Ever since the children have been old enough to understand good table manners, I have drilled them on proper etiquette. I have taught them to fold their napkins in half and put them in their laps. I have drilled them in using the correct forks, spoons and knives; I have insisted that they hold their silverware properly. “Remember,” I have said over and over again, “bad manners create a terrible impression.” The kids, to their credit, have developed wonderful table manners over the years and I’m proud to see them eating in public. Where some of their friends hunch over their food like starving peasants, my children sit upright and wield silverware with a delicate touch. I once overheard Ariel say to one of his friends: “My father is really, really strict about table manners. He’s sooooo rigid you wouldn’t believe it.”
Which brings me to Chloe’s burping.
Chloe is offspring number three; she is sixteen, beautiful beyond words, and she has a killer drive and three-point shot. She also burps louder than, well, louder than anyone I have ever heard. At the Shabbos table, when all is mystical light and the holiness of Shabbos spreads her wings over the family, nothing can break the mood like one of Chloe’s machine-gun bursts. I used to give her a long, dark look, which would silence her for the rest of the meal. But soon I noticed that Ariel laughed when his baby sister burped. Ariel who was so upright; Ariel who was so formal at the Shabbos table; Ariel who was so proper. Ariel laughed when Chloe burped and the more he laughed the louder did Chloe burp. Karen and I exchanged looks. What was going on here? Ariel laughed and covered his mouth like a Japanese Geisha, embarrassed by his own amusement. But there was no doubt about it, Chloe’s fog-horn burps put Ariel into convulsions of laughter. Soon enough, Lila joined in and the girls created a duet of burps. Which made Ariel laugh even harder. I guess there’s something incongruous about two lovely, innocent looking eidel-maidel’s making our Shabbos table sound like a truck-stop on the 405. The past two days have been difficult. Last Shavuos, Ariel took a turn for the worse. He was so weak, so frail, so starved for air that he was on the oxygen mask all the time. He could barely daven. His best friend Avi, came in from Baltimore to be with him. Avi and I sat by Ariel’s bed and talked to him. Avi read letters from all the boys from Yeshiva. He read Megillat Ruth to Ariel. I knew that Ariel was going to die. I knew that he would not live to see another Shavuos. And so, the other night, at the Shavuos table, after I came home from shul, walking past all the fathers with their sons–Robert, that used to be you–I sat down at the table, and we quietly ate. All of us remembering past Shavuot, when this family was whole and complete and truly happy. And then I heard it. Chloe’s burp. I looked up at her. Her eyes searched mine. I smiled. I smiled and remembered how Ariel laughed. And Chloe burped again and again and I understood that bad manners are sometimes very good.