What My Grandmother Taught Me

I was born in Russia. My family spent the WW2 years in Siberia. My mother passed away. When we came back to Moscow after the war ended, My father, took us to Tashkent to stay with our grandparents for a while.  This is an excerpt from my forthcoming novel titled TASHKENT. 

Dear child, surely you would want to know
What my grandmother, your great great grandmother has bequeathed for me
To tell you.  So:

In Tashkent, we lived
In a one room home
With an earthen floor.

This surprises you I am sure.
As you have never seen a home with an earthen floor,
Did you?

That is, the surface under my bed,
Under the table in the center of the room,
And under chairs was made of earth not of wood or tile

As people in the Western World
Think, surely a floor
Should be

We had no chest of drawers, and no couch,
Nor even a stove but just a primus
To boil water, cook potato soup, and carrot tzimmus.

To put things out of the way
There were niches in the wall
And that’s all.

Our house was clammy in the rainy season
And hot in the summer sun
But of this, I noticed none.

My grandparents’ home to me
Was warmth, love, and caring,
And that filled my heart to overflowing.

Every Friday morning
Bubby and I went to market;
I held her hand as we passed by the vendors’ stalls.

The delicious purple cherries smiled at us,
The sweet strawberries and the tiny red crab apples
made a chorus inviting Bubby and me to their sweet party.  Both of us!

But we passed the party hosts right up
As the money in my Bubby’s purse
For that was not enough.

We stopped at potatoes, carrots, and onions
Which was the package for our Shabbos meal.
To eight-year old me however, not at all a thrill.

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How could an onion compare to a sweet red strawberry
Or a juicy purple cherry, or even just a small crab apple
But Bubby shook her dark-kerchiefed head indicating,”No.”
And I did not give her even a small argument about that, even though…

On Shabbos morning,
When I was all dressed up in my special cream colored dress
Sewn by a seamstress no less,

Bubby handed me
A half-filled thermos of hot water
And said, Go give this to the poor people next door.

Their thermos broke,
And they have no hot water for their Shabbos tea,
You see.”

On a weekday, Bubby gave me a penny
And said, “Go give it to the poor across the yard.
Their work had fallen and now their times are hard.”

Well, I went
Across the little yard street
Holding my Bubby’s penny tightly in my fist.

I knocked.  A young woman opened the door.
And then I saw that these people’s home
Was quite different from our own.

Instead of things folded neatly in wall niches, their clothes were strewn all over the floor,
Instead of a primus I saw a gas stove.
How odd, I thought, what a cove!

But what amazed me most was this: How different from us!
Their floor was made of wood
Not earth, nor grass.  That was because they had been rich but now they had fallen, I knew this because
of what my grandmother had told me before.

When I came back home, ‘It is tragic,” my Bubby said and sighed. “They have to sell all their lovely things
to buy some bread. And they need help.”

And then, my Bubby taught me a prayer:

“G-d bless all good pious people,” she said,
“As in the ocean of life all make at least a small ripple of goodness.
Our neighbors across the yard
Were rich once,
But now they are not.
We have to help the people with their lot.
Be they haves or have-nots notwithstanding.”

And this, my dear child, is my Bubby story’s ending