Mama Spoke with Mrs. Keller
Mrs. Keller was much older than Mama and had long since given up farm chores. She loved to speak with Mama in Yiddish. There were not many women in Mrs. Keller’s circle of friends and none of them could speak Yiddish like Mama.
I once overheard Mrs. Keller saying, “Avu hostu oysgelernt aza geshmakn Yiddish?” (Where did you learn to speak such a good Yiddish?) Mama said, “fun tatn” (from my father).
There was very little time on the farm for socializing, but once a month when Papa went into The City (NYC) to bring crates of eggs to make extra money, Mama would walk over to spend an hour with Mrs. Keller.
One day Mama told Papa that the “season” was approaching and that we should get another milk cow for the roomers and boarders. “Speak to Mr. Keller and ask him for a good ‘milker’ that gives rich milk.”
Part of my chores was to take care of the few cows we had. Mama skimmed the rich cream from the milk and we boys churned it into golden butter. The skimmed milk was permitted to curdle and Mama passed it through cheesecloth to make pot or farmer’s cheese.
Papa wore the pants in the family—or thought he did. Everybody said so. He was not a good businessman because he had a big ego, and a smart merchant would take advantage of Papa.
Mama was a good “handler” and always could cut a sharp deal—when Papa wasn’t around. She never interrupted Papa when he was “handling.” At these times she was mild and meek—the dutiful housewife.
Anyway, Papa and I came back from making a deal with Mr. Keller for a small brown, gray and white heifer that was going to give birth “any day now.”
After the calf was weaned I told Mama that the new cow was giving only 3 to 4 quarts per milking, while our other cow was giving 6 to 7 quarts.
Mama could tell that Papa had not made a good deal and told him, “Go back and get a better cow or get our money back.”
Papa raised his voice and said, “When a man makes a deal, it’s his word. I am not going back.” And that ended the discussion—the matter was closed, or so Papa thought.
Many years later, after Papa had gone, Mama told us what had happened. The next time Papa went to the City she visited Mrs. Keller and cried about her Max. Mama explained all about the heifer that he bought from Mr. Keller.
Mama never told us about the exact conversation she had and we never learned about what Mrs. Keller said to Mr. Keller, but it must have been very interesting.
The next day about noon, Mr. Keller came over to speak with Papa. We were sitting down for dinner (farm folks eat dinner at noon and supper at night) and Mama asked him if he would like to eat with us. Mr. Keller gladly accepted because Mama’s cooking was known around the whole area.
Later, Mr. Keller told Papa that the hired hand had given us the wrong cow and that he should bring her back for the right one. Papa was speechless and Mama had a small smile on her face.
The next day, after coming back from school, I took the cow back. Mr. Keller had selected a beautiful, large, reddish-brown and white Guernsey. She was fully a head taller and had a much larger udder.
When the pail was brought in, Mama strained the milk and said, “We have one glass shy of eight quarts.”
Papa was raised in the Yorkville section of New York. The three boys were the only Jewish kids in a mainly German block. They had to be tough and learned how to be winning boxers.
On the other hand, Mama was raised in a small town in Poland. Because Zeyde had come to America to earn money to bring over my Bobe, Uncle Joe, and Aunt Bella, Mama had to help make money. She walked out to the countryside and “handled” trading goods with the Poylish farm wives in exchange for their produce.Mama was a smart business lady.