RIMKA Did she like him? She, certainly, had better offers. Like that doctor, for example. But she would have never married the doctor, because she would have always felt inferior to him. And she could not abide that.
Meyer was a simple fellow, his family was crude and uninteresting in her eyes. She couldn't see beyond the dirty fingernails and bad table manners, that her unassuming boyfriend was a true craftsman. He joined the crew of, mostly, his relatives, who did various jobs in Moscow. Sure, when there was nothing else, they painted apartments or made safety posters to keep their families fed, but their main work was that of restoration. They put gold leaf on the great cupolas of the Russian churches (Jewish men, risking their lives on the flimsy scaffolding, to uplift and uphold the Russian spirit), painted and restored the train and, later, the metro stations, the historical buildings and the public offices. They were supposed to use stencils to create the appearance that the patterns were sculpted on the walls and the ceilings. Eventually, my father began to just paint them freehand. The Moscow Synagogue, after they were done with it, became a jewel, in hundreds of intricate blue and gold patterns. In fifty years that they spent together, Rimka will rarely think of that or appreciate his talent. She felt that she could be an unchallenged leader of him and their family and that's why she agreed to marry him.
She never mellowed out. Of course, she loved us from the bottom of her heart, but her father-in-law called her a gendarme, for the arbitrary rules that she imposed and the attacks of temper against the in-laws and her own family. Meyer tried to reason with her, but soon gave up and resolved, as much as possible, to stay out of her way.
They had two children, my sister and myself. To tell the truth, Meyer and Rimka needed each other. Meyer was easy going and he needed Rimka to push and nudge her family in the direction that, she believed, they should go. She also learned to appreciate Meyer, because she was uncomfortable, even afraid to be alone, and he was the one constant in her life. She loved humor, worked day and night to make her home and children look good. We were some of the best dressed kids at school. Her life's ambition, it seems, was to make me an erudite and a cultured person. She encouraged me to read and learn about arts. The reading of, literally, hundreds of books (my mother got us a "World of Literature" subscription and they sent us a weighty tome every month) backfired, though. From them I learned to be idealistic and to challenge the authority. She was the first authority I challenged. Now that I'm a parent, I understand, how unfair life can be to the parents of the teenagers. Even for the most tolerant folks, its hard to master the amount of patience and understanding that they require. There was no such tolerance in my mother. She could be warm and laughing one minute and take a quick offense the next. She was also never too shy with sharp reprimands or sharp slaps on the face. When we complained to our dad, who came from the war quite deaf in both ears, he would always reply: "She would not say that!"
How does this story end? My parents had more then a half a century to build up and tear each other down. Our family was able to move to the United States. The years when she helped raise her grandchildren were the happiest I've ever seen my mother. In 2002 she became sick with cancer. It was as if the lifetime of hurt and resentment, finally, manifested itself in the physical form, destroying her body and undermining her spirit. The last year before she passed away, she separated herself from everybody, like she was pushing us away before she was forced to lose everyone forever. Perhaps, that was the reason why she felt compelled one day, after brewing in her own thoughts for a while, to tell her husband: "I should've left you when I was younger!". My father was deeply hurt; he both, blamed and grieved for her, for the rest of his life. I think, though, that he never let go of the memory of that skinny, vulnerable, green-eyed girl that he met so long ago.
How does this story end? Well, it doesn't. Rimka left her stamp on us for all eternity. There isn't a day when the memory of her love, hard work, deeds and misdeeds doesn't influence my own actions and decisions. Her fierce desire for validation and control are alive in me too, even though I try to keep tighter rule on my emotions. Fortunately, I also inherited some of my father's tolerance and forgiveness, and so my own children will tell different kinds of tales about me. Or will they?