Jewish Mothers Never Die: A Novel

Jewish Mothers Never Die: A Novel by Natalie David-Weill

Book: Jewish Mothers Never Die: A Novel by Natalie David-Weill Read Free Book Online
Authors: Natalie David-Weill
Irish, German, Italian . . . He amazed me as a little boy. He was always wonderful, but not in the same way when he got older.”
    Jeanne Proust couldn’t help putting her two cents in:
    “You must be referring to Marcel’s theory that a person is a series of different and sometimes contradictory selves.”
    “If it pleases you to think so, be my guest,” Minnie replied.
    Every mention that Jeanne made of Marcel put Minnie on edge.
    “Say whatever you like, but my sons were funnier than Marcel, including Zeppo, who wasn’t even a professional comedian.”
    “You didn’t know Marcel like I did. You don’t understand his sense of humor, but I do. Whenever I’m bored, I think about the scene in Sodom and Gomorrah where the Duc de Guermantes learns, on his way to a party, that his cousin Amanien d’Osmond has died. ‘He’s dead! That can’t be! You’re exaggerating!’ he exclaims. Well, I always chuckle at that scene, like so many others from Remembrance of Things Past .”
    Minnie leaned towards Rebecca and whispered:
    “If Marcel had been my son, he wouldn’t have been so la-di-da.”
    “You would have made him into a gambler, is that what you mean?” Jeanne asked drily. She had heard every word.
    Four of Minnie’s five sons had been the toast of Broadway. It was her brother, Al Shean, who had become famous on the vaudeville circuit, and convinced her that they had a career ahead of them.
    “I always thought Groucho was the oldest.”
    “He was the most famous of them all,” Minnie conceded. “But God knows he drove me crazy. He hated gambling, and the rest of the family teased him for his puritanical attitude. Worse, he was serious, with intellectual airs and a misanthropic streak. My third son was completely different. The first two—Leonard, whom you know as Chico, and Adolph, who was Harpo—were handsome and blond. Then Julius was born; he looked like a horribly wrinkled prune with black hair all over the place. Just the sight of him was enough to set you off. Odder yet, he was born angry.”
    “Groucho wrote: ‘My mother loved children; she would have given anything if I had been one,’” Rebecca cited from memory.
    “I do love children but I always treated mine as if they were adults,” Minnie corrected her. “Why must we glorify and idealize childhood? My own was dreadful. Being a young child is oppressive, physically and mentally. You have to be home on time, you can’t go out without telling an adult, and you have to do what everyone expects of you. Challenging an order or questioning a decision is inconceivable. At home or at school, you have to be like everyone else. It’s suffocating. So I never treated my children like they were children.”
    “Do you think Groucho felt unloved?”
    “He certainly tried everything in his power to make me like him, poor thing. You’d think he had a sixth sense for knowing what would please me. He could read my moods better than anyone and he was always on the lookout for ways to sweet-talk me. But it never worked. I mistreated Groucho as much as I idolized Chico, who could not have cared less. I had a soft spot for Harpo too, but not in the same way. He was closer to my husband than to me.”
    “Harpo, who plays the harp rather than speak. Was he actually dumb?”
    “No, but he was touchy. A theater critic once wrote that his high-pitched voice undermined his acts, although he was naturally funny and had an undeniable presence on stage. That was it, though: he vowed to never again speak in public. It only made him funnier.”
    “Perhaps it was you who convinced him.”
    “I don’t think so. I can’t remember anymore.”
    Jeanne Proust’s mood had turned morose, and when she was like that, she had a habit of twisting a lock of hair around her finger.
    “It’s not Groucho who suffered the most in your family,” she put in.
    Minnie bristled at the remark. She was perfectly capable of putting the blame on herself but she refused to be

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