Authors: E.L. Konigsburg
About the B’nai Bagels
Also by E. L. Konigsburg
Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth,
William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth
From the Mixed-up Files
of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Altogether, One at a Time
A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver
The Dragon in the Ghetto Caper
The Second Mrs. Gioconda
Father’s Arcane Daughter
Journey to an 800 Number
Up From Jericho Tel
Samuel Todd’s Book of Great Colors
Samuel Todd’s Book of Great Inventions
Amy Elizabeth Explores Bloomingdale’s
T-Backs, T-Shirts, COAT, and Suit
The View from Saturday
Silent to the Bone
The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place
The Mysterious Edge
of the Heroic World
For my own dear mother who knows almost nothing about baseball and almost everything about love
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
An imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
Copyright © 1969 by E. L. Konigsburg
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction
in whole or in part in any form.
ALADDIN PAPERBACKS and related logo are
registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Aladdin Paperbacks edition January 1973
Second Aladdin Paperbacks edition March 2008
2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1
Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file
with the Library of Congress.
Library of Congress Number 69-13529
ISBN 13: 978-0-689-20631-3 (hc.)
ISBN 10: 0-689-20631-3 (hc.)
ISBN 13: 978-1-4169-5798-0 (pbk.)
ISBN 10: 1-4169-5798-7 (pbk.)
About the B’nai Bagels
p until October of last year my mother had two hobbies: major league baseball and my brother, Spencer. Spencer was her great year-round activity and baseball was seasonal. Don’t get the idea that I was neglected, because I wasn’t. It’s just that Spencer is a lot older than I, and Mother had a lot more years to specialize in him. Actually, she raised us like two only children. Especially Spencer.
Last October, Spencer, who lived at home with us in Point Baldwin and who commuted every day to New York University, began calling our mother
, and he began arguing with her about everything. Dad said that he was just feeling his oats and acting sophomoric. Which seems funny because Spencer was actually a Junior in college at that time. Mom got her feelings terribly hurt just about every day, and she began having
long private discussions with Dad about “Where have I gone wrong, Sam?” and “What have I ever done to that boy?” I often listened in because it was quite a bad habit I had, and that was the only way I knew to find out what they might be saying about me in nine years when I would be twenty-one and feeling my own oats.
Dad who was very busy at the time—Dad being an accountant and being that he was starting some new big accounts—told Mother to be thankful that Spencer was not a hippie; he still wore socks. He advised her to wait a few months for this phase to pass, see a psychiatrist, or get some new interests.
Mom was too impatient to wait past Election Day. She refused to take it lying down. On a psychiatrist’s couch or anywhere. So she started an herb garden, but the plants got sick, and all of Mom’s loving care, fertilizer, and chicken soup couldn’t make them well. They died in February, which is rather a doldrums kind of a month anyway, and Mom was feeling defeated again. Too bad it happened just then because in another two months the major leagues would have begun their season, and she would not have wanted to go to that meeting of the B’nai B’rith Sisterhood and get entangled in baseball in Little League in the way that she did. A way that invaded my privacy and might have
declared practically the last little piece of my life as occupied territory.
In a normal February, Mother would have noted the meeting on her calendar and then forgotten about it. She would have stayed at home making stuffed cabbage, as she was doing that Wednesday when Spencer walked into the kitchen and mentioned that he had been to some famous Hungarian restaurant in New York and had ordered their stuffed cabbage, which was delicious because it had raisins in it and why didn’t Mother try it that way?
“Raisins in stuffed cabbage?” she asked casually at first.
“Yeah, it’s good. Sort of sweet and sour,” he answered.
“Raisins in stuffed cabbage? Never. Sauerkraut, I put in my stuffed cabbage. Sauerkraut and a touch of sugar.”
Spencer snapped at her, “You see, Bessie, that’s what’s wrong with you. You’ll never try anything new. Your mind is closed.”
Mother snapped back, “I happen to like my own stuffed cabbage. With sauerkraut. That makes my mind closed?”
“No. But the raisins is symbolic. The raisins
symbolic. You’re resistant to change. What’s so important about stuffed cabbage that you shouldn’t be willing to change it?”
“You want to know what’s so important about stuffed cabbage? I’ll tell you what’s so important. It takes two and a half hours of my life to make it. That’s what’s so important. Every time, two and one half hours.”
“I’ll tell you how to cut down on that amount of time,” Spencer shouted.
“How? By putting raisins in?”
“No. By cutting me out. Don’t make my portion.” And with that, he slammed the kitchen door except that you can’t really slam it; it’s louvered and on hinges so the two sides just kept flapping back and forth.
Mother yelled after the flapping doors, “No one tells Heinz how to make ketchup, and no one tells Bessie Setzer how to stuff cabbage.” Turning to me, she asked, “You, Mark, you like the way I make stuffed cabbage?”
“What’s not to like?” I answered. Really, I thought, if it was as unimportant as Spencer told Mother it was, then why was it important enough to have her change? It was obvious that Spencer was becoming grown-up; he didn’t make sense.
“When I think of all the hours of stuffed cabbage I put into that boy. Wasted. Just wasted.” Mom was holding a slotted spoon and addressing God. Up until the time I began Sunday School, I thought that He lived in the light fixture on our kitchen ceiling. “Raisins are
raisins, and cabbage is cabbage,” she mumbled into the pot. Then she jabbed the spoon into the air and announced, “And in my pot they won’t meet.” She stirred some more and continued talking to the pot, “A twenty-one-year-old boy who doesn’t know enough to pick up his dirty socks or hang up his pajamas suddenly becomes Mr. Ladies’ Home Journal. Illustrated.” And without looking up from the pot she added, “Mark, hurry or you’ll be late for Hebrew School.”
Some days it seemed as if the only conversation I had with my mother was
. Like “Eat now, Moshe, or you’ll
for school.” Or “Get dressed already, or you’ll
for synagogue.” Once she even said to me, “Mark, go wash your hair now, or you’ll be late for combing.” I still haven’t figured that one out. Last year there was so much be-lated conversation in our house that you could actually call it nagging. That was because last year in addition to everything else, I was seriously in the business of being Hebrew, being that I was twelve years old and preparing for my Bar Mitzvah. Bar Mitzvah marks the time you become thirteen years old and can participate as an adult in all the religious services at the synagogue. Preparing for it starts when a guy is eight years old, but the volume is kept soft and low and part-time. Then, BLAST—the commercial comes on when you reach the age of twelve. And in your twelfth year you become devoted. Devoted to lessons on Sunday morning until it becomes Sunday afternoon, and afternoon lessons on Mondays and Wednesdays. Afternoons until 7:00 at night. According to my mother I was always about to
for one or the other of those devotions.