Yiddish was our language. It was the only common known language Jews spoke to each other throughout Europe. There were two dialectics – Litvak and Glitzeaner. Mom spoke one, I spoke the other. I had two names – Sarinou and Saralle (sweet Sara and little Sara). Mom and I spoke only Yiddish to each other. It was always on automatic pilot. No thought process involved. I heard her voice my brain responded in Yiddish. German was my first language, though Yiddish somehow evolved in the refugee camp when the precocious 3-year old wanted to know what all the grown-ups were whispering about. Mom died February 2006. This conversation took place at her bedside several days before her death.
Mom: “Raialle (her sister in Israel) dost a bissalle perfume?” (Raia do you have some perfume?)
Me: “Vart a minute, eech ob a bisalle perfume in the car?” (I brought my extra bottle with me to Phoenix. How did I know to bring it with me? I never carry perfume in the car. I ran back to get it before I drove to Phoenix. That bit of ESP still eludes me.)
Me: “Mom, dee vilst perfume?” (Mom, do you want some perfume?)
Mom: “Nu, spritz meech oon. And lipstick, dee ost a bisalle lipstick?” (Of course, spray me. And lipstick do have a little lipstick?)
I put lipstick on her; a beautiful bronze color. Kissed her forehead, kissed her eyes, kissed her face. She held her face up, the way a baby holds it’s face when your rub lotion on. She looked a little brighter. She breathed in the attention and breathed a little easier.
Mom: “The government owes me a lot of money. And when they pay me Saralle (little Sara) we’re going into business. You know 85 is not too old to go into business, is it? Dee ost g’zain dain tatte?” (Have you seen your Father? – He’d been dead since August 2005 and they had been divorced since 1976. We hadn’t told her he had died. She had a stroke and barely knew who she was. She spent most of her time speaking to her Father Herschel in a 5 year old Romanian voice.)
Me: “Eech ob im g’zain.” (I saw him.)
Mom: “Git, sz’nisht git ts’zain broyges.” (Good, it’s not good to remain angry.)
Mom: “Sarinou, eech gay shtarbin?” (Sara, am I going to die?)
Me: “Mom, you want to die?” I responded completely taken off guard, for how are you ever prepared to lose your parents?
Mom: “Lobin zeech klapen dem kop in deir vant!” (Let them knock their heads into a wall. Or in the vernacular talk to the hand).
My knees almost gave out, while I’m trying not to laugh hysterically. I sat down next to her bed brain racing. Her body is shot. She can lift her right arm and her head a little bit, and she can talk (boy can she talk). I had a good teacher. Here she is with her body broken, though her spirit, her heart and soul are telling the angel of death to go knock his head into a wall and come and get her if he dares.
If you can escape Hitler, be homeless for eight years from your late teens, bury your parents and your first born and leave your sisters behind in Uzbekistan (and all before your 25th birthday), travel thousands of miles to Munich, survive a refugee camp with rations of peanut butter, margarine, and white bread for five years, travel by ship three months to America (the land of the free and the home of the brave) and all before your 30th birthday. What’s a little dying? Living was the hard part and she did it with gusto and lots of baked goods. Her apple cake and potato kugel are the stuff of legends, but that’s another story all by itself.
Had fate treated her differently, she would have been Golda Mier and Margaret Thatcher rolled into one being telling the Arabs what they could do with the Palestinians. She would not have backed down. She had a iron will and though her body is resting finally, her soul will be right there next to all of us telling us to be better and to do better in the only way she knew how. “Don’t eat bread on Passover,” she would say, our conscience, our angel with an attitude.
Fate may have been kinder to me. I got to finish college, get the law degree she always wanted. I got to work in manufacturing and law. Something she so wanted to do and didn’t get the chance. I have earned salaries she only imagined. Traveled to places she wanted to go and didn’t permit herself so she could leave an inheritance to her children and grandchildren.
When all is said and done the Angel of Death is nothing more than another milestone one has to climb before you reach the top of the mountain. I know that I have only a smidgen of her courage and her will. But that’s good enough for me. If I get there, I want to sit next to her in heaven because then I know I’ll be closer to God.
(This was written from hurried notes at her bedside 26 Jan 06 in Scottsdale, AZ while she was sleeping. Nusha died a week later.)
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