Thursday, June 02, 2005

My Father’s Tzimmes, 1956

tzimmes: pronounced tzih-miss
a sweet stew
a big production
common usage: she caused a big tzimmes
sometimes spelled tsimmes

He made a tzimmes out of everything, just as I do. He’d get his feelings hurt at the drop of a hat, so why wouldn’t I, his favorite child, make tzimmes out of his tzimmes. He lost the rent money, gave it to the horses a day before the phone was turned off and the electric came due.

Not for want of Mother’s sewing her fingers to the bone or my brother selling newspapers in the freezing cold or my sister, Dot, babysitting or me collating brochures in Uncle Izzy's print shop. Not for want of his own hard work and the hours on end in unemployment lines. He, a first generation American, an immigrant, yearning for a Russia where language was his own. No, not for want of anyone trying.

Still, on that day when the racing form was right and his horse came in, when he brought home fruit, two pounds of chuck, vegetables and a jar of honey from Lexington Street market. Filled our aluminum pot, stirred in the raisins and potatoes while he listened for the door to open and our feet to climb the steps. Not after he set the table and watched for us to eat would I eat his tzimmes. Everyone else did, my brother and sister. Mother too. But I wouldn’t taste his tzimmes, or even lick the spoon he offered.

-Esther Altshul Helfgott


beth coyote said...

thank you so much for this, Esther. After my father died, I could finally let in the love he had for me. Before he died, all I wanted was to argue. Beth

Esther Altshul Helfgott said...

Hi Beth

It takes two, though, doesn't it. Plus the rest of the family stewing in the pot. Still, after writing Father's Tzimmes, I realized how unforgiving I could be, at least as a young girl.

Thanks for writing,