She hobbled as she
walked over our threshold. Ema had told us not to stare, but I couldnt
she was huffing and puffing by the time that she had walked from our front door
to our guestroom, which was the bedroom closest to the door. One of my older
brothers followed with her suitcase.
That piece of
baggage, which was of an indeterminate color, was absent of the kinds of
ribbons used to identify cases at airport carousels. Could it be she never
Anyway, she sat on
the edge of her bed and adjusted her skirt so that it better covered her knees.
Both her hair and her collar bones were covered. She was proper.
I offered to get her
a glass of water, which she blessed before sipping. I offered to check the
temperature on the air conditioning in her room and then to leave her in
She nodded, still
While Safta napped,
Ema yelled at me. I should have kept Safta company longer. I should have helped
her unpack. I should have offered her extra pillows and blankets. I should have
shut off the air conditioning and opened the windows. Apparently, Safta was
susceptible to repeat pneumonia and any amount of air conditioning was painful
for her. Yet, Ema left it on in the rest of the house.
An hour or so later,
Safta hobbled into the kitchen. I was checking lettuce, one of my brothers was
seasoning soup. My other brother was seeing if any of the hardboiled eggs
shells had cracks. Mom was in our office, talking to some of her students on
I took Saftas
empty glass from her and offered her a clean one, full of water.
blessed, and sipped. She also pulled her cardigan closed. I think the air
conditioning bothered her.
One of my brothers
offered her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
washed, blessed, and took large bites. I never thought that Safta might be
hungry or that she might like peanut butter. I never really knew what she
liked. No one asked. Ema never said.
The apple, salad,
and juice that I offered, too, were accepted. Upon finishing, Safta said
hobbled to the sofa, where she huffed and puffed a bit.
When Em came in to
check on the soup, she saw Safta and hugged her. Ema suggested that Safta take
off her shoes and get comfortable. Safta just shook her head. Safta was always
a very quiet guest.
When Ema went back
to work, a large, clear tear slid down from Saftas right eye to her nose.
Safta dabbed at it with a used tissue that she had pulled from one of her
Later, when Batya
called, I left Safta in our salon. My friend and I laughed and laughed. We had
so much fun that I forgot to ask her what she did when her safta visits.
doesnt visit very often. Leg problems keep her from driving and from
taking buses. Cost keeps her from taking taxis to us more than two or three
times a year. Yet, when we get into our car, it takes us only half of an hour
to get to her apartment.
When we visit, she
takes cookies out of her freezer and pours Abba his favorite type of tea.
She keeps a box of
it in her kitchen just for him.
time for dinner. Ema, my brothers, me, and Safta sit at our table. Abbas
on a business trip. He only travels four or five times a year. Sometimes, he
goes to Canada. Sometimes, he goes to Great Britain. Safta always visits us
when hes not home.
Safta eats well. She
eats all of the salad in her bowl, an entire quarter of a chicken (its a
good thing we cooked two of them), a huge pile of rice, and an equally huge
pile of beans.
Despite how much she
eats, shes skinny and misshapen. Saftas belly protrudes, and the
small amount of her arms and legs that are visible beyond her clothes are
covered with saggy skin. Her face is wrinkled, as is normal for any safta, but
the stray hairs that escape her snood are dark, not silver. I cant decide
if she looks like a starving child in a Third World country or like an aging
Either way, the sum
of Saftas lumps and bumps are very cuddly. I wish I could hug her more,
but she seems to hurt all over every time I try. Yet, she tolerates my hugs and
dinner, Ema goes back to work and my sibs and I clean up.
Safta sits again on
our sofa. She recites Tehillim.
Ema peeks into the
salon long enough to ask if anyone has helped Safta unload her suitcase.
I volunteer. I go to
the guestroom and put Saftas still full case on Saftas bed but wait
for her permission to open it.
Safta hobbles in
behind me and sits on the chair. It must be awful to have every step hurt. She
nods at me and then, for a minute or two, closes her eyes.
I slide the locks
and the top of the suitcase springs open. Inside sit neatly rolled undies,
bras, slips, and socks. There are familiar scarves, soap, toothpaste, and a
toothbrush. As well, within a zipped, plastic bag are the various pills and
potions Safta uses.
Beneath those things
are a nightgown, shower shoes, shampoo, and a hairbrush. Saftas skirts
and shirts, her Shabbat clothes, and her Shabbot shoes take up the last bit of
space. Its not a very large suitcase, but its quite oversized for someone
who has trouble lifting even a carton of orange juice.
Do you like my
Did you look
inside the special compartment?
I hadnt. I
reach my hand inside an inner, fabric pocket. Four wrapped gifts are there. I
pull them out. One each is for my brothers and me. A somewhat larger one has
Ema and Abbas name on it.
I turn to Safta to
say thanks, but she has closed her eyes, again. I wonder if Ema
knows how much Safta suffers.
them out, she says without opening her eyes.
Carefully, I close
her suitcase, place it under her bed and then leave her room to distribute the
gifts. Later, when I return, Saftas asleep in her chair; I forgot to
clear her bed of her things.
The day after
Shabbot, which is a school day, Safta leaves. I dont walk her to her cab
since she leaves after Im on the school bus. Ema, too, has returned to
school, as have my brothers. Abbas due to land at night.
When I get back from
school, I finger the small doll Safta has gifted me. It used to be hers. She
gave each of my brothers one of the baskets she made decades ago, when her
fingers obeyed her commands. She gave my parents a set of candlesticks that Em
always admired whenever we visited. I think Ema cried a bit when she opened
Later in the week,
Ema tells me to prep our guestroom. Some of my cousins, who live in a nearby
town, are coming for Shabbot. Almost every week, we host one or another of
Ems or Abs siblings and their kids. Every month, we host
My aunt and uncle
will sleep in the guestroom. The boy cousins will bunk with my brothers. The
girl cousins will bunk with me.
I remove the bedding
and start the washing machine. I open the shades and I empty the trash can.
Then, I get the broom.
Sometimes, I take
shortcuts. No ones looking, so I try to sweep the dust under the bed
instead of into the pan. My broom hits something hard.
I bend to look.
Its Saftas valise. After sliding it out, I open it. Everything that
Safta had packed for her last visit, minus the gifts, has been placed inside.
Theres a note, too.
I read the note. It
says, I hope you invite me, again.