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Scenes From A Kibbutz Childhood
written by: Merav Zaks-Portal
translated by: Denis Levin
Five and a Half Pounds
Spring, 1965. A baby girl, five-and-a-half-pounds. Straight to the baby house in a woolen cap.
“It rained the day you were born,” Dad recalls dreamily.
My sister is resentful: “By the time I arrived, the fourth child, who remembered anything?”
Straight to the baby house in a woolen cap. I don’t reemerge for three weeks.
“The metaplot wouldn’t allow it. But I went over to nurse you every three hours.” – that’s Mum
Good Evening. Here’s the News
The hands on the clock on the television set creep towards nine o’clock. Tick tock, tick tock. Towards Haim Yavin’s black-and-white announcement:
Good evening. Here’s the news.
Decomposition of the family. The dying evening destroying the family idyll. Summer, winter, in all weather.
Nine o’clock. Off to the children’s house. Brush your teeth, a story, a kiss, lights out, dark. The breathing of children as they fall asleep. Slowly, one by one they fall asleep. Only me and my terrorist (under my bed, waiting for his chance) stay awake. For a second, there under the bed, he’s distracted. I leap forward – boots, coat. I sneak behind the night guard’s hut. She mustn’t catch me running, she mustn’t bring me back. I knock on the door. Dad drowsily opens up a folding bed. I drop onto it and fall fast asleep. In the morning the metapelet is sour-faced: “You slept in your parents’ room again. Go brush your teeth.”
Milk with the skin on. Yuck! Off to the classroom.
Proverb of the Week
Every Friday a new proverb. This week:
Empty vessels make the most noise.
We decorate the front page of our copybooks. Efrat, she draws. I just fill in the colours. Efrat, the most popular girl in the class, my true love. The girls laugh: “Horse and cart.”
Who’s the horse and who’s the cart? Of course, I am (the cart). Almost inside, but on the side. I don’t take chances.
Liana, from Argentina, nails bitten to the bone, hands always wet, no one gives Liana a hand. Neither do I.
Mario, in the broom corner. He’s a new immigrant. He dies a new death nearly every day. His dad beats him. With a belt. No one helps Mario. Neither do I.
Shula, the new teacher. She’s from the city. From Ashkelon. Red lipstick on her mouth – on a Kibbutz!
Arithmetic. A sharpened arrow aimed from the blackboard:
“Merav, you understand?”
“Yes, yes, you.”
It seems I don’t. I’ll never understand arithmetic.
“But in writing you’re good, aren’t you?” Allocation of resources. Socialism. Class social committee. Heated discussions. With whom? About who?
No one dances with Liana. Nor with Mario, either. They’re not from here.
I’m Ferdinand, in the meadow, smelling flowers. The leading role.
Next year King Saul:
In the night’s deepest shade,
Without dagger or blade,
On his steed of days yore,
Rode King Saul to Ein-Dor.
I so wanted to be King Saul. But no, I’m the narrator: “You already were Ferdinand.”
Allocation of resources. Socialism.
Turn Your Head to the Wall
It returns in my dreams the whole time: I’m running naked in the street.
It isn’t awful but it isn’t nice at all. There’s no privacy. Not for a second. Maybe in the toilet:
Praise the Lord with sounding cymbals, I sing all alone in the toilet, suddenly turned devout.
Four in a room, myself and three others (and the terrorist under my bed).
“Go to the toilet before bed.”
“Turn your head to the wall.”
“Turn out the lights.”
“I see you reading. ‘Turn your head to the wall,’ I said.” Sour sweetness. No privacy. A blurred memory.
We’re leaving here (going to America on shlichut with Dad). Phew! There aren’t any terrorists there. The Kibbutz dressmaker sews a new white blouse especially for me. With little red flowers and puffed sleeves. For me and for Anne of Avonlea.
New York. Brooklyn Bridge at night. The beauty of it. A sudden stabbing pain in the pit of my stomach. The wind tousles my hair. Freedom. A family for real, for two years.
Two months without understanding the English spoken all about me, without speaking a word of English. Mute in a school without walls.
“Good morning, Mr. Vernedax.” A jumble of children. One child, Michael, in a wheelchair.
I’ve moved down the social ladder. No longer the friend of the most popular girl in the class. Just Cristin, an Irish mouse with scraggy pigtails and thirteen brothers and sisters at home, just Cristin’s my friend.
I get along. It’s hard for Danny. I get along, supposedly. He only takes sandwiches to school in a brown paper bag. There’s no brown bag this morning. He doesn’t take any. On the way, he pulls up his socks. Again and again. Free lunch at the school dining hall, a small mortification.
“Shlichim doesn’t earn much,” Dad says.
We’re entitled, so it turns out.
I have a room. A room of my own. With real curtains. A bed. A slanted writing desk.
A home made of second-hand furniture.
Real snow on the streets. A real home. No Haim Yavin ready to intervene at nine o’clock in the evening. Danny’s glued to the television. In colour.
Yuvali. A blond baby boy. He shouts at the passers-by: “Is it what time?”
A Wet Blouse
Back to Israel, to the Moledet.
An Israeli summer. It’s hot.
There’s the youth leader camp. I want to go so much. The class votes and I’m to stay behind. Tears. Dad will arrange it. The girl will get what she wants.
The girl remembers the well. A wet blouse. Small breasts erect with the cold. It was worth it. What was his name? She doesn’t remember, it doesn’t matter. She and herself there. At the well.
Get Up, Get Out
My beloved bride.
Passover: White dresses, wreaths on heads, a dance of the priestesses. My last time on the stage. Beautiful girls.
Mum’s worried: “Next thing she won’t learn new folk dances.”
First signs of decomposition. A crack in the Kibbutz home.
“Next thing she’ll fall for a Moroccan boy, not from here, and will leave. That’s where it all started. She doesn’t go folk dancing on Friday evenings in the square outside the dining room any more. She doesn’t join in after the Sabbath meal [chicken soup with shkedei marak, roast beef].”
Or, lack of coordination?