full six years younger than my mother.
“I think it’s called A Beast In the Garden.”
“Actually,” I offered under my breath so only she would hear, “It’s In the Garden of Beasts, which in German is . . .” Once more I was kicked.
“In German it’s tiergarten. When we were in Berlin, Jake and I went there for a stroll. It’s Berlin’s Central Park. Though why he dragged me to Germany I’ll never know.”
“Did you like it?” Rona asked.
“The book or the trip?”
“Well, the book.”
“Not really. I already know too much about Germany.”
“You’re always reading about Germany,” my mother said.
“Not that much. I let myself read just one Nazi book a year. I don’t need to be reminded. Half my family I lost there. Actually, in Poland, where it was even worse for the Jews than Germany, if you can believe it.”
“So the Garden of Beasts was your Nazi book for this year?”
“I guess you could say that,” Rose said with a faraway look. I didn’t know if she was thinking about Jake or the Nazis.
“It was interesting I suppose,” Rose said, “to focus on the ambassador and his family. His daughter was the most interesting. She was jumping into bed with every American, Russian, and German she could get her hands on. And threw in a few from France.”
“Sounds good to me,” Bertha said with a chuckle. “I could use a little spice. On the brisket too, for that matter.” All the ladies joined her in laughter.
“The book reminded me again,” Rose resumed, “what anti-Semites there were in our State Department. The Secretary and all his assistants. Roosevelt wanted to let more Jews come to America but they blocked it. They should all rot you-know-where.”
“I say Amen to that,” Ruth added quietly, “I lost most of my family in the camps.”
All the ladies joined her and said “Amen.”
“Can you believe what’s going on today?” my mother said.
“About what?” Ruth said. “There’s so much it’s hard to know where to start.”
“In the Crain.”
“The Crain?” I asked, confused.
“With the Rushkins.”
“You mean the Russians in Ukraine?”
“Yes, there. It’s terrible.” She shook her head side-to-side, sadly. “More anti-Semites.”
“You know what’s making me so upset about that?” Rose asked and before anyone could answer said, “What they’re saying about Obama.” The other ladies, knowing where this way going, nodded in agreement.
“They say he can’t do anything right,” Ruth said, “First he’s a dictator, he wants to be the king, and then the next day they say he’s weak.”
“A wimp,” Bertha said. “Didn’t that Graham senator call him that?”
“I’m not sure it was him, but it was him for sure,” Ruth said, “ who said that America, Obama should put a rope around Putin’s neck. He should talk like that considering he’s from Georgia. The Georgia in America where no one should talk about putting ropes around people’s necks. I know. I went on Freedom Rides.”
“He’s just worried about getting reelected,” Rose said. “Not that that should excuse him.”
“He and his sidecar, McCain, are so angry,” my mother said. “When they talk about Obama you can see how much they hate him. Not just disagree with him, but hate him.”
“At least they were in the army, McCain and Graham,” Ruth said, “But what do you make of the others who did not go, who are calling Obama weak and . . .”
“An appraiser,” my mother said.
“Appeaser,” Bertha corrected her.
“That’s what I meant. Sometimes I get so mixed up. They should only know from appraising. You’re too young to know about that darling,” she said to Rona. “And be thankful for that.”
“I know what you’re talking about Mom. About how so many in England and America thought they could buy peace by appeasing Hitler.”
“See how I told you she knows everything?” my mother said to the ladies. “Everyone in my family is so smart.”
“There she goes again,” Rose said, winking at Rona, “How she loves her family.”
“Here’s what I think,” my mother said so softly that all the ladies needed to huddle together to hear her. I joined them in leaning forward. My hearing is not that much better than theirs.
“These days if you’re the president,” she whispered as if she was saying something conspiratorial and did not want to be overheard, “it takes more courage to let people think you’re a so-called wimp than bluster about military options. That’s easy to do.”
“I’m confused,” Ruth said. “Which for me,” she shrugged, “is most of the time.”
“Not true, dear,” my mother assured her, “You still have left at least half your mind. What I mean,” she continued, “is that it’s easy if you’re just in the Congress or on TV to talk about getting tough with the Rushkins. What are we going to do? Bomb them like that fool Sarah Palin said? That’s meshuga.”
“You’re making wonderful points,” Bertha said. “Rachel on TV couldn’t make them any better. She’s the smartest. Her mother must be so proud of her.”
“With Obama weakened,” my mother pressed on, “because he only has two years left and, to be fair, got all tangled up with those red lines in Syria, it takes a lot of maturity, with the pressure he’s under, not to go off the steep end. When you are as strong as America is—and we are still very strong—as I said, it takes courage to hold back and look for a solution without threatening to shoot and bomb. We’ve had enough of that. Just look at the mess doing that made.”
“That sounds like the right thing to me,” Rose said.
“How’s the chicken?” Bertha asked, having has enough of political talk. “My brisket is chewy but tasty. I like the sauce they serve with it.” She stole a glance in my mother’s direction and then smiled at me.
I had picked away at the chicken but was looking forward to the chive dumplings.