By Alan Radding
copyright 2003 Alan
Radding, all rights reserved
To read more original stories by Alan Radding, go to www.jewishfamilystories.com
Joey and his little sister Ilana wanted to be
happy. Purim is supposed to be a joyous holiday. In fact, the rabbis point to
only two things people must do on Purim, read the Megillah, which tells the
story of Esther, and be happy. The commandment to be happy on Purim is so
important that the rabbis even encourage the adults to drink lots of wine and liquor.
Then, throw in fun costumes, a story
about how the Jews triumphed over their oppressors, and goodie bags of special
treats--candy, nuts, fruits, and sweets of all sorts--called mishloach manot,
and you almost have to be happy. You just can’t avoid it.
Joey and Ilana were very sad in the weeks leading up to Purim. Their
grandmother, whom they called Bubbie, died a few months before. It was Bubbie
who brought most of the joy to their celebrations of Jewish holidays. She made
wonderful foods and brought presents and sang songs and played games with the
children and told stories of life when she was a girl growing up in the old
country, a place she said was now called Poland. She made it all seem so
was very old, and she had gotten sick and died a few months before. They missed
her so much on Chanukah. They still received presents from her--Mom said Bubbie
had bought them before she got sick and died--but she wasn’t here to cook
latkes or play dreidel or sing songs or tell stories like she always did. Mom
tried, but it i sn’t the same. She was
sad too. And their dad was far away. He is all right, but he and Mom divorced
when Joey was very little and Ilana was a baby. He calls sometimes and sends
letters, but they only really see him during the summer.
Purim was coming, and Joey and Ilana couldn’t get excited about the holiday at
all. They even had roles in the synagogue’s Purim skit; he was going to play
one of the king’s guards and Ilana would be a handmaiden to Queen Esther. And they
were supposed to perform the skit in front of a real audience at a nursing home
the week before Purim. Still they were sad. They didn’t even bother with their
costumes. Mom wasn’t even putting together goodie bags of treats,
mishloach manot, that they always gave out to other families. Instead, she just
sorted through Bubbie’s things trying to figure out what they would keep and
what she would give away. There house was small and they didn’t have much extra
an apartment building on the other side of town, Estelle also was sad as Purim
approached. She was an old woman who lived alone; her husband died many years
before. Her apartment was bright and small and crammed with all kinds of plants
and old-fashioned furniture. She was sad because her daughter and son-in-law
and their three grandchildren, two girls and a boy, had moved far away. The
son-in-law had been out of work for a long time and finally found a good job.
She knew her daughter’s family desperately needed the money the new job would bring
in, but she was still sad they had to move away. They promised to visit but
that wouldn’t happen for months.
Estelle would bake wonderful cookies and treats for the grandchildren every
holiday. And she always kept little packages of candy with her, which she gave
to the grandchildren, although her daughter would gently scold her and complain
that the sweets would ruin their teeth. To be honest, Estelle enjoyed the
sweets herself, too, which is why even now she still keeps some in her pocketbook
although her grandchildren have moved away . She also had a huge
box of wonderful old clothes the grandchildren could wear playing dress up or
as Purim costumes. But without the grandchildren around, she wasn’t even
thinking about Purim.
One day she was
standing in her kitchen holding a pot when she fainted. Without any warning,
Estelle suddenly just fell to the floor. She must have hit
her head because she blacked out. Then,
w hen she finally came to s he
was lying on the kitchen floor and felt so weak she could barely move. She
didn’t even remember what happened. One moment she was looking at a pot and
feeling a little funny and now this. Luckily the pot she
had been holding was lying right next to her. It took all her strength to grab
hold of the pot and bang it on the floor. She hoped the neighbors who lived
underneath her, a nice young couple, would hear the banging and come see what
was wrong. She banged and banged the pot, but she didn’t have the strength to
keep it up for very long. Then she heard the phone ring, but there was no way
she could get to it. Once the phone stopped, she banged the pot a few more
times, as much as she had strength for.
didn’t know how long she lay on the floor when the young couple and the janitor
finally found her. “When we heard the banging and you didn’t answer your phone,
we went to get the janitor,” explained the young woman as Estelle was put on a
stretcher and taken away in an ambulance. “Don’t worry. I know you’re going to
be all right. We’ll water the plants and take care of the apartment until you
wouldn’t return to live in the little apartment again,
at least not right away . From the hospital,
they moved her to a nursing home, where she shared a small room with another
old woman. The doctor didn’t think
Estelle should live by herself until she was completely better . She
would need a long time to get over whatever had
made her fall .
old people living at the nursing home were very excited that
the children from the synagogue were coming to put on a Purim skit. The nursing
home itself was a dull, drab place with walls painted tan and light blue, gray
linoleum floors, and overhead fluorescent lights that hummed and flickered and
cast a greenish light , mak ing
everyone look worse than they really were. Someone hung pictures of flowers on the
many of the walls, but they
didn’t make it very cheerful. Many of the people
didn’t get visitors. And even when visitors came, they usually were grownups,
not children. But the old people at the nursing home really loved seeing the
children. Their smiles and their laughter and their voices made the people in
the nursing home happy.
nursing home put up flyers announcing the Purim skit. Estelle saw the flyers,
but she had an appointment with her doctor that afternoon. S omeone
at the nursing home would drive her to her doctor and bring her back. She would
probably miss the skit, but the doctor’s appointment was much more important.
Well, she hadn’t been looking forward to Purim anyway, she thought, so it
didn’t matter that much.
the day of the Purim skit, the children streamed into the nursing home like a
flood of sunlight and lit up the place. The skit was held in a big common room
filled with chairs. The old people who lived there and many of the parents of
the children, including Joey and Ilana’s mom, crowded into the room. The
children were nervous and giggling and laughing and fooling around. Only Joey
and Ilana were quiet. They looked around at all the old people and got scared.
Ilana hoped they might see Bubbie here. “ Maybe we’ll see
Bubbie. Maybe she
isn’t really dead. Maybe she’s just sick and living in a place like this,”
Ilana suggested. These old people, however, were nothing like Bubbie as they
remembered her. Many of them were in wheelchairs. Others could barely walk.
Some could hardly sit up or stay awake or even talk.
it. Bubbie isn’t here. She was never like this,” Joey replied.
the children changed into their costumes. Joey put on a funny robe, and Ilana
got to wear a fancy party dress. First, the cantor from their synagogue led the
children in some songs they had practiced. Then they put on their skit. They
pantomimed parts of the Esther story while the rabbi narrated it. The
handmaidens, including Ilana, were beautiful. So was Esther who, along with
Mordechai, was very brave and stood up to the mean Haman. The king was foolish
and silly and made loud noises. Haman stomped around acting mean and nasty.
Finally, everyone cheered when the king’s guards carried Haman away. The people
in the nursing home loved it.
the skit, the nursing home staff served milk and cookies. Most of the old
people weren’t very interested in the food. They just wanted be near the
children, a few reaching out bony, bent hands to gently touch them. “This is
kind of creepy,” Joey said to Ilana. As the children were preparing to leave,
Estelle returned from the
doctor’s appointment. Joey and Ilana passed her in the lobby on their way out
but didn’t notice her, just another old lady. Estelle, however, was
delighted to see all the children.
actual Purim Megillah reading would take place the next week at the synagogue.
Purim really is a big party. The children parade in costumes and ring
their noisemakers every time the name of Haman is mentioned. The rabbi and the
cantor wear funny costumes and hats, blow horns, and ring bells. The grownups
slip off to the back room where they drink liquor. People pass around mishloach
manot and everybody eats hammentashen, triangle-shaped cookies filled with
jelly and chocolate and other sweet things. Mom and the children always went
with Bubbie, who usually brought them special noisemakers called graggers, a
different kind every year. Joey and Ilana would shake or clang their gragger
every time Haman was mentioned. This
year, Bubbie wouldn’t be there. No one in the family felt like celebrating.
the week before Purim, Joey noticed Mom packing up boxes of Bubbie’s books.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
saw they had a library at the nursing home when I went to watch your skit. I
thought I would give these books to them. We don’t have room for them here, and
I think the people there will appreciate them. You and Ilana can help me bring
them over,” Mom said.
don’t want to go back there. It was kind of weird. Those people are nothing
like Bubbie,” Joey said.
know they aren’t like Bubbie. We won’t stay long. We’re just bringing the books
there and then we’ll leave.”
few days later Joey and Mom carried the books into the nursing home. Ilana mainly
held the doors open. The woman in the library was expecting them and greeted
them warmly. Estelle also happened to be sitting in the library reading a book.
She looked up and beamed as she saw Joey and Ilana. “What a big, strong boy you
are to carry all those books,” she said to Joey. “And what a big help you are
to hold the door,” she said to Ilana.
put his box of books on the floor near Estelle. The people in the nursing home
still gave him the creeps, but this woman seemed almost normal. “What do you
have there?” she asked Joey.
are my Bubbie’s books. She died,” he said.
sorry to hear about your Bubbie. I bet you must miss her. We’ll take very good
care of her books,” said Estelle. “Are you hungry after all this work? If it is
all right with your mother, I just happen to have some little treats with me,”
she said, taking a small package of candy from her
pocket. “And I have one for your sister.”
glanced at the woman and said it was okay to
take the candy. Joey and Ilana thanked Estelle and opened the treats. Mom and
the lady in charge of the library started to take the books out of the boxes
and s tack them on the table.
Estelle noticed one. “Could I see that book?” she asked Joey.
went to get the book. It turned out to be a book with pictures of Poland, the
old country. Bubbie used to show him the pictures and tell him and Ilana
stories. “This was my Bubbie’s favorite book. She would read it to us all the
time,” Joey told her.
it to you? This is a very grown up book. You must be very smart,” said Estelle
she showed us the pictures. She lived there once. She told us lots of stories
of living there,” Joey said.
looked through the book. “You know, I lived here too. It was very long ago. See
this picture. This is the city near the village where I lived. My parents had a
farm with a cow and some chickens. Would you like me to tell you about it?” she
watched as Joey and Ilana huddled around Estelle and she told stories about
growing up as a Jew in the Polish countryside. She was the same generation as
her own mother, a natural-born Bubbie if there
ever was one. By the time they left, they had invited Estelle to join them for
dinner on Purim and then come to the synagogue for the
Megillah reading. “We’ll pick you up and bring you back. But I have to warn
you, it will be noisy.”
love Purim and the noise and tumult of children. I won’t mind,” Estelle
they picked up Estelle at the nursing home a few days later, she carried a large
paper shopping bag with her .
“What’s that?” asked Ilana, sensing maybe something for her.
see,” teased Estelle. After dinner,
Joey and Ilana went to change into their Purim
costumes, which Mom had hurriedly pulled together in the past few days. Estelle
opened the shopping bag and started pulling out clothes for dress up. “I
went to my apartment and found these. I thought they might
be good for Purim,” she said. Estelle put on a funny hat piled high with
flowers. She handed long white gloves and a feathery boa to Ilana. The gloves
almost reached Ilana’s shoulders, the boa trailed on the floor. For Joey she
had several old fedora-styled hats and some vests. Joey put on one of the hats.
“Oh, you look like an old-time gangster, like Al Capone,” Estelle crowed.
synagogue was crowded with children in costumes and adults, some of whom also
wore costumes. Everyone had graggers. The rabbi and cantor, each in costume,
were about to begin reading the Megillah. Joey and Ilana rushed in to join
their friends. Mom introduced Estelle to
everybody around them and sat with her in
the middle of the sanctuary . The tumult of happy
children swirled throughout the large room. And the noise was deafening,
especially whenever the name of Haman was mentioned.
caught Joey as he flew by at one point. “Hey, how’s it going?” she asked as she
gave him a hug and a kiss.
nice, but I still wish Bubbie was here,” Joey said.
I know. We’ll always wish Bubbie were with us. But look, we’ve made a new
friend. Wasn’t that a nice surprise?” said Mom, who gestured toward Estelle.
Just then, the name of Haman was mentioned. Estelle started to madly swing her
gragger, as did Joey and everyone else.
the noise subsided, Joey said ,
“Yeah, she’s fun . Purim is fun.”
copyright 2003 Alan Radding, all rights reserved
To read more original stories by Alan Radding, go to www.jewishfamilystories.com