Title: Wings of Hope
Author: Hillary Peak
Genre: Literary Fiction
The letter said he was dying, that’s all Jules Weinstein knows when she leaves her life in San Francisco and moves to New York City to be with her father. She goes for the remarkable opportunity to really know her father. She never dreamed he had liberated a concentration camp, dealt cards to Bugsy Siegel or saved the life of a Black Panther. Wings of Hope is a road trip through the memories of a man making peace with his life. Little does she know that by getting to know her father, she will find herself. While her father struggles with whether his life was meaningful, Jules discovers that her father’s last gift to her is the ability to reach for her dreams. Her journey teaches her that “the goodbye” is sometimes the most heartbreakingly beautiful part of life.
Hillary Peak is a recovering idealist. She became a lawyer to change the world and is still somewhat shocked that didn’t occur. Now, her goal is to retire from practicing law and write novels that people love. She is currently a practicing attorney in the District of Columbia. She lives with her family in Alexandria, VA.
Gingerly, without spilling my tea or setting it down, I reached over and pulled the envelope from the stack. I tried to open it without letting go of my tea, but that proved impossible. Setting the tea down, I ran my finger along the edge and pulled out the letter within.
Daughter, I’ve had some bad news–it seems I have an inoperable brain tumor. I’ve been seeing six specialists. They all had the same thing to say, “You’re dying.” So, it seems I’m dying. They are saying I have three months to live.
This is hard for me to ask, but I would like you to come and stay with me to the end. There are things I’ve always wanted to tell, but never got around to it. Seems if I don’t do it now, I’m never going to have the chance. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to make my mark on the world, but as I look back now, I missed out on you.
I know it is a lot to ask, but please, come.
My hands began to tremble; my chest tightened. Dying? That couldn’t be right.
As we sat at the table sipping coffee, I ventured my first question, “Dad, what were your parents like? You haven’t told me much about them, except that your mother had more brains in her pinkie than you’ve ever had.” I worried I wouldn’t have time to find out all I wanted to know.
He looked up, surprised. “Haven’t I told you about them?”
I shook my head. “But I’d really like to know more about them–especially what they were like.”
A smile spread across his face, “Really? I can’t believe that. My mother would have loved you–eaten you with a spoon. Remember when I took you to Fiddler on the Roof?”
I nodded, not wanting to break the spell by speaking.
“You were horrified that Golda hadn’t even met Tevya before they were married?”
I nodded again. That had horrified me, I couldn’t imagine not falling in love, courting, all that comes with the fun of meeting someone special, dressing up to go out, etc. The coffee mug warmed my hands, as I listened enraptured.
“Well, my parents were married like that.”
Rather than actually seeing it, I felt my jaw hit the floor. “You’re kidding!” I exclaimed without thinking.
“Nope.” He shook his head, watching me with amusement.“They’d never even seen one another. Married in a little village in Poland called Tarnapole. It is gone now–burned to the ground by the Nazis, I think.” His eyes misted over, but continued anyway. “My mother got pregnant with your Aunt Rebecca almost immediately. My dad was a barrel maker–and a fine woodworker. He made furniture for people as well. Six months after Rebecca was born, my mother got pregnant again–with Aunt Rachel. The pogroms went on at that time, and getting worse every day from what I gathered from my parents. Money and food were running out. It was quite desperate. My father decided to come to America, make some money with my mother’s brother who already lived here in New York, then send for my mother and the two girls. He left taking nearly two months to get to New York. It was barely three weeks after he stepped onto Ellis Island when World War One started. My mother and your aunts were trapped for the next three years. For a while, my dad could get in touch with them. He sent money, but after about a year, the lines were totally cut off. He didn’t know where they were, if they were even alive. As far as I know, he kept working, saving money. My mother on the other hand, was starving. The pogroms were continuing. The Cossacks were riding through villages, raping women and running everything that moved through with a sword.” He licked his lips, concentrating, clearly thinking about what it must have been like for his mother. My hair stood on end.
“One day, my mother was in the town rather than at their farm when the Cossacks came riding in. One grabbed my mother around the waist and lifted her onto the horse while he was moving. He intended to rape her in the saddle and kill her. She grabbed his pistol from out of the holster around his waist. She shot him dead as they rode.”
My mouth was open and my eyes were far bigger than saucers. My dad laughed at my expression. “I know. Totally amazing–she was an amazing woman. She never told me that story. Her brother told me after she died. I remember saying to him, ‘My Mother?’ I couldn’t believe it.”
“What happened?” I asked mesmerized. “How did she get away with it?”
He nodded solemnly. “I asked the same question. She rode back to the farm. Her brothers buried the body. They slaughtered the horse and ate the meat—they couldn’t keep it, even though it would have been great for the farm, because it would have aroused suspicion and questions–but it was no longer safe for her or your aunts. People had seen it happen. They knew it wasn’t long before someone turned her in for a loaf of bread.” He bit the inside of his cheek, just a bit; frightened for them even though he knew it turned out alright.
“So she took what she could carry, along with my sisters and started walking to America.”
“Walking? Are you serious?” I literally could not imagine walking thousands of miles.
“Yep. She and my sisters hid in the woods during the day and walked at night for months. Eventually, she joined a refugee line.”
“How long did it take?” I couldn’t imagine. The fear I felt hearing about it was palpable–what must it have been like to go through something like that?