March 20, 1954 To April 2, 1954
New York City/Skokie/Chicago, Illinois
The plane taxied slowly. It turned to the left and to the left again. After a minute or two of quiet hesitation… A plume of smoke belched from each of the four engines as the propellers, one after the other, spun to life, blurred as their speed increased, then became invisible.
The roaring of the engines barely heard within the cabin, still stationary, shuddering, straining to be on its way…Straining. Straining, and now, as the airliner lurched forward, his head jerked backward.
Slowly… Faster… Faster… Faster… faster, faster. Faster until the patched cracks in the runway and the weedy grass alongside the concrete strip became a blur…
Inches. The wheels were inches off the ground… A foot… A yard… Two, three, five, ten yards off the ground…
The airplane rose up in steeply angled flight over the terminal and hangers and planes and commercial structures that dotted LaGuardia Airport, then over houses and yards…
Higher… Higher… Higher…
Banking westerly, the mid-morning sun, moving from port to starboard, reflected off the millions of windows of the skyscrapers of New York City.
This being the first time he’d flown, excited, terrified, sweat prickling his scalp, he wiped his sweating palms on the knees of his dress-blues.
Staring out the window, watching the diminishing city, forcing himself to relax, leaning his head against the headrest, wanting a cigarette more than anything in life—at the moment even more than sex—he stared anxiously at the NO SMOKING sign…
…Ding. Ding. Ding.
The side of his head laying against the window, hearing the soft bell, feeling a shift in the plane, opening his eyes he saw a steeply downward angled wing with nothing beneath but gray sky. His heart pounding, in near panic, looking up, NO SMOKING—FASTEN YOUR SEAT BELT. Mitchell looked at his watch: 3:30.
His forehead pressed against the double Plexiglas window, looking down again, Oh, God! he saw—it… Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan!
Ding. Ding. Ding.
Reminding him, he touched the belt around his waist, which he’d never unbuckled, and realized that within minutes the plane would be landing and that after a year and a half he’ll be home… Home!
Turning northwest for an approach to Chicago’s Midway Airport, the airplane’s flaps lowered, and the wheels dropped with a bumping clatter that helped slow the plane’s forward motion, causing Mitchell to have the frightening sensation that the plane was stopping in midair, inducing a few moments of silent panic… until the far-off dollhouses became larger, and he realized that they were still moving—that the plane was still flying.
The threads of the far-off runway loomed closer…Closer… Larger… Larger… Larger, until the runway is all there was under the plane, and with a puff of smoke from each of its wheels, the plane lightly bumped once, twice, and touched down…
Now Mitchell realized just how fast they were going…
Fast… Fast… Slower… Slower, until the plane rolled to a stop.
There! “Mom!” Waving. “Mom!” Running to his mother, held in her arms, Mitchell felt the warmth of her embrace.
Separating, the son and mother looked into the moistened eyes of the other.
“Hey, I’m here, too!”
“Dad!” Noticing splotches of gray in his hair and in the stubble of his beard that were not there when they had parted at Union Station. Hugging, “Hi, Dad!”
Embarrassed, “Hey,” pulling back, holding his son at arms’ length, “outside of the pictures you’ve sent us, now’s the first time we’ve seen you in uniform. You look great, Mitch.”
“But so skinny,” Myra chimed in.
No one had ever called him skinny before.
“Sounds like a Jewish mother to me.” Walter jokingly chastised.
“An’ don’t forget me!” said the tall, well-known stranger standing alongside Walter.
“Who the hell’s this guy?”
“Come on, Mitchie!” Lawrence blushed. “You know it’s me!”
“Larry?” Standing back, “It’s you, Larry? I can’t believe it! Holy smokes, look at you; you’re almost as tall me!”
Approaching the age of ten, Lawrence was scant inches shorter than his brother.
The two reached their hands forward, but, “Hell!” Mitchell said. Grabbing him by the shoulders, he pulled his brother into his arms.
Standing shyly behind his mother, “And this?” Taking his cap off, reaching behind Myra, putting it on five-year-old Morton’s head, “This can’t be Mortie! Hi! Boy oh boy, did I ever miss you!”
Stepping aside, Myra moved her youngest son forward.
Kneeling, holding his arms forward, “Hey, Mortie…” Tears formed as he realized that he was a stranger to his own brother. “You remember me, don’t’j’ya? I missed you more’n anything!”
Hesitating another second, “Yeah!” Running into his brother’s arms, almost bowling him over, “Hi, Mitchie!” Throwing both arms about Mitchell’s neck, “Sure I merember you!”
“Oh, God,” looking from face to face, realizing just how much he had missed his family, “I missed you, all of you, so much!” Taking a handkerchief from his pocket, he scrubbed it across his eyes.
“Okay,” Walter said, “enough with the schmaltz already! Let’s get your bags and go home.”
During weekdays, with traffic, the drive from Midway Airport, on the far south side of Chicago, to Skokie, beyond the far northern fringe of Chicago, could easily take two hours, but on this Saturday traffic was minimal.
“Mom, go on, tell him!”
Sitting in front, Mitchell turned to look at his mother, who was sandwiched between the boys on the spacious back seat of the maroon, 1954 Buick Roadmaster. “Tell me what?”
All three smiling, Myra looked from Lawrence to Morton, who, holding back laughter, had both hands over his mouth.
Smiling, too, “Tell me what?” Mitchell asked again.
Unable to carry a joke for longer than thirty seconds, glancing at his wife in the rearview mirror, “For Christ sake, Myra,” Walter said, “tell him!”
“Okay.” Myra said seriously. “We adopted a little girl.”
“Yeah,” Morton giggled. “we ’dopted a little girl.”
Stunned at this, They adopted a little girl? “You, what?” Mitchell thought he knew how much his mother wanted a daughter, but…
“Yeah, we ’dopted a…”
Reaching behind his mother, Lawrence slapped Morton on the back of his head.
“Ow! I’m tel-ling!”
Looking at each other, Mitchell and Lawrence began to laugh.
“Come on! Mom, Dad? I don’t believe it! You guys really adopted a baby?” By their attitude he knew, It’s got to be some kind of a joke.
“You’ll see,” Myra said mysteriously.
“Myra, for Christ sake…”
Slapping her husband playfully on the back of his head, “Shush!”
“I’m tel-ling!” Walter mimicked.
“A baby girl, huh?” Mitchell asked, “Really? What’s her name, then?”
“Wait, you’ll see. Don’t be such a nudnick.”
This year March came in as a lamb, and was going out the same way.
As the Buick turned off Crawford Avenue onto Lee Street, Mitchell saw that the winter-burnt lawns of Skokie were blotched with green, and the limbs of trees and bushes hung heavily with burgeoning life. In flower patches and soil borders along sidewalks leading to houses, the sharp pointed spears of tulips had begun their push from the soil to the sun.
Rolling the window open, putting his head through, breathing deeply, Mitchell smelled the odors of spring… and of home.
“Mom,” reaching over the seat, taking her hand, “it’s great to be home!”
The Buick stopped in front of the pie-shaped lot.
Opening the door, stepping out, Mitchell looked at the house. He had never thought of it as beautiful before, but it was home, and he was home, and nothing—nothing—had ever looked better.
Fitting his key in the lock, “Come on, Mitchie! Don’t you want to meet your sister?” Opening the door, Lawrence stepped aside as…
There was a rush of black and white as, bounding out the door, a young, but full-grown Dalmatian flung its front paws onto Walter’s chest, almost knocking him of the stoop.
“Walt, I thought you were going to break her of that!”
“Yeah, I will… Hi, pup,” Walter said affectionately, rubbing the dog behind her ears. “Don’t be such a kvetch, Myra.” Pushing the dog down, “Mitchie, meet our new kid.”
“She’s beautiful!” Turning the dog in his direction, rubbing both sides of her muzzle, “What’s her name?”
“Cricket!” Myra corrected her youngest son. “Her name is Cricket.”
Hearing her name, pulling from Mitchell’s hands, Cricket turned to Myra, and as she did, her tail whipped both sides of his dark-blue uniform, leaving his legs speckled with short, white hair.
“If we could only train her to shed her black on dark,” Walter said, smiling, “and her white on light colors, she’d be perfect.”
Still outside, “Go on in, Mitchie,” Myra urged. “You’re home now.”
Standing in the doorway looking in—the same sofa and chairs, coffee table, lamps, and large, split-leaf philodendron still stood in the exact same places they’d been on the day he had left home. Although in a year and a half nothing had changed, his home looked wonderfully new.
Taking a running start, crashing into his buttocks, “Come on!” Morton propelled his big brother three steps into the living room.
Grabbing him, “You little squirt!” Pulling Morton onto the carpeted floor, as he rolled over his baby brother in make-believe fight, Cricket joined in by shoving her muzzle between Mitchell and Morton and with lapping tongue, washed both faces. Laughing, letting the little boy get the best of him, sitting on his chest, giving his big brother an Indian head-rub, “Ow! Wonder who taught you that… Pattoie!” Pretending to spit as Cricket stuck her tongue into his mouth, he looked at Larry, who was sitting on the chair by the door, watching his brothers and Cricket play.
“Yeah!” Patting his head tenderly, “Wonder who taught me that?”
“Mitchie, guess what we’re having for dinner.”
“Let’s see, Mom.” Holding Cricket by her collar, turning his face from the dog’s over-zealous tongue. “Today is Saturday. Um? Would lox’n’bagels be a good guess?”
“Yes… Unless you’d like something else.”
“No!” he said emphatically. “Mom, would you believe I dream about lox’n’bagels?”
Weirdly, the only dream Mitchell could remember, other than an occasional dream of Susan, was of a family dinner of lox and bagels.
Climbing off his brother’s stomach, heading to the bathroom, “Got’a go.”
“Come on,” Taking Mitchell’s suitcase, “I’ll help you put your stuff away.” Going upstairs, Lawrence turned right, to the front bedroom.
“Hey, you don’t have to change rooms just because I’m home. Really, I don’t mind sleeping with Mortie.”
“Nah, I want you to have your old room while you’re home.”
“Normie! Hi! It’s me!”
“Mitchie! Hi! When’d you get in?”
“They got me from Midway about two hours ago.”
“How long you in for?”
“Two weeks… What’ch’ya doin’?”
“Nothing much. Just sitting around watching television… Hey, am I ever glad to hear your voice again!”
If either boy had a sense of déjà vu, it was because they’d had this same conversation, practically word for word, three months short of ten years before when Mitchell came home from Baylor Military School. The line silent a number of seconds, neither spoke, till…
“So, Mitch,” breaking the silence, “it’s over? You’re not… You don’t think about…?”
“Ol’ what’s’er name? No. That’s why I waited this long before I came home; to be sure it was over, and it is.”
“Good. Glad to hear it.”
“Hey, Normie, know what I’d really like to do tonight? Uh, that’s if you’re not busy. You’re not going steady or engaged or anything?”
“Well, now that you mention it, I am going steady… with Ava Gardner, and we do have a date tonight! But what the hell, for you, Pal, I’ll break it… What would you really like to do tonight’?
“The J!” Looking out the window, he saw Walter and the boys sanding the hull of the boat. “The kids still hang out at the J?”
“Yeah. And on a night like tonight looks like it’s going to be, there ought’a be a million broads around… That is kind’a what you had in mind, isn’t it?”
“Yeah! Of course!”
“Yeah! I kind’a thought.”
“Yeah, and you’ll never believe it, Normie, but what I want to do is to meet a good, old-fashioned Jewish broad.”
“Even if they do think their tits are made of gold?”
“Well,” Mitchell said hopefully, “maybe now that they’re older…”
“Don’t bet on it, Pal!”
“Yeah. Well, we’ll see.”
“Yeah. But don’t be too disappointed.”
“Yeah. So, what time should I pick you up?”
“Hey, any time. My folks’ll love seeing you!”
“Okay. See you about, uh, seven, seven-thirty?”
“Yeah. See you then, Mitch.”
In the kitchen, “Hey, Mom,” coming up behind Myra, putting his arms around her waist, “I got time for a shower?”
“Yes,” turning form the sink, “and straw is cheaper than hay.” she said with a smile.
“Yeah, Mom, I know! And ain’t ain’t in the dictionary.”
Having taken a shower, he dressed in Levi’s, a fresh T-shirt and his old, white-buck shoes. “Hi! Chow almost ready?”
At the sink again, looking at her eldest son in “civvies,” Nothing’s changed, Myra thought. It’s as if the last year and a half had never happened, and as if he had never left home.
After a slow, leisurely—three lox and bagel, with cream cheese, tomatoes and sweet onion sandwiches, type of—catch-up-on-news dinner, Mitchell went upstairs to find a shirt. But instead, opening the bottom drawer of his old dresser, removing the cranberry-colored cashmere sweater from its plastic bag, holding it against his face, feeling its buttery softness he thought, Susan, and he remembered Susan and, “Fuck it!” No longer the shrine of his lost love, now being just a beautiful sweater, he put it on.