PART I: BEFORE // Chapter Four: How He Grew Up: 21

By Sunday morning the snow had stopped, the sun was shining brightly, and by noon the temperature had already crept up into the mid forties. Yes, the famous New York slush was making itself known in a big way, as Natalie and her parents left their building and walked up towards the subway stop at 86th and Broadway. Her mother stayed noncommittal as Natalie argued with her wealthy father about the relative merits of subway versus taxi. Her father said in his own inimitable way that since the subways were good enough for most of New York they were good enough for him. To her surprise however Natalie won the argument, and soon they had hailed a cab and were riding downtown through the slushy streets to Times Square.

As the cab stopped in front of the theater, Abe gave the driver a five-dollar bill adding magnanimously, “Keep the change. It’s Hanukah, you know.”

The driver, a black man who hailed from Nigeria, tipped his hat and said in a perfect accent, “Hanukah sameach.”

Entering the theater Abe bought tickets for everyone but insisted on his and his wife’s senior discount, thereby saving seventy-five cents on a two-dollar ticket for each of them. Heading over to the refreshment counter, Abe looked at his daughter lovingly and patted her head. “Just like old times, zeeskeit,” he remarked with no trace of affectation. “You remember, I used to bring you down here to these theaters when you were only a little girl, what, twenty-five years ago.”

Natalie smiled lovingly at him and thought for a moment that she detected a trace of a tear in the corner in one of his eyes. But a moment later it was gone and he was saying in a loud voice, “So, who wants popcorn already? I’m starved.” He bought popcorn and soft drinks for everyone, then turned to Natalie and asked her, “You still got your sweet tooth for those candy bars?”

“Yes, Poppa, I’m afraid I do.”

“So what is it then? I remember like yesterday. Charleston Chews and Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews. Am I right?”
Now it was Natalie’s turn to mug. “You got a memory like an elephant, Poppa.”

He chuckled and tousled her hair again, and then loaded down with refreshments they entered the theater, Natalie’s mother trailing behind with a sort of wistful but happy expression that made her appear for the moment much younger.

As they entered the theater Natalie asked her father if he wanted to sit down close or back towards the rear. He looked at her and said jovially, “Why go down front? I still got eyes like a hawk. Not so bad at my age, eh?”

Sarah tugged at his coat sleeve. “Hush, Abe. People are looking.”

Since the theater was not particularly crowded, it being the Sunday afternoon before Christmas, they had no trouble finding three seats together about three-quarters of the way back from the screen. Natalie sat in the middle and impulsively hugged her father and her mother as she had been wont to do so many years ago. “Thanks for coming to see the movie, Poppa. I hope you like it.”

Turning his head towards her he said in a low voice, “I wouldn’t miss seeing your fella in action. I’m sure it’ll be a great movie.”

Soon the preliminaries were over and the first of the double feature began. Fortunately Gil’s film was shown first, the second film being some trashy romance that none of them particularly wanted to see. As the movie progressed, Natalie, who had already seen the film once with Gil, spent more time watching her parents than watching the screen. Surprisingly they seemed to be taking it well. Her mother blinked several times and rolled her eyes when the numerous sex scenes were shown, but Abe seemed to be more than a little interested. Sitting forward in his seat and whispering occasionally to Natalie, “Would you look at that? If I were only thirty years younger…”

As Natalie remembered the part where Gil made his cameo she prepared her parents, and when the moment came she was able to direct their attention to Gil’s appearance on the screen. “Look, Poppa,” she whispered, “there’s my guy. Over there on the left.”

“Not a bad-looking fella,” Abe remarked quietly. “But why are they calling him Bert Toast already? I thought his name was Gil.”

“It’s kind of a joke, Poppa,” Natalie patiently explained. “They all took stupid names for this film.”

Natalie looked at her mother who had a puzzled expression, having heard her husband’s and daughter’s conversation. With a puzzled look she said, “Why would they do that?”

Abe leaned over past Natalie and patted his wife on the shoulder. “They’re young people, Momma. They do crazy things.” This seemed to satisfy her and she went back to daintily munching her popcorn.

Soon the bikers had moved in and the assembled multitude was busy slaying Trigger Mortis and the film ended in a swell of heavily-drummed beach music and an enthusiastic last orgy scene. As “The End” appeared on the screen and the credits began to roll Natalie looked at her father, who had a bemused but pleased expression on his face and was wiping the sweat off his forehead with a pocket handkerchief. “That,” he pronounced, “was some movie all right. The last time I saw this many naked bodies I was in medical school.”

“How about you, Momma?” Natalie asked.

Sarah had a stunned expression on her face but managed a slight smile. “Eh,” she said, “I thought some of the dialogue was very clever and the relationship between the two lovers made me a little verklempt. But on the whole, considering what type of picture it was, I thought it was okay.”

So Natalie beamed, heaved a huge sigh of relief, and the three of them left the theater.

Outside it was still sunny and not that cold. Abe yawned and stretched his arms over his head. “It’s nice outside,” he said. “Let’s walk over to the Stage Delicatessen. All that screwing has given me an appetite you wouldn’t believe. And besides, I need to stretch my legs a little.”

So the three of them walked arm-in-arm back to Seventh, then turned left and headed uptown the ten or so blocks to the Stage Delicatessen. There they gorged themselves on corned beef and pastrami sandwiches on rye, sour pickles, and kosher cole slaw. When they were all satisfied, and Natalie had dutifully wrapped up the food they couldn’t eat, they walked out onto Seventh and Abe hailed another cab to take them home.

The next few days passed amicably but uneventfully for the loving family. Then one afternoon a few days after Christmas, as Natalie was idly passing the time in her room with a movie magazine, there was a soft knock on her door.

“Yes?” she said, putting down the magazine and rising from her bed.

“It’s me,” her father’s voice said. “May I come in for a few minutes?”

Without answering him she directly and quickly opened the door. One look on his face told her that he was now in the calm practical administrative mode that had stood him in such good stead during his years as chief of cardiology.

“Come in, Poppa,” she said simply and then closed the door after him. She sat back down on her bed and he took the upright chair at her desk.

“You said,” he began, “there was something you wanted to discuss with me privately. I think now is the time. I sent your mother out this afternoon. She won’t be back for hours as she undoubtedly is gorging herself on the after-Christmas sale at Bloomingdale’s. So there’s nobody in the house except you and me.” And then with a soft tone and a twinkle in his eye he finished, “So proceed already.”

She edged closed to him and sat at the foot of the bed. “Well Poppa, here’s how it is.”

About ten minutes later Abe was nodding thoughtfully. “Yes,” he said, “I think that can be arranged. You’ll have to give me a little time though. There are lots of things to set in motion and get completed before I can honor your request. I have however one stipulation. We joked about it a few days ago. But now I want a straight and honest answer. From your heart to my ear, so to speak. Look me in the eye and tell me this is the boy for you. Not just for a few weeks and not just for some business deal you might have cooking.”

She looked him in the eye and said, “Yes, Poppa. I love this man and I want to marry him and I want him to be mine and me to be his for the rest of our natural lives.”

As her father saw that she was telling the truth and being honest, at least as far as he could tell, his countenance lightened, a mischievous look came into his eyes, and he smiled broadly. “Now,” he said, “tell me it’s not like that mesugha professor you had to go and marry when you were still my little girl.”

Natalie gritted her teeth but remained calm. She had realized a long time ago that neither of her parents were ever going to let her live down her brief marriage to the pompous professor whom, although Jewish, both of her parents had hated on sight. Time, she thought, to bite the bullet and show some humility. “No, Poppa,” she replied in as contrite a voice as she could manage. “It’s not like that at all. I was too young and still in my authority-worshipping stage at that point. That’s all over with. Gil and I are going to be equals. Although,” and here she started to grin, “he’s eight years younger than I, and I had to teach him so many things you wouldn’t believe.”

They had a good laugh over this together, then her father got up. “Well, I guess that’s settled then. I will keep in touch with you and let you know how things are proceeding. I should be able to fully realize things by about, I would say, March or April. Will that be okay?”

“Sure, Poppa, and thanks for the mitzvah. I know it’s a big one.”

“Not at all,” he called over his shoulder as he started to leave the room. “After all, you’re my only daughter. Just because things are happening a little sooner than I thought is no problem with me.”

As her father left her room politely closing the door behind him, Natalie pumped one fist in the air and exclaimed, “Yeah!”

A few days after that it was time for her to go. They had, they all agreed, enjoyed a really good visit, and everyone expressed the desire (as they always did) to do it again the following year. After hugs and kisses all around Natalie, with the help of her father, went out to the sidewalk and stowed her luggage in the airport shuttle she had ordered. Then she was in the shuttle waving goodbye to both her parents who were standing on the sidewalk and waving back to her. She was now returning to the loving, trusting arms of the man who, unbeknownst to him, was about to become her husband.

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