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The Baker: Episode Twenty-Three

[additional-authors]
March 12, 2020
Ernie Feld; Photo by John M. Glionna

PREVIOUSLY: Snapshots of Ernie

For Ernie, some wars are over; others endure. 

He recently shocked his family when he told them that he changed his will.

When he dies, he is leaving Marika — and not them — with the restaurant and all of his savings. 

He still has not spoken with Sharon or met his grandchildren. 

He still blames Shoshana for that. 

Morde still copes with his difficult Dad.

Sometimes, Marianne will ask, “Did you talk to Ernie today?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, how is he doing?”

“Alive.”

Marianne called Ernie just before his 90th birthday.

“How old are you?”

“Who cares?” he said.

Then he told her that he was coming to her house to celebrate the day.

“He never asks,” she says. “He just comes.”

He rarely talks about death.

‘I’ll die when I want to,” he says. “It’s not my time yet. I have a telephone line with the man up there.”

So, the question lingers: What price did the Second World War and the German campaign of hatred exact on that young boy from Lucenec, Czechoslovakia?

Did it merely harden him? 

Or did it destroy that part he would need to become a loving husband, father and grandfather?

At 78, Varda Jakubowicz has known Ernie for 55 years. She still sometimes plays poker with him. She, too, survived the Germans and thinks she understands men like Ernie.

“He’s a strong man and he’s worked very hard,” she says. “He can be a difficult man. But with all his yelling, he still likes to have fun, go dancing and play cards. And laugh.”

She added: “People who came from the camps, they’re a little tough. Ernie’s generation; they treated children differently. They don’t trust people easily. Some aren’t in touch with their feelings. That’s just how it is.”

But Ernie has paid a high price for his emotional failings.

“He never hugged Morde; never, ever,” Marianne said.

Morde doesn’t remember. 

But he figures that when he was a boy, his father must have hugged him somewhere, sometime. 

Marianne recalled the last big Ernie blowout.

It was a few years ago when the girls, Sabrina and Audrey, now in college, were just teenagers. 

The family had driven to Incline Village to visit Ernie, who in recent years had seemed never to allow himself to get close to his granddaughters. 

That wasn’t always the case. 

There’s a photo of Ernie holding Audrey when she was young. His eyes are wide, his expression ecstatic. 

Marianne recalls him commenting on her amber-colored skin, “She’s beautiful. Did you order her from Hawaii?”

And he would often offer to carry the girls. 

“Can I?” he’d ask.

“You don’t have to do it.”

“I can do it.”

Before she died, Helen would watch Ernie with the children, see the joy on his face. 

“Look at that monster,” she’d say. “Look how soft he is. He never had it so good.”

There’s an old picture of Ernie sitting in Marianne’s living room, the girls asleep on his lap, wearing their pink pajamas. 

He looks uncomfortable, but he doesn’t want to move, for fear of waking them up.

When Audrey was older, she spent summers with her grandfather. 

He would bird-dog her room to make sure boys didn’t try to climb in the window and comment about how she ran off to the beach half-naked.

“With all the money I give you, can’t you at least buy some decent clothes,” he’d say.

But later, something hardened within the old baker.

On that last visit, it seemed obvious to Marianne that there was a distance between Ernie and the girls.

“They’d ask ‘Grandpa, can I have a piece of cake?”

“Why are you asking,” he’d answer, his tone short. “Go take what you want.”

When it was time to go, Marianne tried again to reach him.

“Go hug your grandfather,” she told the girls.

Ernie was holding a cake he’d baked. 

When the girls approached him, he barked, “Move; I have to put this in the refrigerator.”

As Morde and the girls stood in stunned silence, Marianne let him have it.

All he cared about was his money and his stupid bakery, she said. 

He was a bad husband, a bad father and a terrible grandfather.

She stormed outside. As the car was pulling away, Ernie walked outside. 

He motioned to the girls to get out of the car.

And he gave them each a hug.

Then he walked up to the passenger-side window and uttered something Marianne had never heard him say before.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“What did you say?”

He repeated it. 

Twice.

But the damage had been done. 

There were to be no more hugs, no forgiveness.

Marianne poked her head out the window.

“Apology not accepted,” she said.

Then the family drove away. 

NEXT WEEK: An Epilogue

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