From my novel, Dad :
After breakfast, the Friedman family burned their last remnants of chametz with the rest of the guests of the hotel. A small mountain of rolls, cakes, donuts, noodles, cookies, breakfast cereals, pretzels, and crackers went up in the bonfire. One very religious vacationer poured a bottle of Chivas Regal into the flame.
“Putz,” Harry Friedman said as he watched the aged and expensive scotch whiskey disappear in the pre-Pesach conflagration.
Then, to be a good father to his children, Joseph led his sons to the tennis clubhouse, where he had reserved a court.
“Do you think you are up to it?” Rivka asked him.
“I’ll take it easy,” he promised. “The physiotherapist said that exercise was good for my neck, so don’t worry.”
“You haven’t played tennis for years,” she argued.
“Once a tennis player, always a tennis player,” he answered.
He was, in fact, a pretty good player. He had taken lessons as a youth in their New Rochelle country club, and for a couple years running, he had played almost every day of the week. In high school, he had won a varsity tennis letter. So he wasn’t worried about over exerting himself. He knew how to get by with the least amount of effort and the maximum results. Plus it was only hitting some balls back and forth with his kids. Rivka always urged him to do more with them, and she was right. One of his fondest memories of his own father was a foot race they had had when he was thirteen. Harry Friedman put all his heart into the 100-yard dash and just managed to win. It may have last only twenty seconds, but Joseph remembered that race with his father all of his life.
They had brought their rackets from home, and white tennis shorts and shirts. Joseph wore a floppy hat and sweat band, mimicking the style that Arthur Ashe had made famous. His parents and Rivka sat in the shade of the sidelines to watch as he hit balls fluidly back to Zev and Danny on the other side of the court. Avi and Moishe acted as ball boys for their father, chasing after stray shots until they could have their turn on the court. To show off a little for Rivka, Joseph even sent a few graceful serves rocketing into the server’s box on the other side of the net. Each time, Rivka applauded. His parents even seemed to enjoy the outing as they sipped on fruit drinks in the shade of patio umbrellas.
It happened when Joseph was bending down to pick up a ball. He heard a small click and felt something slip out of place in his lower back. As if frozen by an off-court “Star Wars” ray gun, Joseph was unable to straighten up. The pain wasn’t any worse than the pain in his neck, but he was paralyzed. He thought that if he could stand straight, then the pain would go away, but he couldn’t budge. Like a bent over flamingo, he remained with his head down by his knees, waiting for someone to help.
“Are you OK, Dad?” Avi asked.
“Call your mother,” he said.
“I told you we would pick up the balls for you,” his small son said.
“Call your mother,” Joseph repeated, feeling the pain increase.
“You OK, Dad?” Zev called out, jumping over the net and running over to his father, who looked like an orchestra conductor taking an extended bow.
No matter how hard Joseph willed, he couldn’t straighten his back. He could barely shuffle his feet. The longer he stayed bent over, the pain got worse, spreading up to his neck.
“Why God?” he wondered. “What did I do in LA to deserve this?”
Obviously, this latest dose of suffering was also for the best, though he didn’t know why.
“It will loosen up in a couple of minutes,” the tennis pro assured the crowd that had gathered around Joseph. “It’s a muscle spasm, that’s all.”
Rivka was practically crying. She wanted her husband to lie down on the court, but he couldn’t even do that. His mother came over, but didn’t seem to understand what was going on.
About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon.The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.
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