It always started with, “Mama, what is a nice Jewish girl?” It started not long after being a bar mitsve. In the beginning her replies invariably were, “Fishele, you know.”
As I became older and more persistent, Mama soon realized that she had to be more specific and could no longer give her standard reply.
In general her answers fell in the realm of “not too.” There were exceptions—money was one of them. “You can love a rich girl just like you can love a poor one, so why not marry a rich girl?”
Then there was the trait that she used often “a baleboste.” Mama’s reasoning was that a girl could not be too good a baleboste (literally a housewife, meant as a good one).
Invariably, it was, “Girls should not be too fat or too skinny. Skinny girls give birth to sick children, and too fat girls can’t be good balebostes.”
When we teased mom by asking her, “How much is too skinny or too fat?” She always evaded the question with her response, “You know.”
One of the areas that fell into the “not too … or not too …” was, height. Mama was as tall as Papa, but her answer was, “That’s different.” This type of answer never stood well with us boys.
Another trait was intelligence. “If a woman corrects a man in public, it is very embarrassing, and not good for the marriage.”
The only time Papa was involved was when I was persistent in having Mama be more specific about what she meant by “a nice Jewish girl.”
It was at the dinner table one Friday night and Papa had a little too much wine. He said, “You know, a voydzhin.” He soon realized that this was a no, no.
Mama’s sing-song response was always, “A shikse may be sweet, but…”We four Kutner boys married five very nice Jewish girls.