Two Jewish Mothers
By Mark Perry Nash
Very early the next morning the telephone rang. It was Mrs G, and as soon as I picked up the phone I knew something had gone badly wrong. 'My God, Mark what haaaappened!' she wailed down the line. 'My beautiful lawn looks like the Negev Desert before the Israelis got there! I know, it was that moron husband of mine wasn't it? Go ahead, you don't have to be diplomatic; It was him wasn't it; you can tell me! You can't trust that idiot with anything!!'
She knew that he had been there and suspected - rightly - that he had had a hand in the disaster that had befallen her perfect lawn. To say that I was caught in the middle of a domestic was an understatement. There was no doubt that it was Mr G's mixing technique that had destroyed in one day what it had taken ages to create: the perfect, green, weed-free lawn, but I liked the man and had no wish to drop him in it. 'Well, Mrs G', said I hesitatingly, 'he was helping me with the feeder, but.' 'I knew it!' exploded Mrs T. 'That idiot can't be trusted with anything on grass except a golf ball! 'When he gets home I'm gonna murder him!' The idea of being on the receiving end of her full-throttle rage was something I wouldn't have wished on my worst enemy, and I hoped that she might simmer down by the time her hapless husband got home. If she hadn't, he was going to need all his skills as a lawyer to get himself out of this one!
I went round later to try and console her, but it was as if she had lost a favourite pet (she hadn't, the Siamese cat was still in the same place on his sofa looking superior) But her beautiful lawn had been eradicated. All that was left of the lush green carpet that had been her pride and joy was a wasteland of burnt brown earth and a few scraps of dried grass. Her husband was nowhere to be seen, and I began to wonder if she had murdered him and buried him in the garden.
I knew that the bark of a Jewish mother is often worse than her bite, but with her I was never too sure. In the end he turned up - back from the golf course to which he had been exiled - and disappeared into his study. 'The best place for him!' snapped Mrs G. 'To let a schlemiel like him loose in a garden! I'd be better leaving the job to a chimpanzee!' I stammered some more apologies and explained that I was sure that Mr G had meant well, etc etc, but she was not going to forgive him that easily.
Over the next few weeks we got the lawn back. Rather than try to raise the former one from the dead, she ordered new turf to be laid. Because of the size of her lawn, front and back, the process cost a huge amount of money but she wasn't bothered. 'It'll teach him a lesson' she barked. 'Maybe next time he'll keep his hands off that damn spreader!' In a few weeks things were almost back to normal. Mr G was banned from touching or going anywhere near the garden tools - especially the spreader - probably on pain of death - but he and I did enjoy many pleasant conversations from time to time about everything from English writers to Jewish history.
I was to witness Mrs G's awesome fire-power one more time that summer, when my bicycle chain broke one morning on my way to her house. I had to walk to the nearest bicycle shop (there was fortunately one on Main Street) and leave it there to be fixed. I got to the Goldman's about an hour later than usual. Mrs G was standing outside the front of her house as I walked up the drive. 'Whatever happened to you?' she said with a worried expression. 'I thought maybe you'd gotten sick or been hit by a truck or something'.
I explained my bike problem. 'When you're finished later', she said, 'I'll run you up there and you can pick it up; you shouldn't be walking in all this heat!' I spent that day working on the back yard rockery, getting rid of the few weeds that dared to show themselves and putting in some new plants that she had bought. 'I just know its going to look just like one of those English gardens!' she said, beaming at my handiwork.
She still believed that gardens and Englishmen - even if they were only sixteen - had some kind of mystical relationship. Finally we got everything done and I went into her kitchen to eat the sandwich I had brought with me. As usual she thought that my sandwich was far too miserly and insisted that I augment it with a large piece of Challah (Jewish bread) and a bowl of cake and ice-cream. She asked me again about my bike. I said that I could easily walk back and collect it from the shop. 'No Mark, don't be silly! I said I'd run you up there'. 'That's OK' I said, 'I can walk, it's not far'. 'Don't be such a victim!' says she, getting a little riled, 'You've been working all day in the heat; it's the least I can do'. Once again I knew better than to argue with her.
At five that afternoon we drove into town. The street was lined with businesses and shops of all kinds, and during rush hour the traffic was bumper to bumper. I assumed that Mrs G would drop me off and drive on, or maybe find a place to park while I checked on my bike. She asked me where on the street the bicycle shop was and I indicated a little alley that led off the main thoroughfare when we approached it. I got out of her huge Cadillac and waved goodbye, but once again Mrs G had a better idea. 'Your bike might not be ready yet, I'll wait'. She had stopped her massive car in the middle of the street and with the traffic backing up behind her. Her car was one of those models that pre-dated the rise in petrol prices. 22-feet long and weighing about two tons. Nothing could possibly have got round it.
Before long other drivers began to get aggravated. 'Move that crate!' yelled a red-faced man in a truck. 'Hey lady, get outta the way, you're blockin' the whole street!' shouted another. Mrs G leaned casually out of the drivers' side window and just glared. I dashed into the shop and had to wait while the repair man went out the back to see if my bike was ready. He seemed to be taking hours. 'For God's sake hurry up! I whispered silently to myself. Outside the traffic was continuing to back up as tempers got worse, but Mrs G seemed to be enjoying the whole thing. By now some ladies who knew her had gathered so there was a support group to balance her critics. A street battle between a battalion of Jewish mothers and several angry truck drivers is something to see I can tell you!
I finally got my bike and rushed back out with it. By now the police had arrived. The truck-driver and his supporters all yelling at Mrs G and her supporters shouting back. 'I'm helping a nice young man pick up his bicycle and this is what I get?' I heard her shouting from the middle of the crowd. 'I do someone a kindness and what do I get - ABUSE!!'. The police officer tried to calm things down: 'Please, lady.just move along' 'And you can shut up too, nobody asked for your opinion!' she barked in reply. It reminded me of one of the chaotic scenes in Its a Mad Mad World, in which Ethel Merman yells at all and sundry.
I wondered if she would end up getting arrested, but before that could happen I had shoved my bike into the boot of her car and we drove off, the truck-driver still shouting about 'bossy broads who think they own the damn road'. 'I'm really sorry about all that trouble' I said after we had got away. 'Don't be silly Mark', said Mrs G soothingly, 'you have to stand up to morons like that'.
Mrs G eventually forgave her husband for his role in the fertilizer disaster, but I learned later that it cost him a three week holiday in Barbados, and from her I picked up more gardening customers. Like most people in the Real Estate business her network of contacts was vast, and she unhesitatingly recommended me, I have to say in much more flattering terms than my gardening skills warranted. 'Of course he's got a green thumb - he's English isn't he?' I would hear her saying down the phone.
I was at an age when young guys sometimes develop a crush on older women, and Mrs G was a very beautiful woman . She was wealthy, always beautifully dressed with luxuriant long dark hair and those deep blue eyes, but a little of her went a very long way. She was kind, generous and thoughtful, but had a 500 horsepower temper that you toyed with at your peril! By summer's end I was calling her Rochelle, and my Dad even began to cast me furtive glances whenever I referred to my favourite customer, wondering no doubt if our relationship had gone beyond gardening and chocolate cake . And I wasn't going to enlighten him!
from the December 2013 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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