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American Fiction Funny

Lucas was nine years old when he first asked about the annual visits to the riverbank. “Why do we do that?” he asked his mother.

“I don't really know, honey,” she sighed. “I've heard a bunch of stories, but I can't remember them, it's been so long. I go because it makes the family happy.” She went back to preparing the picnic for the trip. “Why don't you ask Grandpa?”

Grandpa was taking a nap, so Lucas went to Aunt Sophie.

Sophie nibbled on her bottom lip. “Your grandfather told me that the river trip started back when he was a teenager. He said he found a pond close to his house and someone told him there were fish in it. He wanted to be a real American, so he got a long stick and a string, then his friend loaned him a hook and showed him how to dig for worms for bait. He caught something that first time, but he didn't know what, and his mother didn't recognize it either, so she wouldn't cook it. But your grandfather's brother got interested, so the next year your grandfather took his brother with him.”

“Why did he wait a year?” Lucas wanted to know.

“His mother wouldn't let him go for the longest time, but after a year Grandpa had realized that if he asked permission, his mother would just remember that she didn't want him to go, so he just stopped asking and after the year went by he just got his brother and off they went.”

Clever. Lucas had never thought of Grandpa being clever before. “Didn't Grandpa get in trouble for that?”

Aunt Sophie chuckled. “He might have, I guess, if they'd caught anything.”

“But they didn't.”

“No. They tried for the next few years, and eventually they gave up on fishing, and now we just go to the river and – what do they say – hang out.”

Grandpa came into the kitchen, rubbing his eyes. “Oy, Sophie,” he muttered, “that's not it.”

Sophie stared at him. “That's what you told me.”

“No, no, that's not it.”

Aunt Sophie glared at him. They were always bickering, but Sophie stayed with him – dutiful widowed daughter-in-law and all that. “All right, alter kocker,” she snarled, “so what's the real reason?”

Grandpa glared back. “It was me who went off to the river to fish,” he said the Lucas. “I did it because my uncle taught me to do that in the Old Country. He said we went fishing every year because the non-Jews in the area let us go once a year, and it was the one day a year that we could get food for free. The rest of the time they made us go to the store that the Poles ran.” He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. His voice cracked a little – it seemed that he hadn't thought about this story in a long time. “My mama said we were lucky that the Poles didn't make us buy non-kosher meat, but we had to buy their vegetables and fruit and cleaning supplies and everything. Made our working lives much harder because we had to give them a lot of the money we earned instead of spending it in Jewish stores.” He cleared his throat. “So when we got here we would go fishing every year to remember that day in the old country. Now we don't need the fish so much anymore, so we just go down to the river every year and have a party.”

Aunt Sophie's eyes brimmed over with tears. “Why didn't you say something before?”

“I don't know,” Grandpa sighed. “I guess because I knew I'd cry and I was embarrassed or something.”

That's when Aunt Sophie's tears spilled over and she threw her arms around Grandpa's neck. They both sobbed and held each other. Lucas, being a preteen, was so embarrassed he sneaked out of the room and headed upstairs to his grandparents' bedroom.

Grandma was there. When Lucas came in, she turned and saw Lucas' face beet red. “What happened, honey?”

Lucas told her the whole story. The longer he talked, the harder Grandma pressed her lips together. When he was done, she burst out laughing harder than she ever had in his hearing before. When she caught her breath, she gasped a little and muttered “The old fool.”

Lucas realized his mouth was gaping open, he was so astonished. “Uh...what do you mean?” he stammered.

“Oh, this isn't the first time he's told that cockamamie story about the Poles and their market,” she chuckled.

Lucas' heart sank. That story was such a good one, and now...”You mean it;s not true?”

Grandma looked at him again and her face fell. “Oh, honey, I'm sorry to upset you, but no, it's not.” She stroked Lucas' cheek.

He felt a little angry. “How do you know?”

“I was there, in the old country. I met your grandfather when he was about nine, like you are now. Our families were together all the time. I never saw him go fishing, and the Poles never required u to buy from them.” She sighed. “As a matter of fact, they didn't even want us to do that. They didn't want Jews anywhere near them, you know.'

Lucas felt a little calmer. What Grandma said made a little more sense. It was more like what he'd learned in Hebrew school. “Well then, why do we go to the river every year?”

Grandma smiled. “It was your father.”

Lucas just blinked at her. “Dad? Your son-in-law? It wasn't your family at all?”

“Nope. Your mother met him fifteen years ago. He's the fisherman. He took her to the river one day and cooked his catch over an open firepit.” She sighed again. “Your mother got sick right afterwards. She said she hated watching your father clean fish and she threw up right into the river. I don't think she's eaten fish since.”

“But why do we go to the river every year?”

Grandma chuckled. “She doesn't like fish anymore, but she loved that river, so the next year we went there and skipped the fishing.”

“And Grandpa-”

“Just took the story.”

Lucas rubbed his eyes. “Why? Why would he do that?”

Grandma took Lucas' hands and held them. “Honey, I love your grandfather very much, but he likes to talk about himself like he's some kind of hero.” She gave Lucas a big hug. “So do me favor and don't tell him you know the truth, okay? That's why your mother sent you here, I'll bet, so you could learn the truth from me.”

Lucas thought it over, then started to laugh himself. “Okay, Grandma, I won't.”

“Thank you, honey. It's not so bad to let Grandpa believe he's a hero, is it?”

“Nah.”

As Lucas headed for the bedroom door, he turned to Grandma. “Besides, it's still a pretty cool trip, down to the river every year, isn't it?”

June 19, 2021 00:02

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