Secret Kites

As a little boy in corduroy knee-covering knickers, I vaguely remember asking Papa, “Where are Mama’s kites?”  Papa’s response was, “In the secret dresser.” It was the piece of furniture in Papa’s and Mama’s bedroom that was off bounds for us boys. 

Many years later we learned that it was where Mama kept her lady’s under-things—brassieres, girdles and an old corset.  We boys regularly were told that “Me tor dos nisht efenen” (one must not open it).

Mama’s kites included, “Oy iz zi a mieskayt” (Oh, is she ugly).  This was the adjective Mama used to describe an actress on the Yiddish stage who had given a below par performance.  These were the rare occasions when Papa drove us to “The City” (New York) to see a Yiddish play and to Ratner’s for a dairy meal.

Yidishkayt (Judaism) was Mama’s favorite kite.  Mama came from an ultra-Orthodox family, who lived at 42 Boerum Place in Brooklyn, and touted that she was a “bas koyen” (daughter of a Cohen—the highest level—above a Levi, or like Papa, a Yisroel.)

We boys are like Papa, at the bottom of the heap.

Frumkayt (piousness) was also on Mama’s kite list.  We kept a strictly kosher home.  Papa went along with it even though on the outside he was known to have coffee with cream, after eating fleyshiks (meat). 

“Where are your kites now, Mama? Are you flying them in the sky?”

I still remember her saying, “Freg nisht aza narishkayt”  (Don’t ask such foolishness)!