The cars rolled to a stop, but even before the engines died, one of the Escalade’s back doors blasted open and Ada, Gabrielle’s only great-grandchild, rocketed out of the car and into the house, letting the patio door bang behind her. “Hey Meme, how are you?” Ada blurted before she was off, hunting for hamantash.
Gabrielle eye’s twinkled at the antics, but as the door bounced back open, she made out her kibitser of a great-son-in-law saying “I don’t know why she can’t come to church with us.” That wiped the smile from her face.
“You know why, so shut up,” said Gabrielle’s daughter, reigniting the old woman’s happiness, and then the whole lot of her family came into the house, setting off hours of pleasantries, and a few pained looks due to some ham-fisted comments from the kibitser.
Finally, everyone left to watch TV or help make supper, leaving Gabrielle alone. She sat in her rocker, and was just starting to doze off when Ada’s voice jerked her awake: “Hey Meme, whatcha doin?”
Putting on her best grin, the old woman leaned over to see the young girl standing near her chair, the crumbs of hamantash visible on her shirt.
“Watching the world go by. You?”
Gabrielle scrunched her face. Ada didn’t have siblings or cousins, so she was unsure of who Ada was hiding from. “Oh, are you playing a game?”
“No. I just don’t want to do my homework.”
“Homework is important dear. You’ll get nowhere without a good education.”
“Yeah, but it’s not for school,” Ada said; when Gabrielle raised her eyebrows, she amended, “It’s not for real school. It’s for Sunday school. That shouldn’t count.”
The old woman laughed and scooted to the side of the seat in her massive rocker. “Well, why don’t you hide with Meme for a bit,” she offered with a wink.
Beaming back, the girl clambered into the seat next to Gabrielle. For almost a full minute they sat in silence, but Ada couldn’t stand the quiet. Fidgeting a bit, the girl asked, “Meme, why don’t you ever come to church with us?”
Still grinning, Gabrielle shot back, “Why should I?”
“My dad says, that if you go to church, then you’ll be sure to get to heaven. Don’t you want to go to heaven?”
“As much as anyone I suppose,” the old woman answered dryly, but before Ada could reply she asked, “But tell me, do you know anything about my parents and why I always have hamantash at my house?”
Ada’s nine-year old face furrowed in concentration, and the freckles on her nose moved, reminding Gabrielle of a caterpillar crawling along. Finally, the girl shook her head. “No. Why?”
“Because I’m old, and I need a sharp, young mind to help me remember. Can you do that for me?” Gabrielle inquired, almost pleadingly.
“Yes.” The young girl said, looking concerned as she noticed Gabrielle’s searching look. “Meme, are you alright?”
“I am sweetheart. It just means a lot to me that you will remember. Now, pay attention: you probably don’t know too much about World War II just yet, but what you need to understand was there was an extraordinarily evil man and he killed lots of people.”
“Why’d he do that?” The girl asked, concern plastered on her face.
“He blamed them for a lot of things going wrong in his country, but he lied about those people. Our people.” Then, heading off the impending barrage of questions, Gabrielle said, “But what you need to know is that your great-great-grandparents, or my mom and dad, knew he was bad and wanted to kill us. So when I was only three years older than you are now, they sent me away to France. At the time our family lived in Poland and were Jewish. Those cookies you like so much are part of your Jewish heritage. I learned to make them from my grandma when I was your age.”
“You did!” Ada interjected, excitement lighting dancing upon her face. “Can you teach me?”
“I’d be happy to, I taught your mom too. She could show you.”
“Really? Mom never makes them. Maybe she forgot how.”
“Maybe,” the older woman said with a touch of melancholy, “But I’m sure you’ll remember once I teach you.”
“I promise,” Ada immediately said, before adding, “I don’t get it though; you don’t go to church because you lived in France?”
“Yes. You see, I survived the war, but none of the rest of our family did. That changed the way I see the world.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I know. The best way to explain it is to say that for me religion and church is like my driveway. I could walk out to the drive, go to the road then head somewhere, which is more what your dad thinks happens. But I just keep walking and circle back home. I don’t have a destination. My family is my home.
“I still don’t understand.”
“I know. But I think you will.T VG Just tell your dad what I said, and that you want to learn to make hamantash.”
“Will I get in trouble?” Ada asked, suspicious about the whole conversation.
“I don’t think so...but it may get me in trouble. You just keep your word and remember what I said about where your family came from.
“I will,” Ada said seriously. “And Meme, I’m glad you went to France.
Gabrielle grinned. “Me too. Now how about another cookie?”