America

San Francisco by Sara Fryd

He spits in his rag, washes my car window

A sign of the times

What sign is that, I ask myself?

That America is in trouble?

That our veterans have no place to live?

That a roof over one’s head is not a necessity

For a Marine?

Who fought for our security and more?  Who now

Sleeps on the ground next to his wheel chair.

Since he has no other place to sleep

Except the grass beneath his sleeping bag.

Roll up a $20 bill and gently place it in his palm

His fingers close around it.

His eyes remain closed, his breathing slows.

I turn my eyes to the cerulean sky recalling

I have no job, nor means of support…

Still…

I have $20, a roof over my head, food in my fridge

And there but for the grace of God…

Go I…

 

All rights reserved.  ©2009 by Sara Fryd

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Base Camp

You asked for someone KILIMANJARO

To make base camp with

So we could climb mountains

And I had never

Climbed to the third floor

Of the building where I lived

Let alone Kilimanjaro with a man

You offered courage, strength

Songs as slow as molasses sap

Running from a tree in a cup

Joy, rich as dark chocolate melting

Melting in a pan

Heating with cinnamon and milk

I heard saxophone music playing

Wafting down

Somewhere from the third floor

And I was certain I might need

To learn to climb stairs

After all

 

All rights reserved.  ©2009 by Sara Fryd

Benny

Benny Newspaper

Munich was always cold, especially in 1946.  We lived in a “lager” – an American Displaced Person’s Camp.  A four-story building with large rooms that housed multiple individuals and families – 60 or 70 people to a room; each group divided by hanging dark khaki green Army blankets.  Our lack of privacy, with Army folding cots for beds, is where I spent my formative years.  The Jews’ Holocaust was over.  America had won WWII.  Mine was just beginning.

On top of the mountain near the building, the train ran by every night.  Even with my eyes closed covered by the dark olive blanket; I could always hear the whistle.  Every time I heard the sound, I was afraid – afraid that it would come and take my Papa away.  I’d hear them whispering in Yiddish at night when they thought I was sleeping.  My American Army cot was only inches away.

By current standards, Papa was small in stature, standing only 5’2” tall.  Telly Savalas’ twin brother and only half his height.  Though he had all the strength and charm of Kojak.  The highest safest place I’ve ever known were his shoulders when I was three and Simchat Torah was taking place autumn of 1948.  Outside we walked to a makeshift synagogue down rolling green hills.  He held my little legs tight just above my shoes and socks.  I felt so warm, loved, and very tall.  In my right hand was a white Israeli flag with blue stripes, a blue Star of David, and a little red apple on top of the wooden pole.  My left hand clung to his ear and held on to his baldhead for dear life.  All together we were over seven feet tall my papa, the flag, and me.

By then the Allies had won the War and Jewish children could walk the icy blood drenched soil of Germany without being carted off in trucks like strays picked up by dog catchers.

By the time I was four, I had my own rabbinical tutor, an old white-haired bearded Orthodox rabbi who taught me Hebrew.  The Women’s Liberation Movement wouldn’t come into existence for another twenty years, though it mattered not to my Papa that I was only a girl.  He cared only that I love the process of learning, of reading the ancient text.  He wanted to make sure that I learned the alphabet of my dead grandparents (who disappeared with a heartbeat when a German bomb exploded their building in the Warsaw Ghetto).  He made sure he gave me the gift of going to school; something he dreamed of but never had the chance.

Papa was an expert in the “black market” and came down the hill of our camp in a pale tan Mercedes Benz sedan with sunroof and matching leather seats.  We never did find out how he “bought it.”  He pulled up along side the building with the sunroof open and me in the back seat, while my other threw wrapped candy from the window above.  I can close my eyes and still hear the laughter.

With all the horrors he experienced, I remember him smiling and joyous, always full of stories and singing.  Always singing to me:  “Avf daem pripichok brent a firerl.  In de shteeb is heiz.  Un de Rebbe layrent kliene kinderleck daem aleph baze…”  – “On the hearth there burns a little fire.  In the house it’s warm.  And the Rabbi teaches little children their ABCs…”   

He told wondrous stories of Sholem Aleichem, the Kabbalah, ghosts and goblins, never about the horrors he had seen in the war.  Those he kept inside.  And they tormented him always.  Some of the happiest memories I have are a devastated, freezing landscape, horrible brushes with illness and death, and a Papa singing away the pain.  He saved my life over and over again.

Memories of being put on a train, then on trucks, having socks put in my mouth so the soldiers wouldn’t hear a baby’s cries as we crossed the border crossings, knowing my baby brother would never make it home from the Munich hospital, hearing muffled cries all night, and sleeping next to men and women having sex in the next cot so they could prove they existed.  All of that he washed away with his lullabies, all of that and the black numbers etched on the arms of his friends.

Of all the things I’ve been able to achieve since landing in New Orleans in 1951, the one thing I can’t seem to do is return to him the gifts he gave me.  He’s closing in on eighty and lives in a tiny two-room apartment with newspapers in stacks three feet high from the floor and a loaded gun under his mattress.  He hoards his food, his “stuff” and won’t go to doctors (whom he thinks are still trying to kill him).  He hangs up the phone every time one of us calls.  And he refuses to open the door when any of his four children come to see him.

So we all stopped calling and coming by to see the Papa who seems to have abandoned his children.  Because we wanted to spare him, but mostly ourselves the pain of rejection.  We send the traditional cards and often a present.  The silence is devastating and the moat keeps getting wider.  He makes up stories about who did what to whom and when.  We hear about them from acquaintances who run into him at the grocery store.  He keeps the hurts close, wrapping the stories around him like a warm blanket to keep him safe from the children who love him.

As if feelings were bullets, he needs to wear a bulletproof vest to keep him safe from the children who remind him of the ones he buried half a world away in Uzbekistan and Germany.  Safe from the little girl who wanted desperately to sing away the pain.  Who now writes away his pain instead.

For those people who question whether the Holocaust ever happened, I am proof that there is not one, but two Holocausts that always take place.  The one that slaughters human beings like cattle and with less compassion; and a second Holocaust each person who survives carries with them every day of their lives.  Victims of wars they do not create.  Nevertheless, they wake up every day reliving those horrors, then shutting the door on love and kindness, because to risk caring is too great a pain.

Now and then, though I rarely hear a train whistle at night these days, whenever I do the three-year-old inside me still says a little prayer, “ Please dear God, don’t let them come and take my Papa away.”

 

All rights reserved.  ©2009 by Sara Fryd

*I wrote this in 1994 after hearing an evening newscast about the Holocaust deniers.  It was published in a local newspaper in Albuquerque, NM in 1995.  My Papa died alone a few days before his 88th birthday in 2005.  I read this at his funeral.  Little did I know in 1994, that I was writing his eulogy.

Comfort Food

Maple, oak, aspen are going to sleep till springcomfort food

Leaving behind a comforter of leaves

In colors created by angels above the clouds

Who sneak down before dawn

With brushes held in pockets in their wings

Dropping leaves of scarlet, tangerine, and lemon

Leaves to warm the roots below, the earth above

Even Sandia Mountain is a darker shade

Of violet-laced magenta at twilight

Than it is during April’s break of dawn

“…how God how? How do you mix cerulean skies?”

How do you create lavender stones?”

No audible answers from the heavens this time

Revealing what I know and haven’t seen before this day

Time to view the world again with new eyes

Or maybe a transplanted heart

Received from friends who chose to love me

Even when I couldn’t love myself

Seeing out my window through a heart of joy

Belies the view

When did my heart grow wings?

When did my eyes change colors?

When did I learn to see?

When did the air become chilled like Riesling?

When did the mood become warm like chocolate?

When did Autumn become the comfort food

That filled my soul?

 

All rights reserved.  ©2009 by Sara Fryd

Courage Disguised As My Brother

We have a lot of history

      You and Ijosh mark

Met when I was eight

And you were brand new. 

Been locked in combat ever since

Taking sides

Creating insignificant battles

About family matters and such. 

You are my mirror and I am yours.

I see my soul reflected in your eyes

As you reveal me back to me. 

And I remember us in black and white

And various shades of gray

From childhood photos

We share in picture albums

Removed gently from the drawer of my heart

When I need to see how the puzzle pieces fit.

Sisters live on pedestals

Protect you from reality

Feed you breakfast

Let you crash till noon

When you trespass through their lives

            Without apology.

Idols are not vulnerable, and

            Certainly not human, like you. 

I arrived first to teach you

But you taught me…

            About courage

            About strength

            About will.

While searching

Through my scrapbook of memories

Where I go to find minute pieces of a puzzle

So I can make them fit

I see you standing at my back door

Freezing and damp at 4 am

In black leather, in the dark dawn 

Holding an old tattered guitar

After you’d hitchhiked all night

To sing Puff the Magic Dragon

To your new baby nephew…

                 …My newborn son.

Courage is Writing a Resume, Again

I’ve lost my job… resume

As if somehow

I’ve misplaced a part of my life

I now have to find

Just around the next corner.

So I become still, quiet

Trying to remember

Writing accomplishments

About what I’ve done

For so many years

I could do it with my eyes closed.

What am I afraid of?

Feelings, I guess…

Here I am ten or eleven years old

Again, and yet another grown-up

Telling me that I’m not worthy enough

Or talented enough

Or courageous enough.                              

I’ll show them, those that doubt.

The ones that don’t understand

The incredible painting that is me!

This time I’ll paint a picture on paper.

I’ll use a typewriter instead of crayons

A computer instead of paints.

But in my heart I’ll know

That I’m a rainbow after a storm

A bright shinning star

On a crisp winter night.

And I’ll begin again

To share with strangers

The wondrous story that is me.

Dancing With Angels

flamenco dancerRed is a color worn by others.  Haven’t worn red since Howard left in ’92 and I moved to back to Phoenix.  So I haven’t a clue what made me buy a dark red Ralph Lauren shirt and tank top yesterday morning.  Maybe it was the incredible sale at Dillards or I had to have one in each color as fall and winter are approaching and I’m never going to find another sale like this in my lifetime.

My friend Melinda thinks I spend too much time by myself, so she’s been planning many events in hopes I’ll say “yes” to one or another.  Usually, I arrive a few minutes late and often leave early.  Don’t like crowds much and it’s too hot to be outside.  Let’s go to La Encantada Saturday night and hear the flamenco music special event put on but GOVAC.  Yeah, right, what little cigarettes have you been smoking?  Jazz maybe… flamenco never!  Okay, I give; I’ll meet you at 6:45.

Old habits die-hard, I’m late as usual and in the back row.  Another favorite place when you’re pissed at life (because somehow it’s to blame for passing you by) and hiding out seems like a good solution.  Can’t see far away, left my glasses at home (of course did I really want to come to the show?), besides who needs to see to hear.  Pablo’s guitar music is dynamic, tickles the soul and as much as my feet want to dance, my butt stays firmly in the tiny white folding chair.  So I whisper to Melinda, I’m going to try to move closer.  She rolls her eyes…been here before, she’s going to bolt any minute.  “Talk to you tomorrow,” she whispers.

For the next hour I’m up and down like a yo-yo (probably A.D.D. in my last life).  Finally, I hide behind a plant partition close to the stage where I can see and hear everything.  Red is definitely the color of the evening.  While the beautiful woman in the sexy long red dress is clicking her castanets and stomping her very proper low-heeled black maryjanes, a beautiful blond little girl in a long red ruffled dress with black patent leather maryjanes is mimicking her in front of the first row.  The guitar music is powerful, the tall woman stomps her feet, clicks her hands, and swings her dress showing gorgeous dancer’s legs.  The little girl stomps her feet, clicks her fingers, swings her dress, and twirls her ruffles ‘round and ‘round.  

I’m lost in the music, in the dancing, and in the wondering when exactly we lose the joy of twirling when everyone is looking while we are unaware of their eyes upon us.  When do we become self-conscious of other’s eyes and other’s thoughts of our behavior?  At what moment in time do we starting judging ourselves more than anyone else could ever judge us?  Why does what “they” think matter?  Who are the “they”?  And why do they matter so much? 

When exactly God, do we stop dancing, I wondered more like a prayer than a question.  And what has to happen for us to twirl, to be 5 again, playing with an open heart?  A chair opens up in the front row next to friends and I sneak over and sit invisibly still.  OMG, I’m in the front row!  The concert is almost over; maybe no one will notice I’m in the front row this close to the stage. 

For all my desire to remain invisible, 80 year old Francis, 4 ft. tall, born in Spain, complete with walker and castanets comes over asking me to dance.  Now I have two fears simultaneously going off in my head – do I get up and dance with Francis in front of several hundred strangers, making a complete fool of myself or do I turn down a little old lady who can’t dance without her walker or a partner in front of several hundred strangers.

I got up and danced with Francis (who survived the Spanish Civil War before age 11, making it to Ellis Island on a ship in 1940), letting her lead me all over the place.  Within minutes half the audience was up dancing and twirling.  More people dancing than sitting, when Francis turns to me, winks, and says, “I knew they’d all get up and dance.”  In the midst of all those people twirling around, it occurred to me that courage is contagious.  And so is joy. 

What is that saying about being very careful what you ask for?  Sometimes God listens to me a lot closer than I suspect I think he does.  Last night God listened to my heart, because if he had been listening to my head, he would have heard all that grumbling about last row, heat outside, and why did I leave those darn glasses at home.  He would have heard my brain telling me to sit still before Melinda told me to leave cause I was driving her crazy.  This time though, my heart won out, that is why God sent me two angels, one 5 and one 80 to teach me again to dance and twirl not caring who’s watching.

 

All rights reserved.  ©2009 by Sara Fryd