Recap: Yehudis is very upset that she has to move to Marietta because her father has a sabbatical research year: She will be missing her eighth-grade year, which is the senior year. She had to give up being editor of the yearbook and now she has to go to an interview at the Bais Yaakov in West Virginia, which is the closest Bais Yaakov to Marietta.
Hours later, we drove down a long road canopied with cedar and oaks. There weren’t too many houses as we drove by fields and farmland. Aba checked the address, 118 Harman Drive, and we pulled up a long, bumpy driveway to at an old house with a rickety fence and peeling paint.
“This is it,” Aba said.
The front walkway was cracked and uneven. The front yard was overgrown with weeds. “It looks like…” I gulped, “like a haunted house.”
Grandma Henny clucked her tongue. “It will do fine. Let’s go inside and get settled.”
Aba helped Grandma Henny out of the car. She walked down the front walkway leading to the front door. Her cane clicked on the pavement. I helped Aba unload the suitcases and garment bags.
Inside, the house was dark and there was a musty smell. I tried the light switch in the living room but there was no overhead light and there were no lamps anywhere. I cranked open the casement windows in the living room. There were curtains yellowed with age in the dining room and a long, mahogany dining room table.
“We’ll kosher the kitchen tonight. I’ll go buy some take-out for dinner. There’s a kosher grocery nearby.”
Grandma Henny objected. “Take out. No way. I’ll boil some eggs.”
“Ma, we can’t use the stovetop yet,” Aba explained patiently. “It’s just for tonight.”
Grandma Henny sighed. “I never bought take-out in all my years as a wife and mother, never!”
Aba turned to me. “Do you want to come with me to pick out the dinner or do you want to stay and unpack?”
I glanced towards Grandma. She was inspecting the kitchen cabinets and commenting on a lack of storage space.
I was happy for the chance to get away from this oppressive house. “I’d like to come with you,” I said.
Aba called to Grandma Henny. “We’ll be back soon.”
“You haven’t unpacked yet.”
“We will,” Aba said as he headed out the door.
The kosher grocery was well-stocked and it was not crowded. We selected some chicken and rice and broccoli from the take-out section. Then we bought some cereal and other groceries to fill the pantry.
While we were waiting in line, a woman approached us. “Are you Professor Strollinger?”
“Yes, how did you know?” he asked.
“It’s a small community. We all know each other. I heard that you were coming for the year. I’m Rebbetzin Unger. My husband is the rav of B’nei Torah. I hope you’ll join us for davening and I would like to invite you to our home for a Shabbos meal.”
That’s so kind. Thank you,” Aba said.
Just then, a girl around my age approached, carrying a huge bag of popcorn. “Ima, can we buy this for the kids for Shabbos party?”
“Sari, this is Professor Strollinger and his daughter. Sorry, what’s your name?”
“Yehudis,” I said.
Sari smiled at me. She had a short, dark ponytail and she wore glasses. She had a warm smile and I smiled back.
“Will you be coming to Bais Yaakov?” Sari asked.
“I have an interview tomorrow.”
“Great. I hope you come.”
“What grade are you in?” I heard myself asking.
“Eighth. What about you?”
“Where did you move from?”
I told her about Pennsylvania and my friends. She chatted easily and acknowledged that it must be hard to leave everyone in your senior year.
“It’s also hard because I was supposed to be editor of the yearbook.”
Sari gasped. “That is amazing, because I’m editor of the yearbook and I would love an assistant. Would you be my assistant?”
“You don’t know if you like my writing or anything, and you’re asking me to be that?”
“Hey, if you were editor there, then that’s good enough for me.”
“Thank you!” I felt a warm feeling inside, like Hashem was sending me the help I needed right away to feel comfortable in the new school.
She took down my phone number and I took hers, and she told me to call her so we could work out meeting together about the yearbook.
“You don’t have to ask the teacher advisor or anything?”
Sari laughed. Her mother was still speaking to my father and she said, “Excuse me, Ima, can Yehudis be my assistant on the yearbook?”
Mrs. Unger glanced at me. “Does she like to write?”
“She must. She was editor of her school yearbook in Pennsylvania.”
“Then, yes,” her mother said. “Of course.”
Sari whispered in my ear. “My mom is the yearbook advisor of our school.”
“I have an interview there tomorrow.”
Rebbetzin Unger overheard, and as she was putting groceries onto the conveyor belt, she said, “Well, I’m happy I got to meet you. “Rebbetzin Katz is nice. I’m sure you’ll be accepted.” She smiled at me.
Sari walked with me towards our car. “Listen, our theme for the yearbook is. ”From Baby to Eighth Grade Senior.” We want girls to send in baby photos and stories about when they were babies. When we have our first meeting next week, bring some of yours, okay?”
When we were in the car heading back to the townhouse, I said to my father, “Aba, I need baby pictures for the yearbook.”
“Baby pictures? I have that nice album of you when you were four, which I brought with us. ”
“She said we need baby pictures.”
There was a beat.
“I didn’t know you needed that,” Aba said.
“Aba, I want to make a good impression here. Can we somehow get them from storage at home?” I asked.
Aba was quiet and then he said, “I’m heading back to our house next week. I have a meeting with the college to tie up some loose ends. I can look for the album when I’m there.”
As we drove past tall maples and homes with sprawling front yards, I thought about a conversation we’d had last Pesach. I’d asked Aba, “How come there are no baby pictures of me anywhere? Where are they?”
He’d coughed, and then he mumbled something about storage and not being sure where they were.
The conversation had dropped, but I remembered wondering why my question made Aba so uncomfortable, and that secret dread had started needling me then.
To be continued…
Susie Garber is the author of Secrets in Disguise (Menucha Publishers 2020), Denver Dreams (a novel, Jerusalem Publications, 2009), Memorable Characters…Magnificent Stories (Scholastic, 2002), Befriend (Menucha Publishers, 2013), The Road Less Traveled (Feldheim, 2015), fiction serials, and features in various magazines, including A Bridge in Time, historical fiction serial (Binyan Magazine, 2017). Fiction serial in The Jewish Press – Falling Star (2019), article in the Winter 2019 Jewish Action Magazine. She contributes to the community column for the Queens Jewish Link and writes freelance for Hamodia. She works as a writing consultant in many yeshivos and teaches creative writing to students of all ages.