“That’s not clean yet,” Grandma Henny said, while hovering next to me at the sink. “When I was a girl, I kept all the pots sparkling for my mother and then for my husband. Never a speck of dirt.”
I turned the water on full blast, trying to drown out her flow of words. I’d scrubbed the pot for five minutes already and I didn’t need her inspection.
Just then, Aba strolled into the kitchen. “Delicious meal, Yehudis.”
“The chicken was a bit dry,” Grandma Henny said. “You shouldn’t cook it too long.”
I felt an urge to scream, but Aba’s sympathetic glance helped. “When you’re done with the dishes, come to my study. I want to talk to you about something.”
Grandma Henny hobbled out of the kitchen and I bee-lined to Aba’s study. I closed the door. Aba sat behind his desk. There was a portrait of Ima on the wall. I’d spent many hours studying that portrait, trying to get to know the mother I never met. She looked so beautiful, with her auburn hair pulled up in a knot. I’d memorized her features. The small mouth with lips curved in a knowing smile. Her high cheekbones and the heart shape of her face. I wanted to look like her but I didn’t resemble her at all. My hair was pale blonde and my eyes were dark brown not blue like hers. She’d died when I was three years old. I often wondered what my life would be like if she had lived.
Aba’s study was crowded with floor-to-ceiling bookcases of s’farim, and then there was the shelf of history books – large tomes he taught from for his college classes. Our mahogany grandfather clock gonged the hour in the corner. I loved the sound of the gong and I just loved that clock with its wooden engravings and its majestic way of standing there counting the minutes. I’d described it once in a poem that my teacher liked so much she’d published it in the school newspaper; and back then, two years ago, I was the first fifth grader to get published in the junior high paper.
“Hudi, I have some news to share.”
It must be important and somehow secret if he wanted to tell me away from Grandma Henny.
“I was offered a sabbatical teaching position for this year.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“Sabbatical, you know they get that from our Sh’mitah year. Anyway, the college offered me a year off to work on whatever project I want. I found a part-time position at Marietta College, and I can devote the rest of the time to my research and writing.”
“Where is Marietta?”
“It’s in Ohio. I ‘m so excited about this. It’s going to let me do research on something I’ve long wanted to investigate, and there may even be a book contract involved.”
Ohio. That was far away. A block of ice was filling my insides. Did this mean we were moving to Ohio? What about eighth grade? My friends? Tema? What about me?
Aba rattled on. “I found a nice duplex to rent in West Virginia. There’s a strong community there and a good Bais Yaakov and––”
I couldn’t listen anymore. The block of ice was enveloping me. Stop, I wanted to shout. No, but Aba’s enthusiasm told me there was no way I could convince him.
He looked at me with concern. “I knew this might take some getting used to. I know it may be hard to move in your senior year.”
“Aba, eighth grade is the best year at Bnos Chanah. Tema...” My voice trailed off. My best friend. What about Tema?”
“Look, Hudi, you could stay here. I can call Tema’s parents and arrange to pay for you to board with––”
“No!” I almost shouted. I could never live a whole year away from Aba. We were too close. He needed me and I needed him.
“You should start packing. You don’t have to pack everything, just belongings you’d want for a year.”
“Does Grandma Henny know we’re going to move away?”’
“I spoke to her briefly yesterday.” Aba steepled his hands. “Hudi, Grandma Henny needs to come with us. We decided that’s the best solution. I thought hard and long about this. She needs someone close by to check on her. Now, we live so close we can always check on her and have her over for dinner; but if we’re almost 500 miles away, it would be difficult.”
“She’ll get her own house there?” I asked.
“No, it’s too expensive. She’s going to live with us in the same house. She’ll have her own room.”
My stomach was doing somersaults.
Grandma would be living in the same house with us! No, no. I couldn’t. It would be awful.
No! No! It was hard enough having Grandma Henny over every Shabbos and some nights for dinner. No, I could not live with her. I could not!
Aba started leafing through some papers on his desk.
“Aba, Grandma would be happier with her own place and––”
“It’s out of the question. I have a grant for research – not to pay rent for two apartments.”
“Maybe, we should just stay here. Your students here need you and it is my senior year. Maybe we could put this off for a year or––” Maybe you’ll forget this idea and we’ll never have to do it.
“Hudi, like I said. If you want to board with Tema, I’ll be happy to call her parents. I would miss you terribly, but I can’t let this opportunity slip away. It’s a chance I’ve only dreamed of.”
Aba stood up and came over to me. He wrapped his arms around me. “Hudi, I know this is a big adjustment I’m asking of you. I know it will be good for all of us. You’ll see.”
It’s a nightmare for me, I mused. Leaving Bnos Chanah now, of all times, and leaving my best friend, taking my secret with me to a new place and, worst of all, living with Grandma Henny…
To be continued…
Susie Garber is the author of Secrets in Disguise (Menucha Publishers 2020), Denver Dreams (a novel, Jerusalem Publications, 2009), Memorable Characters…Magnificent Stories (Scholastic, 2002), Befriend (Menucha Publishers, 2013), The Road Less Traveled (Feldheim, 2015), fiction serials, and features in various magazines, including A Bridge in Time, historical fiction serial (Binyan Magazine, 2017). Fiction serial in The Jewish Press – Falling Star (2019), article in the Winter 2019 Jewish Action Magazine. She contributes to the community column for the Queens Jewish Link and writes freelance for Hamodia. She works as a writing consultant in many yeshivos and teaches creative writing to students of all ages.