Many nights I sleep on the sofa. This is becoming more of a normal occurrence because many nights my arthritic hip seems to need a softer surface than our bed can provide. I really don’t mind resting on the sofa because I watch television to fall asleep to the “white noise” of a monotone narrator. I actually chose what I watch with that criteria in mind. But Ken finds the television keeps him awake, so this is the compromise I made on those sleepless nights that come often.
At 1 a.m. – just a short time after I fell asleep, someone pounded on the door. I sat up and shook the cobwebs from my mind. Flashing red and white lights slipped through the vertical blind and I quickly realized Ken must have fallen and pressed his life alert button to get some help. Yes, the fire department was once again on our doorstep. I opened the door to four burly men who had Ken in his wheelchair in a couple of minutes and saved the day once again.
I was so shaken by the situation I’m afraid I was not kind. I think my crabbiness with Ken was due to the fact I had just fallen asleep and now I had to clean him up from a failed trip to the bathroom. I hated myself for yelling at him. It wasn’t fair to him. He didn’t ask for M. S., but then again, neither did I.
In thirty minutes, Ken was clean and safely tucked into the bed, and I was alert and wide awake. I had to start the whole process of getting back to sleep on the sofa. Ernie jumped up into one of the recliners and the house quieted down. After six or so sound hours of slumber, I woke to another thud. I dragged myself up and trudged down to the bathroom to find Ken laying on the floor. Only this time, I was calm and patient.
I’m telling you this as a kind of confession for my bad behavior. I’m also sharing with those of you who might beat yourself up for being cranky with the person you might be taking care of. We all have our limits and last night for me was just too hard. I’m comforted by the fact Ken doesn’t hurt himself when he falls because as he says, he tries to ease into the effects of gravity. Little does he understand watching him struggle to command his body to stand is torture on both sides.
All we can do is roll with the situation. Pray for a better day and enjoy the good times when they present themselves.
APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 3
Budapest, Hungary–December 1940—Heidi fell into a comfortable space with the Rabbi and his family. The past six months sped by, and Heidi finally got used to the huge number of people who came and went as they made their future plans to save their lives from Nazi tyranny. Heidi was the only gentile ever in the house for any length of time.
David, Ruthie, and Jacob adjusted well. They enjoyed playing with the Weismann children. They stopped asking questions about their parents and called Heidi “mutter” most of the time.
“Heidi, will we ever be with Father again?” David asked one night as she tucked him into bed.
“I hope so, sweetie.” Heidi said.
“But I want to know for sure.”
“I cannot tell you for sure. The world is a very dangerous place right now, and your father does not realize where we are. He would be happy we are safe.”
“That is why we came to the Rabbi’s house?”
“Yes. We are very lucky Fritz encouraged us to come here.”
“I wonder how Fritz is.”
“Me, too.” Heidi said as she looked away. “But now is the time to sleep, my sweet boy. Do not worry about things you cannot change. As long as we are together, we will be safe and happy.”
Heidi blew out the candle and descended down the stairs to her room. The Rabbi freed up another room in the house, so Heidi could enjoy some privacy in a room of her own. She stuck her head into the library where the Rabbi always studied after the activity of the house simmered down. “Pardon the intrusion, Rabbi. I just wanted to say goodnight.”
The Rabbi looked up from his book and witnessed a troubled look on Heidi’s young face. “Something is wrong, Heidi?”
“Sometimes life is so difficult-,” she couldn’t finish before she choked on her emotions.
The Rabbi waved her into the room. “What is bothering you, child?”
Heidi took a seat next to him on the sofa. “Sometimes David’s questions are hard to answer. He is such a smart boy.”
“Yes, the smart ones are the challenging ones.” The Rabbi smiled. “Is that all that is troubling you, Heidi?”
Heidi confessed, “I guess I am a little homesick Rabbi.”
The Rabbi looked at her through his rimless glasses. “Of course you are, dear Heidi. You are too young for all the responsibility you assumed. I want you to know I think you are one of the bravest people I ever met. To protect three orphaned Jews at this time in history is amazing. You inspire me everyday.”
Heidi smiled. “I did what God asked me to do, Rabbi. The children need me.”
He raised his index finger. “Yes. But do not forget about yourself as you take care of them. Now, how can I help you?”
“This may sound crazy to you, Rabbi. But I miss the festivities of Christmas. I miss the Christmas tree most of all.”
He stroked his long white beard. “I understand.” He paused. “We will celebrate Hanukkah in another week.”
“Hanukkah? I never celebrated Hanukkah–only Christmas.”
“Let me tell you the old story which has been carried down generation to generation. Hanukkah dates back to more than twenty-one centuries ago when the Syrian-Greeks ruled the Holy Land. These people insisted the people of Israel assimilate into their culture and leave their religion behind. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth and drove the Greeks from the land. They reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of God. When they sought to light the Temple’s menorah, they found only one cruse of olive oil the Greeks didn’t contaminate. Miraculously, that one-day supply of holy oil burned for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity.”
The rabbi studied Heidi’s face as she searched for something in her religion which was similar to the Jewish holy day. “It’s a preparation time? We celebrate Advent to get ready for the birth of Christ. Is that why eight candles are lit on the menorah?”
The Rabbi smiled. “Yes. We light one candle on the first night, two on the second and so on until all eight are lit on the night of Hanukkah. Our daily prayers offer praise and thanksgiving to God for delivering the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of few, and the wicked into the hands of the righteous.”
The Rabbi continued to explain. “And like Advent and your Christmas, we prepare special foods during this time. We eat latkes.” He searched for the right description. “Latkes are potato pancakes and sufganiot, is like a donut. The children will receive dreidels as small gifts and maybe a little gelt too, if they are good children during the past year.”
Heidi’s wrinkled forehead showed her confusion.
As if reading her mind, the Rabbi said, “Dreidels are spinning tops, which are inscribed with Hebrew letters standing for “a great miracle happened there.” We also give Hanukkah gelt, which are gifts of money or small presents to the children.”
“So you give presents like we do?”
“Yes, my child.”
Heidi rose to her feet. “Thank you, Rabbi. I’m sure I will enjoy my first Hanukkah celebration.” She left and quietly shut the study door.
The rabbi whispered. “Pleasant dreams my dear Heidi. May God bless and keep you.”
Heidi enjoyed her first Hanukkah with the children, the Rabbi, and his family. At the time no strangers shared the house, so the celebration became a family affair. David received the honor of lighting the last candles of the menorah on Hanukkah night. After the prayers, everyone enjoyed the traditional foods the Rabbi spoke of and the children received the gelt the Rabbi’s wife prepared for them. Joy filled Heidi’s heart as the children enjoyed the holiday. For a short time, their young lives got to enjoy something normal.
The Rabbi said. “Heidi. We hope you will like the special gift Gavriella and I got you.” He rose from the table and went outside.
“I wonder what it is, Heidi.” David said.
“And why would he need to go outside to get it?” Ruthie said.
A cold blast of nighttime air filled the kitchen as the Rabbi returned. He came into the room with a blue spruce fir tree with two wooden planks nailed to its bottom so the tree would stand. Rabbi Weismann said with a grand smile, “Happy Christmas, dear Heidi!”
Heidi gasped. “A Christmas tree! How wonderful. Oh Rabbi, you did this for me?”
“Well, yes of course.”
A tear fell from her left eye. She ran to him and hugged him. “You are so good to me, Rabbi. Thank you.”
“You are very welcome, my dear. Now, I understand we need some decorations to hang on your tree.”
Heidi brushed tears of happiness from her cheeks. “At home, my family always strings popcorn or cranberries to make garland. Mama bakes decorated gingerbread cookies to hang on the tree, too.”
Gavriella said, “Well, we do not possess either one of those, but how would these do?” She handed Heidi a velvet box full of hand-painted antique glass ornaments.
Heidi gasped. “They are exquisite!” She lifted one out of the box. “I never saw such beautiful ornaments. Where did you ever get them?”
“Some Christian friends who lived with us for a while gave them to me. They intended to immigrate to the United States and needed to leave many of their belongings behind. I accepted their gift, and put them away. I figured God gave them to us for a reason. You are the reason, my dear Heidi!”
Heidi’s joy danced in her eyes. “Thank you! Thank you, both so much. I will never forget this Hanukkah ever!” She hugged both of them.
“Nor will we, dear child. It is your first Hanukkah and our first Christmas!” The Rabbi kissed his wife and smiled at Heidi.
Lacrosse, Wisconsin–December 1940—Rosalie and Angelo looked forward to their baby girl’s first Christmas. Angelina was too young to understand about Santa Claus, but she pointed and smiled at the Christmas tree, shouting “Pretty, pretty,” when Angelo plugged in the colorful tree lights. Rosalie couldn’t wait until the child opened her first present–a Raggedy Ann doll she sewed for her daughter.
About a week before Christmas, Rosalie helped her mother-in-law decorate the Armani Christmas tree, while Angelo assisted his father to set up the outdoor nativity scene. When Angelo’s father unpacked the statues, Angelo drifted back to his boyhood when his Pa surprised the family with the figures of the holy family he secretly ordered through the Sears’ Catalog. That first year they put out three statues—the baby Jesus in the manager, St. Joseph, and the Blessed Mother. At night the statues were lit with a bright flood light. For the next several years, Mr. Armani surprised the family every Christmas with another piece of the nativity scene–an angel, a donkey, a cow, a lamp, a sheep, a shepherd, three wise men, and of course, the Bethlehem star. In later years, Angelo constructed a lean-to stable out of scrap lumber to house the Holy Family. Arranging the nativity set in the front yard with his father was Angelo’s favorite part of their traditional Christmas celebration. He looked forward to the day he could tell little Gina the Christmas story.
Right now, his baby daughter kept her mother on her toes because recently she learned how to crawl. Gina got into everything, learning the world through touching different objects, which most of the time brought the phrase, “No, No!” from an adult. Keeping the child safe from herself proved to be a full time job for the adults around her. Her grandparents never complained about Gina because in their hearts their granddaughter was the most gifted and beautiful baby God ever made.
This year, the Armani and Lombardo families decided to celebrate Christmas Eve together. In the Catholic tradition, everyone fasted until midnight and after mass, they enjoyed a great feast.
Everyone congregated at the church where Angelo and Rosalie got married the year before. Together they made a congregation within a congregation filling up a half dozen pews on the left side of the aisle. The scent of fresh pine wafted through the sanctuary and red, gold, and white ornaments decorated the trees beside the altar. Flood lights placed on the floor shone a warm light on the trees while a beautiful nativity scene imported from Italy sat to the right of the altar. Gina found everything around her extraordinary and pointed to the decorations, shouting “Pretty, pretty!” Eventually, Rosalie took her out of church.
When the family got home around 1 a.m., everyone brought a hearty appetite to devour a feast which covered two long banquet tables. Mrs. Armani, Mrs. Lombardo, Eduardo, and Angelo’s grandmother worked all week to prepare the food. Shrimp scampi, lobster tails in garlic butter, fried calamari, broiled eel, meat balls, and spaghetti in marina. Large bowls of lettuce, canned tomatoes, banana peppers, and black tossed with homemade Italian dressing filled the largest bowl in the house. Cakes, pies, and dozens of different Italian cookies stood by after dinner for dessert. Rosalie wished Donna Jean and Josie could join them to experience a real Italian Christmas Eve because no words could express the abundance.
Rosalie and Angelo took a sleeping Gina home around 3 a.m. They gently placed the child in her crib and covered her with her favorite blanket. Rosalie smiled as her baby comforted herself by sucking her thumb to go back to sleep. Angelo put his arm around Rosalie and whispered, “I never dreamed I could ever love anyone the way I love the two of you.”
Rosalie smiled up at her husband and cuddled into his chest. Her heart swelled with love for him.
Angelo gently closed the door to Gina’s room and led her mother to their bedroom. The young couple celebrated their first Christmas by making gentle love before they fell to sleep in each other’s arms.