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If You Were A Young Girl (from the upcoming series "Philadelphia Stories")

If you were a girl and under thirteen, you couldn’t expect much conversation from your ultra-religious grandfather. With a full white beard and rheumy eyes, he was as close to looking like Abraham as any bible picture could be. Dressed in black, black suit, wide-brimmed black hat, a prayer on his lips for any situation which might occur during the day, he seemed exotic to the little girl, a visitor from Mars, so different from her grandmother. Even though the old woman rarely left the apartment and spoke practically no English, she and the little girl had devised their own communication, made easier by the flaky strudel or almond biscuits, hard and crunchy, that had been baked by those arthritic old hands, veined with ropes of blue. Bubba’s smiles indicated when things were okay and her deep sighs illustrated the daily discomforts of being over eighty. Her face lit up whenever the little girl came to visit, her eyes magnified behind her thick glasses. They shared that, wearing glasses, the little girl couldn’t remember a time when she was able to go without them. And she was always fascinated by the woman’s gold streak of hair set in the midst of all that grey. But now looking as fragile as an antique doll, it was hard reconciling this grandmother with the fierce survivor of pogroms and the Russian revolution, the one who had kept her family together and insisted on coming to America, even if they risked becoming less religious as her husband feared.The high-ceilinged room which served as dining room and kitchen was always filled with the aroma of whatever might be brewing or stewing or baking: rich chicken broth, dumplings filled with spicy meats, cherry wine fermenting in the corner. It became the little girl’s task to deliver every Friday some of the things her grandmother needed during the rest of the week. As her grandparents grew older and less able to care of themselves, she would bring home-cooked meals made by her mother when it was necessary. Sometimes as she grew up the little girl tried to remember any conversation that she and the old man had ever had. But she knew that the only time he ever spoke to her, unlike the times he spent with his grandsons, was at the yearly Passover seder, where as the youngest, she had the job of reciting the Four Questions. On that night she desperately wanted to be perfect so there would be no corrections forthcoming from Morris the Patriarch, but inevitably there would be some minor slip in pronunciation and then she’d hear the soft but very firm voice telling her the correct way of saying Manishtanah, halilahhazeh. Still for that one brief moment she realized that her grandfather had acknowledged her existence and she was grateful to be finally exchanging some words.