“Do You Want Me ToDrown Them?”

Papa liked to use new words.  After a while he would find a new one, with the exception of the word “agenda.” He saw no need to replace it with a new word.  It seemed to work for him when he used it in the many arguments with Mama.  They weren’t arguments—he called them “discussions.” It invariably was about money or us kids.

Papa first and foremost was a businessman and a fierce Zionist.  He was not a very good businessman, but he always was looking to play the angles.  Mama’s agenda was her four boys and later the eyniklekh (grandchildren).

Papa was a sucker for any “good deal,” but Mama usually saved him because she always had extra money and Papa had only enough to pay current bills.  Papa was a soft touch for the Kuhl’s Hatchery when they had a better than expected brood.  Papa came home with, “I got chicks at half price.”

Mama’s reply was, “Where are we going to put them and where is the money coming from to feed them until they start laying in six months?”

Papa always answered with, “They’re here—do you want me to drown them?”

Mama always said, “G-t zol ophitn” (G-d forbid)! That settled the matter until the next time, and this dialogue was repeated many times over the years.

However, when it came to Israel, Mama helped Papa to be “generous.”

Papa had his peeves with Mama.  He never made headway with Mama in the financial realm, but he hit Mama hard on the matter of her boys.  Papa wanted the tough approach and Mama was the proverbial nurturing “Mother Hen”.

It did not matter to Papa that we had a cold—the chores had to be done.  At these times Mama would step in and do our work.  Papa said, “You are making them sissies.  They have to face the hard world.”

I can still hear Mama saying, “Zey zenen nor kinder.  Zey hobn tsayt tsu arbetn ven zey veln vern gezunt” (They are only children.  They have time to work when they get healthy.)

Mama probably did not know the exact meaning of the word “agenda” but she knew it was not good.  Whenever she overheard Papa telling us, “Well, that’s only Mama’s agenda,” Mama said sarcastically, “shmenda dzhenda—shmenda, dzhenda.” That was the end of the matter. 

In all arguments, Papa may have had the agenda but Mama always had the last word.