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Stowaways

by MomGrind

This short nonfiction story was written by my daughter and is based on the true story of her great grandparents’ attempt to hide from the Nazis in occupied Holland. I realize it’s too long for a blog post, but it’s so good, I had to share it here today, Holocaust Remembrance Day. 

Stowaways

 

They left without doing the dishes.

Arie got the call from Peter at the Underground Movement in the morning, when the sky still carried the remaining pallor of dawn, and they left the plates and silverware on the dining table and ran to get ready. The bags were already packed, mostly, so Miep and Arie needed only to throw in the last of their things. Liz, who had been sitting rather quietly in her high chair during breakfast, was startled by the sudden commotion and began to wail, kicking her legs wildly. Miep took her in her arms, changed her diaper quickly, and then put her in the padded basket that sat with the rest of the bags by the front door.

The three of them were ready in a matter of minutes. Arie donned his heavy winter coat and hat; Miep wrapped her scarf around her neck and then slid into her jacket. It was her nicest jacket, the pinstriped garment that matched her skirt, and she wore it only on the most festive, important occasions. She had worn all her best clothes today, because what did she know – they may be the last things of hers she ever wore.

Arie opened the front door and carried the bags into the trunk of the car while Miep settled Liz into the backseat. Then he ran back into the house, into the study, where inside a locked drawer lay a wrinkled piece of paper. He unlocked the cupboard and retrieved the note before running back to the front door, allowing himself one last glance back at the house. The kitchen was a mess. Dirty bowls with wooden spoons cluttered the counter, the empty teapot still sat on the stovetop with its lid raised in the air, little jars of sugar and salt and a bag of flour lay on the granite surface, still open. The dining room table was still covered with their painted china plates, soiled with crumbs, the silverware stacked haphazardly on top of them. Their porcelain cups held the dark remnants of strong coffee; the tablecloth had been pulled to the side a bit in their rush, leaving the cup of cream and the butter plate toppled over on their sides. The Gestapo would know they were not coming back.

Then Arie shook himself out of his daze, stepped outside, and closed the door behind him. Miep was waiting patiently by the car door, the cold wind teasing her hair, pulling a few dark strands loose from her neat bun. They each climbed into their sides of the car. Arie started the engine, and it groaned and coughed and sputtered deafeningly, trying to warm up in the freezing winter air. Arie took to the slip of paper from his pocket, unfolded it, and placed it behind the steering wheel. 784 Walemstraat, Limburg, NL. The engine roared to life and they were off.

            Miep turned on the stove and set the pot of water on to boil. They would be having soup again tonight. Money seemed to be disappearing faster and faster, and nobody knew where it was going. Since her father had been fired from his job at the hospital (“Our patients will be more comfortable with an Aryan staff,” they’d said), Miep’s parents had been pinching pennies as much as possible. Miep helped out when she could; she knit socks and scarves to sell in the marketplace, worked odd housekeeping jobs for the other Jewish families in the area, and constantly learned new strategies of stretching meals. Tonight’s special: the boiled leftovers of their last couple of dinners – vegetable scraps, potatoes, chunks of meat – served in hot water in a sad interpretation of soup. Miep sighed as she stirred in the carrots.
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A Letter to Yoav

by MomGrind

yoav1-opI met you for the first time in 1990, when my then boyfriend, now husband, brought me home to meet his parents. You were 53 years old, and you were gorgeous. When I entered the living room, you were sitting on your favorite brown leather recliner, smoking a pipe. When you rose to greet me, tall and broad-shouldered, with bright blue eyes and a barely-graying full head of hair, I thought, “wow, he’s really handsome. I hope his son ages as well as he does.”

I don’t remember much else from that first meeting, except that I quickly realized that the good looks were accompanied by an abundance of self confidence and a ton of charisma. In fact, were you not so honest, if intellectual integrity wasn’t so important to you, you would have made a great politician. Instead, you became an engineer.
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happy bakingThis is very unfeminist of me, I’m sure. Or is it? My beloved late grandma Chava was the exact opposite of a feminist. Her happy place was the kitchen. Her only place was the kitchen, actually – she spent her entire life there, or so it seemed.

She cooked there, starting early in the morning and finishing late at night. She ate her meals there, and she rested in her little kitchen – I can still see her sitting in her usual chair, listening to the radio, dozing off. She was tired, no doubt – now that I cook so much I know how physically taxing cooking is, and she was also overweight and probably suffered from sleep apnea, so nights were not restful for her. No wonder she kept falling asleep sitting in that chair.

Thirty years later, and here I am, in the kitchen, happy. In many ways, I am happy in the same way that grandma was happy in her kitchen. Cooking is highly creative and deeply sensuous. As my friend J. likes to say, it’s the only place where she can start a task, complete it within a reasonable timeframe, and savor its success (or mourn its failure, as the case may be). The act of cooking is therapeutic, the act of eating pleasurable, and being your family’s hero – priceless (“Mom, may I have seconds?”)
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Missing Grandma

by MomGrind

How fitting that today, Mother’s Day, is the yahrzeit (Yiddish for “a year’s time” or anniversary) of the passing of my beloved grandmother, Chava.

Grandma passed away young, at the age of 59, when I was barely 12 years old.

I think about her often, because she was the epitome of motherhood. A large woman (back when most people were not overweight) with a big heart, her entire existence centered around her children, her grandchildren, and cooking.

I write about grandma with some difficulty, because I was so young when she passed. I so wish she could have stayed with us a little longer, giving me a chance to get to know her better, as an adult.
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Trapped

by MomGrind

old man with walkerWaiting at the stoplight, I see the man. He’s old, probably in his mid seventies. He walks slowly, pushing a walker in front of him, stopping to rest every few steps. His back is a little bent. His mouth tight. He has that look of quiet anger that so many old people have.

He’s trapped, the thought flashes in my head. There’s a person inside that has nothing to do with this sick old body. The man inside was a young man once, a middle aged man not that long ago. He stood straight and laughed and ran, had children and grandchildren. He worked, he had friends over and went to clubs and to parties and to the movies. There’s a whole life story trapped inside, a life story filled with sweet moments that have nothing to do with the anger, the weariness, the despair that a malfunctioning body brings.
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If they could only see into the future, they would have done everything in their power to run away, to escape, to leave their beloved Holland, to get away from Europe.

Of course, many tried and were refused by nations who sent them right back to “where they belonged,” to their deaths.

But the three Jewish siblings photographed here, in April 13 1941 according to the print on the back, didn’t know how bad it was going to get for them, for Jews. So they stayed in occupied Holland and hoped for the best.
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Penny: Okay, that’s fine, but let’s try and get you out of your comfort zone.
Sheldon: Why would we want to do that? It’s called the comfort zone for a reason.

(The Big Bang Theory, Season 4, Episode 14)

I started skiing at the age of 35, which might explain my initial reluctance. Downhill skiing was supposed to be fun, but everything about it turned out to be a real challenge – putting on my ski boots, adjusting to the high altitude, using the chair lift, and of course, mastering the technique of turning, the only way to reliably control your speed as you go downhill.

I hated it at first. I was scared, it was hard, it just didn’t seem worth it. But my family loved it, and our ski trips were fun. I didn’t enjoy skiing, but I liked spending time with my family, relaxing with hot cocoa (on cold days) or cold beer (in the spring) after a day of skiing, and dining out at nice restaurants.

So we kept going, year after year, and I kept taking lessons, and skiing with my family, and hating it. My husband, ever so gently, kept nudging me forward, encouraging me to keep working at it – after all, if I only do beginner bunny hills and my family is doing intermediate blue runs, I can’t really ski with them, can I? And if I can manage blue runs but they are skiing advanced black trails, that won’t be any good either.

I realized that if I wanted to spend time with my family, I had to push myself out of my comfort zone and ski the same slopes they were skiing. And I did. Persevering, not giving up, doing something that’s completely out of character for me – fast, aggressive, fearless, I slowly improved my skiing technique, gained confidence, and let go of the fear. And the better I became at skiing, the less fear I felt, the more I started enjoying the challenge, the speed, the thrill. Last year, when I finally started skiing black diamond runs with speed, grace and control, I also started enjoying the sport immensely. I was addicted hooked.

This weekend, as I ripped down the north-facing slope of Lookout Mountain, on one of Northstar Resort’s longest steeps, Martis, I felt strong and confident and very able. I was free, flying like a bird, the soft white snow under my feet and the cold, crisp mountain air surrounding me. Nothing was scary, there was no stress, no everyday worries, no one was going to stop me! I was invincible.

After years of feeling, like Sheldon, that staying within one’s comfort zone is the only logical choice, I finally realized that stepping out of your comfort zone, while certainly scary and uncomfortable at first, can lead not just to great fun, but also to meaningful personal growth. I discovered a completely new side of me, and I liked what I found. It felt good this weekend, and it still feels good now, as I’m writing these lines.

What’s next? Stepping out of my comfort zone of groomed black diamond runs, and learning to ski bumps and moguls! Not that I ever expect to be able to do this, or even this… But I’m sure going to push myself as far as I can go. I can’t wait to see how far that is.