Monday, October 28, 2013

Chapter Nineteen of Sondra's Search: Finding a lost Torah scroll can be as difficult as finding yourself.


     In Lincoln no one had any objections to Sondra's change of plans. The same could not be said for her family and friends in the rest of the country. It seemed that almost every day there was another cross letter waiting for Sondra in the metal mailbox on the road. Bernice wrote her that she was a fool. Aunt Lotte told her she was making a mistake. Debbie begged her to change her mind. And Brian was angry with her. She ignored Brian's anger and wrote back that she had almost finished the yarmulke she was crocheting for him. He ignored her letter, but did write her a thank you note for the yarmulke.

     Debbie spent all of Shavuot trying to talk Sondra into going to Stern College with her. Julius and Helga had decided to buy an used car for Sondra as a graduation present, but Debbie was not impressed with Sondra's plans to come to Kansas City for most Shabbats.

     "I won't be here. Marc won't be here. The twins won't be here. Who are you going to spend Shabbos with?"

     "Miriam is still here."

     "For one more year. And then what?"

     "I'll cross that bridge when I get there," Sondra sighed. "I have to do this, Debbie. Try and understand."

     "I guess I really can't understand what you're going through." Debbie echoed Sondra's sigh. "I can't imagine what it was like losing your cousin. I guess if I'm a good friend I should be more supportive."

     "I hope you'll keep writing me." Sondra ignored the reference to Howie.

     "Of course."

     "I'll be at the Marcuses a lot for Shabbos."

     "Really?" Debbie raised her eyebrows. "Mrs. Marcus doesn't mind?"
    "I don't think so. She said there was a lot she could teach me about Shabbos when I help her in the kitchen."

     "That's sounds interesting," Debbie conceded.


     Debbie did not realize how close that weekend in Kansas City came to making Sondra change her mind. Hearing everyone's exciting plans for the next year made Sondra feel left out and, for the first time in Kansas City, different. During the long bus ride home Sondra had almost decided to call the University of Colorado to ask if she could be accepted again.

     As soon as she arrived in Lincoln, though, before she could even broach the subject, her parents began talking about graduation.

     "I really don't want to go," Sondra complained. "It's going to be hot and crowded and impersonal."

     "Well, if that isn't one of the most selfish things I ever heard!" Helga exclaimed.

    "What?" Sondra cried out, stung by the criticism. After all,  she was being selfless by giving up the University of Colorado to keep up her grandmother's spirits and look out for Lisa.

     Her father cleared his throat. "What your mother is trying to say is that we have been looking forward for years to seeing our daughter graduate."

     "I didn't think about that," Sondra mumbled.

     "We were planning to have a family party at the house afterwards, if," Helga added sarcastically, "that wouldn't put you out too much."

    "No, mom," Sondra swallowed the lump in her throat. "That would be fine."

    Sondra tried not to resent her mother. For over a year they had not had any real blowups. Why couldn't her mother understand how difficult the graduation ceremony was going to be for her? Pleading exhaustion, she went up to her room as soon as they arrived at the farm. In the morning Helga was busy straining milk and Sondra was running late, so she said a quick goodbye to her mother, avoiding any unpleasantness. She did not know what would be waiting for her when she got back later that afternoon.

     So it was without enthusiasm that Sondra left school Tuesday afternoon. Just as she was turning onto Main Street a light blue Oldsmobile pulled up next to her and honked. Aunt Irene rolled down the automatic window on the passenger side.

     "How about a ride?"

     "Sure," Sondra scrambled in, appreciating the car's air conditioning. As she fastened her seat belt, she studied her aunt. Howie's death had not changed Irene's elegant appearance. Although she had cut her honey-blonde hair several years earlier, her hairstyle was as fashionable as ever. She had just the right amount of makeup and jewelry, but there were definite wrinkles around her eyes and forehead.

     "How about stopping for a cold drink before you go to your Oma's?"
     "Okay," Sondra gave her aunt a questioning look.

     "I wanted to catch you already back at school, but I was late leaving the hospital."


     The four o'clock news came on and Sondra was quiet as Irene found a parking place in front of Molly's, the old drugstore downtown.

     "I talked to your mother today," Irene went straight to the point as soon as they had settled themselves in the red, vinyl booth. "She told me there's tension between you all about graduation."

     Sondra just nodded.

     "I imagine that going to graduation without Howie is going to be very hard for you."

     "Yes," Sondra nodded, surprised to hear her aunt say her son's name so easily. "That's part of it."

     "And since you are no longer participating in any of the plays, you really don't feel part of the class."

     "That's for sure." Sondra played with the saltshaker.

     "I understand," Irene smiled. "On the other hand, your parents never had a high school graduation. Your father took English at the high school here, but he never graduated. And your mother never went to high school. She got her diploma by correspondence course. I was always so proud of her." Irene took a tissue out of her purse and blew her nose.

    "I'm proud of her, too," Sondra protested.

    "I know you are," Irene answered hastily. "I just want you to understand where your mother is coming from. She enjoyed so much seeing you happy in school, doing well, with some good friends, and being part of the drama department. It was almost as if she was reliving her lost youth through you."

     "Okay," Sondra sighed. "So by seeing me graduate it's going to be like my mother is graduating."

     "Something like that."

    "But she's graduating the week after from the university with a Ph.D.!"

    Irene shook her head. "It's not the same thing."

    "So, I'll go to the graduation." Sondra said in a flat voice.

    "Thank you, Sondra."

    "What for?"

    "For being so mature and understanding. For caring about Lisa. For wanting to look out for your Oma."

     "Do you think I'm doing the right thing, going to Lincoln State?"

     Irene took a long sip of her DietRite. "I don't know if it's the right thing for you. I really don't. But I know it is a good thing for this family."

    Irene's wrinkles deepened. She was worried. She had been worried ever since Howie had become so serious about his girlfriend. She was afraid that she and Herbert might start blaming each other. That had not happened, but now she was scared that they would start blaming each other for letting Howie go out that horrible night. She knew the statistics about the high divorce rates after couples had lost a child. She did not want anything to happen to her marriage. She prayed that she and Herbert would grow even closer, but she was frightened. And she was worried about Lisa. What path would the girl take? Would she follow her brother or Sondra? Getting her to go to Kansas City should not be hard. Lisa was always dying to visit Rachel. But Lotte said that Rachel was not interested in the youth group. Rather, she was planning to try out for cheerleading the next year. Irene looked at Sondra as her hope.

     "Another thing, about graduation," Irene gazed steadily at her niece. "There's going to be a memorial for Howie and the others. I think you will want to be there for that."

    "You're probably right," Sondra conceded.


     When she came home from Oma's an hour later Helga was at the kitchen sink, cheerfully washing out glass jars.

     "Hi, honey, did you have a good day?"

     "Yes," Sondra nodded and gave her mother a kiss. "How about you?"

     "Fine. I got a letter from Lotte. She said they are planning to come down for the graduation." Helga spoke shyly. Although Irene had called while Sondra was by Frayda’s, Helga was still not sure what kind of reception her statement would receive. She needn't have worried.

     "It will be great to see them," Sondra smiled. "Hey, maybe Debbie can come with them."

     "Maybe," Helga nodded. "Write Aunt Lotte and ask if they can squeeze her in."

     That was the whole conversation about Sondra's decision to go to the graduation. No mention of how different it would have been if Howie was still there. No recognition how hard it would be for Sondra. No acknowledgement that her life had totally turned upside down.

     The next evening, though, after Julius had finished milking, Aunt Irene and Uncle Herbert stopped by with a big, gift-wrapped box. Julius and Helga ushered them into the living room as if they had been expecting them and called Sondra in from the kitchen.

      "Hi, sweetie," Herbert greeted his niece with a kiss.

     "We brought you your graduation present a little early," Irene patted the spot next to her on the couch.

    "Thank you." Sondra carefully began to peel the scotch tape back so the paper could be used again.

    The four adults waited impatiently for her to discover the beautiful, brocade suitcase.

    "Thank you," Sondra said uncertainly.

    "There's a smaller one inside that one," Herbert announced.

    "Okay," Sondra felt her cheeks flush as she unzipped the large suitcase. What in the world did she need luggage for if she was staying at Lincoln State? 

     As if reading her thoughts her father cleared his throat. "Your mother and I have a present for you, too."

    "I thought you were buying me the Nova."

    "We're using the money we're saving on not paying out-of-state tuition for that," Helga answered. "That's not a graduation present."

     Julius looked lovingly at his daughter. "We're sending you to Israel for a graduation present."

     "We did discuss it on the way home from Kansas City, just like we said we would," Helga told Sondra. "And we decided that if you were going to be in Colorado for almost the whole year we did not want to send you away for the summer. Then," Helga sighed and glanced apologetically at Irene. "everything changed."

     "We contacted the Federation and there was still room on their program." Julius said. "They said there were only two kids from Kansas City going. You'll be the third."

     "What about my job?"

     "I spoke to them and told them you wouldn't be able to start till after the fifth of July," Helga explained. "I hope you're pleased with our surprise?" she asked anxiously.

      Remembering how she had once planned on trying to talk Howie into going with her, Sondra could only nod her head. Tears poured silently down her cheeks, but she was smiling.   


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