27 August, 2009

The "Little Woman"


Sarah always had been a little woman. Ever since she childhood, she had found a natural ease and delight in the tasks of keeping a home. It simultaneously delighted and astounded her mother to watch the young Sarah effortlessly clean and organize the kitchen, and Mama observed her when, at the age of nine, Sarah worked out a far more efficient way of managing the household chores than Mama ever could have imagined.
Mama kept this to herself naturally, but her awe at Sarah was never ending. She considered Sarah her protegee. Mama only need teach her eldest daughter a recipe once, and off Sarah was, not only mimicking each step and measurement precisely, but finding ways to alter and improve it.

“Kallehniu !” Mama would call her, and smiled incessantly at her good fortune. She watched Sarah tirelessly attack the laundry, working away without complaint or seeming boredom, in fact, she saw a visible sign of Sarah’s pleasure in extracting every. last. particle. of. dust. and. grime. from a work shirt, or in hanging a bed linen in a perfectly taught and angular manner on the clothesline.

Sarah's small, upright, efficient little body moved with the same exacting manner with which she treated her housework. She embraced what she considered to be her God-given role: important, meaningful and in every way her calling.



* * *



When Sarah was a child, long before Hope and Becca were born, Mama would silently delight in Sarah’s consternation at her younger sisters' total lack of feminine duty.

For Sarah, it was not as simple as her sisters merely doing everything wrong.

Shura and Eva (only a year apart in age, and three and four years younger than Sarah respectively) both possessed rather lackadaisical attitudes towards, and lacked was an intrinsic appreciation for the art of keeping a home, and frankly Sarah found this unacceptable.

Eva thought no one noticed that she couldn't cook. Sarah did. Eva’s sneaky tricks and stealthy dodges might have fooled their preoccupied mother, but not Sarah. The only reason Eva could manage even minor kitchen tasks like chopping and peeling was because of Sarah’s watchful eye; her patience, guidance and most important of all, her insistence.

Similarly, Shura’s carelessness with the table settings and imperfect attention to dusty corners was unacceptable. “Good enough” was not good enough for Sarah, and her three-and-a-half years on them gave her all the authority she required to ask them patiently to plait the chalah bread, clean the windows with vinegar, hang the bed linens, or dust the carpets, again.

And though some might have found her standards rigid, she made no apologies. She was merely utilizing her discerning relationship with perfection. In her eyes, she felt she was doing her sisters the great service of imposing her exacting standards on the homemaking skills that were to become their life’s work. It was her role as eldest sister to set an example, and example she did set.

She tried to inspire her sisters to be ladies. It was easier with Shura (who was at times quite vain), but Eva felt like a lost cause. Flighty and messy, Eva had her nose constantly in a book and her head constantly in the clouds. Her manner and appearance were completely un-feminine.

As young children of six and seven Shura and Eva loved to climb trees and get their knees bruised playing outside, and there was no way one could make them comb their hair or plait it neatly, they considered all things ladylike to be weak and bland. As young women they developed gracefully into their respective natural beauties, but were still bereft of, what Sarah considered to be, a respect for the glories of femininity. Sarah was, above all else, a natural lady, and it had nothing whatsoever to do with being weak or bland.

When the sisters were in the early buds of womanhood, a fifteen-year-old Sarah felt it was her duty to impress upon her younger sisters what she considered to be the subtle arts of being a lady. She sat them down upon up-turned milk buckets in the barn and stood before them with upright authority (as she envisioned a Yeshiva teacher would do). She paced back and forth across their muddy boots and soiled skirts, calmly reciting and repeating the pleasures and virtues of Womanhood.

“Just as Mama says, ensure you take care of basic grooming, such as combed hair and clean fingernails. It might sound trivial, but the truth is that too many girls neglect their appearance these days,” instructed Sarah to her stultified audience.

“Observant women such as we, must make certain to always look pleasant, clean and appealing. Not to do so would reflect negatively on the God whose imprint we bear.”

Shura rubbed her eyes, and shifted on her bucket. The movement made a hollow clang and Sarah turned with a sharp head, and fixed Shura with her signature “black look.”
“Sorry,” Shura murmured.

Sarah inhaled and began again.
“As I was saying,” she continued, “Surround yourself with what prettiness you can find! A lovely tablecloth with a handsome centerpiece on the table goes such a long way.” Eva yawned.

“Watch your step and posture, and walk gracefully. And don't walk too quickly if there is no need of it. Also, watch your voice - is it soft and gentle? Is it unnecessarily loud?” Shura snickered and buried her face in Eva’s shoulder who responded in kind. They were thinking of their mother. Shura put her lips to Eva’s ear,
“It doesn't matter how often Sarah’s husband changes his job,” she whispered to her sister, “he will always end up with the same boss.”
They fell off the buckets in fits of hysterical laughter. Sarah never attempted this tactic again.

Naturally, she had nothing against her sisters, but Sarah did not doubt God's wisdom. He had given Adam a partner and not a slave. God knew Adam needed Eve. And Sarah was no fool—it just didn't fit with her God-given role.

A few weeks after Sarah’s failed lesson in the barn, Eva cracked under the pressure of a hurried Sabbath preparation “Why must we always keep the house?!” screeched an impish Eva, “I want to help Papa on his rounds, or run a little shop in the village. I just feel useless and walked over!” Eva flung her knife down on to the kitchen counter and stormed into their bedroom in a frustrated huff.

Sarah collected herself in the kitchen, took a breath, and followed her. With a serene hand on Eva’s trembling back, Sarah gently began untangling the ends of her sister's knotted hair.

“We keep house,” murmured Sarah, “because it is our God-given role, Eva.”
“Perhaps it is your role Sarah, you are natural! Why couldn’t God give me another role? A role I could be good at?!”
“You will be good at it, Eva, if you simply apply yourself. Women are not stupid creatures to be walked all over, especially clever and capable women like you my darling.”

Sarah’s home was a symbol of her devotion to God, and a testament to her faith and feminine spirit. In her eyes, women were created to be in every way a man’s partner. Not a mindless slave or a brainless doormat but a helper, a collaborator, an equal.

“When you're on a long and difficult journey,” Sarah continued, counseling her sister, “and life is most definitely such a journey, don’t you want a wife and companion there ready to give counsel, support and encouragement?”
“Yes,” conceded Eva, choking back emotion, “but who will be there," she struggled, "to help me?” she crumpled in to a defeated heap of tears.
“Oh Evie, my darling, there, there now…” Sarah smiled and took the overcome Eva in her arms, “You shall always, Eva,” she said softly, wiping away her tears, “You shall always, always, have me.”

5 comments:

  1. AnonymousJuly 29, 2009

    Beautiful.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Love this....

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete
  4. who are these people?!!

    ReplyDelete

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