“You’re right,” he said, as if his wife were sitting beside him. “It isn’t my fault that Tzeitl wouldn’t go to the hospital. No doubt, she is better off where she is up in Heaven than down here on this mosquito-filled planet called Earth. If you weren’t already in Gan Eden, I might worry, but I know you will look out for her the way you looked out for all of us. Oh, how we miss you, dear Golda.”
Once again, sleep overcame the road-weary settler. Without knowing it, he fell on his side alongside her grave.
“Good night, my sweet Tevye,” his wife said.
Soon, his snores sounded over the cemetery. Imagine the surprise of a worker on the way to the fields when he heard Tevye’s trumpeting and discovered a corpse lying above ground by a grave.
“Are you all right?” the husky voice asked.
Tevye sat up, blinking the sleep from his eyes. “Is it morning already?” he asked.
“The sun’s in the sky.”
“I must have fallen asleep here.”
“I just wanted to make sure you weren’t dead,” the man said.
“Some days I feel that I am,” Tevye answered.
“You should live until you are a 120 years old,” the field worker responded, coining the age-old expression.
Tevye grumbled. That meant another seventy years of aggravation and toil. He stood up and brushed the dirt off his clothes. With a heavy heart, he headed back to colony. The day’s task was one of the hardest he ever had to face – saying good-bye to the children. Already, he missed his little kinderlach. Hadn’t he been like a father to them? Ever since Motel had died, Tevye had been the dominant man in their lives. He was more than their grandfather. But Tevye knew that the children needed a real home which only a husband and wife could provide. And, as their mother had wanted, with Ruchel and Nachman, they would grow up in a house filled with Torah.
When he returned to the house, the look in the children’s eyes pierced Tevye’s heart. He had been careful to hide from them the real reason for the visit, so when Ruchel had innocently told them that morning, they had received a grave shock. Ruchel might have been their aunt, but Tevye was, in their eyes, their father. How could they live without him? His presence was as vital to their existence as air. When he entered the house, they rushed at him passionately and grabbed a hold of his legs.
“I’m staying with you,” Moishe said, clinging to his grandfather’s pants.
“So am I,” Hannie said.
Tevye bent down on one knee. “You can’t, my sweet children,” he said. “You need to be raised by a mother and father, not by a broken-down horse.”
“You aren’t a horse,” Hannie said.
“If I had another two legs I would be,” her grandfather answered.
“I’ll run away,” Moishe threatened.
“So will I,” Hannie agreed.
Tevye looked up at his daughter. This wasn’t going to be easy. He sensed that the situation demanded a tenderness that he didn’t have. He knew how to milk cows without hurting them, but children were a far more delicate matter. When Ruchel stepped forward, Moishe and Hannie retreated behind their grandfather’s back.
“Your aunt Ruchel loves you both very much,” Tevye said.
“So does Uncle Nachman,” Ruchel assured.
“We hardly even know him,” Moishe said.
“We’ll get to know each other,” Nachman promised, looking up from the tome he was studying.
“Nachman is one of the best storytellers in the world,” Tevye said.
“Who cares?” Moishe said.
“Who cares?” Hannie echoed.
“Your mother’s last wish was that you grow up with your Aunt Ruchel and Uncle Nachman,” Tevye informed them.
“He isn’t our uncle,” Moishe said.
“Yes he is,” Hannie told him. “They’re married.”
“Who cares if they are married,” Moishe responded. “I’m staying with Saba.”
“You can’t,” Tevye said. “And that’s final.”
He stood up and tore the children away from his legs. The time had come to be decisive. To lay down the law. He had to let the children know there was no chance of returning with him to Zichron Yaacov.