I'm not Jewish. Perhaps in another lifetime, but not this one. My aunt thought we were, because somewhere someone had told her that our ancestors (Cherokees and Kiowas) were the Lost Tribe of Israel. She converted in a way I suppose. She went to synagoge, ate kosher and observed the Sabbath. I remember her getting mad at me once years ago when I was in nursing school and preparing to move from the cramped little trailer I was living in, and I had the audacity to do it on the Sabbath. No matter how hard my father tried, he never convinced her that Indians weren't Jewish.
But when she died her sisters, being Christian, made absolutely certain she was given a Christian burial whether she wanted it or not.
But that doesn't explain how I came to have Jewish grandparents. That comes next.
As I stated before we aren't Jewish, and although my aunt (whose name I never learned to pronounce correctly) thought we were, I did become unofficially adopted by an elderly couple when I was 9 years old.
It was the summer of hell for us. I had just been returned from the foster home I had been sent to and was reunited with the remains of my family. We were living in Dallas at that time, and it was mid July. We were living in a duplex with a narrow little yard that jutted right up to a busy intersection. My mother had come home to us just in time to be diagnosed with breast cancer. She'd been taking treatments, but this was 1968 and the treatments were far less advanced than they are now. She was told she had six weeks left. She promptly took to her bed and let the cancer have its way with her.
During this time a flood of relatives from Missouri came over, all entreating her to rise, to get off the drugs that they presumed my father had given her, and be a proper wife and raise her children. They didn't understand, nor cared to, that she was dying. They blamed it all on my father.
There was lots of hostility going on at that time, plenty of finger pointing and blame. But there was nobody really to blame at all. My mother had fought off bouts of polio, rhumatic and scarlet fevers, and it seemed to me, now after decades of pondering this, that her immune system simply had collapsed and nothing could be done.
Mother had taken to screaming. She was delirious most of the time, and hallucinated. During the final stages of my mother's illness I found solace outside, sitting mostly and reading, or playing with my two younger brothers. The escuse I gave when my aunts found me and demanded to know why I wasn't being helpful was to reasonably and calmly state that being inside with all those people meant that I was underfoot. And there were plenty of adults available to cook and clean and scrub out the toilet. Let one of them do it, I'd say, and I would return to my game or to my books.
The neighbor children were forbidden to play with us. Not only were we of mixed race (not apparent unless you look past the white skin I inherited from Mom, but very obvious when the neighbors saw my father), but also because my mother had an unmentionable disease. The neighbor women whispered and clucked, and everyone believed breast cancer came from only one place. God had sent a curse down upon my mother for being foolish enough to marry an Indian, and that she was possibly immoral as well.
What they didn't know was that my mother prayed to Jesus constantly until she lapsed into a coma and died a week later.
The other reason was simple enough. People were afraid. They thought that they could catch the disease.
This made my brothers and I targets for the neighborhood children. Most simply taunted us from their lawns, barking like little dogs defending their territory. Some of the bolder ones actually got into our faces.
Those were the ones I beat without impugnity.
After one good row with a neighborhood boy in which I sent him home with a black eye, I noticed the elderly German couple watching us from their porch. I was sure they'd tell my dad I was fighting again, but since he had his hands full with mom and neighbors and anguished family members, I wasn't too worried. At the moment I was prety much on my own.
After an afternoon of being taunted by the neighborhood kids (and some adults) the German lady came off her porch, helped me up off the ground (I had just been in a fight) and she took me up to her porch.
"Come on," she said, "It's okay."
So I sat down on the porch steps and wiped my face with a tissue that her husband handed me. Presently his wife came back with ice cream.
That was the day I discovered ice cream made everything better.
We spent the afternoon coloring in coloring books, talking and telling stories. They told marvelous stories about their lives in Germany before the war.
The man wore a t shirt and slacks, the woman wore a standard issue house dress all the women in the neighborhood wore. The man had a series of numbers tatooed on his forearm. I wasn't very curious about that. I'd seen sailors going around to the corner garage with big tatoos on their arms. I assumed he was in the military.
I never knew their names, but they told me to call them Momma and Papa.
Which I did.
And every day until my mother passed and we moved away at the end of the summer, I went over first thing after breakfast to Momma and Papa's house, loaded down with books and pens and sketch pads. I'd sit on their porch and they told stories about their lives in Germany or I would read to them (It never occured to me that they probably couldn't read English). Late in the afternoon she served me ice cream and all sorts of kosher delights.
It wasn't long after that my secret place was let out. My brothers found out where I was going and they started showing up as well. They too got ice cream and we'd all hang out at Momma and Papas until sunset.
Presently my father himself showed up. He stood at the guard rail on their porch and smiled and shook hands and asked if we were causing trouble or a being burden, in which they both said no, they loved having us here. We, they waid was a blessing. My father seemed to understand something that I could not.
Later that night I sat beside my dad who was keeping vigil at my dying mother's bedside.
I asked if I was in trouble going over to Momma and Papa's house. He told me I was not as long as I didn't ask about the numbers tatood on Papa's arm. I asked him if he was in the military, and he said he was not. He and his wife had been taken by the Nazis to a place called Dachau, where they stayed until the war was over. I asked him what that was and he said it was a terrible place where many people died.
It wasn't until many years had passed, and we had moved away long since that it had occured to me. He and his wife must have been the only members of their family to have survived the Holocaust. Papa once said that I was a blessing to them and I never fully understood what that meant. I can't help but wonder now if they hadn't had a daughter, or sons with them, if they had died and if I was somehow a special rememberance of them.
So I think that summer we saved each other. They adopted me in a way, and without ever scolding or lecturing me, taught me gently that there is love and compassion in the world. And if I saved them in some way, it was because I reminded them at that time there was innocence and love and wonder in a world that often seems bleak and heartless.
So. I had Jewish grandparents.
And to you, Momma and Papa, regardless of where you ended up in your next lives...I loved you...I love you still...
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Causes Patricia Snodgrass Supports
The Hunger site
Children's Miracle Network
American Cancer Society
The American Heart Association