It is late August when I remember my son Max requires a tutor to prepare him for his Bar Mitzvah, in January. As I am unaware of a synagogue or any Jewish families nearby, I wonder where am I going to find a tutor?
It is then I remember Bethlehem, the sleepy New Hampshire town, forty-five minutes North. It is where my grandmother summered in her youth. It is a place that still comes alive each summer as a vacation spot for Orthodox Jews.
Thus it is, on a steamy late August morning, I travel North, through Franconia Notch, and take the exit to Bethlehem. I drive down the long road leading into its little village and easily find a parking space. I stroll along Main Street and join the parade of families. The men wear yarmulke’s on their heads and, despite the heat, dark suits with their tallis tassles flashing at the hem of their jackets. The women are in ankle length skirts and wrist length shirts, with scarves covering their hair. Children are dressed similarly. I feel naked in Bermuda shorts, a short- sleeved jersey, and sandals.
I note the towns’ storefronts, empty for most of the year, wear makeshift signage, often in Hebrew, advertising kosher markets, bakeries, and other services. I smile knowing I have come to the right place.
There is a cluster of people at the doorway to the kosher market and I decide it is as good a place as any to get on with my mission.
Once inside I walk up and down the aisles, trying to get up the courage to approach a customer. Unable to make eye contact, I decide I might be more successful if I stand at the end of the check out counter and approach a likely candidate as they are leaving.
And so I begin, “Might you know of a someone who might be willing to tutor my son for his Bar Mitzvah?
What I get is the odd stare as people brush past me. I am losing faith when a gentleman of some age, wearing a large black hat, his tallis tassles swaying with the gait of his walk, comes through the line, pays for his goods, and leans towards me and says, “Miss, please, please, follow me.”
Once outside he introduces himself as Rabbi Gold, and asks, “Why are you doing such a thing?”
I tell him I am here to find a tutor for my sons’ Bar Mitzvah, a task that overwhelms me thus leading me to this behaviour.
He studies me for a moment and, surprisingly, smiles. From his
jacket pocket he pulls out a stub of a pencil, a scrap of paper, and writes while saying he thinks he knows of someone who will help.
He hands me the paper with a name and a number, saying,
“I know this man. He is Jewish, and a professor at the college near where you live. Call him. I am sure he will help. Good Luck and Mazel Tov for this happy occasion, and, please, do yourself a favor, don’t cause any more disruptions.”
With the scrap of paper in my hand I thank him profusely. As my savior, the Rabbi, disappears down the street, I take a deep breath, and now filled with hope, I exhale, and smile.
The story has a happy ending as the Professor, who’s teaching skills will be sorely tested by Max’s playful type of arguing about everything and anything, including the Torah, agrees to tutor Max. Four months later, on a snowy January Saturday, in the Boston suburb where we previously lived, Max does himself proud when he comes to the Torah and with great confidence, skillfully reads his portion, on his Bar Mitzvah day.
And the sorely tested tutor, Joel and his wife Melody will remain our dear friends in the coming years.
Muse and A Poet
Muse: One of the nine goddesses, daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, who inspire, drama, music, poetry, et al.
“Midge I want to introduce you to Muse and Billy”says Bob, a new friend, who invited me to the Town Democratic meeting. And this is how I meet this woman, who will have a profound effect on my life, in ways she might never have thought.
Muse is a tall silver haired, elegant woman, of some age, with a patrician air about her. She is swathed in a long dress and shawl, dressed to make an entrance. When she greets me I note her voice is deep, with a decidedly Russian accent. Billy, her ancient looking gentleman friend, is nattily dressed, sparse of hair, with shiny, florid skin, and thick eyeglasses. He too has an accent I cannot make out as he almost whispers.
I learn later in the evening that Billy, familiarly known as Dutch Billy, is her newest companion, in a long line of such gentlemen, Muse calls Billy, that follow in her wake. This Billy stands dutifully behind Muse, never taking his eyes off her, so not to miss the many requests she makes of him.
That evening Muse invites me to a salon she offers once a month. Bob later tells me Muse background. Born in Siberia, she fled with her parents fled to Shanghai to escape the Russian revolution. Later her family found refuge in the European colony of Tsingtao in Eastern China where she grew up and married. Widowed at an early age she overcame incredible obstacles to create a new life for herself and her two young children. As communist forces seized power in China, Muse and her children escaped on the last ship to leave the port of Tsingtao for the United States. Here she established herself as an artist, interior designer, and author. Muse recently arrived in the Plymouth area with the dream of developing an artist’s retreat, purchasing and then restoring an old summer cottage colony. Muse lives in the main house and offers the small cottages, free of charge, to artists of every ilk. I am told an invitation to her salons means she has taken to me!
I am intrigued.
The night of the salon I drive up a steep driveway where I arrive at a courtyard lit by lanterns casting an amber glow on the main house, and the shadows of the cottages hidden in the woods.
Billy greets me at the front door, takes my long white fox coat, and escorts me through French doors into the main room. A sense of wonderment overcomes me for before me is a room both exotic, sensual, and lush.
Oriental carpets cover the floor. Couches, settees, and chairs, arranged in cozy groups, are dressed in scarves of many colors and fabrics. Lamps, copper, brass, or glass bases, with golden silk shades, glow in low light. A concert grand piano, its lid up, sits in one corner of the room. A large fieldstone fireplace hisses and crackles, its flame dancing in its attempt to warm the room.
As my eyes wander over the room I see Candy, who hosted the Town Democratic meeting I attended.
Candy is an artist. She is petit, with a soft voice, a cap of dark shiny hair, and a smile that lights up the room. This night will begin a friendship that last until, at age 60, she passes away. But at this moment, in Muse’s living room, we recognize our mutual attraction. She puts her arm around my waist, and propels me into the crowd, launching me into this new world.
Within the hour Candy suggests we find seats, as the entertainment for this nights’ salon, is about to begin. She tells me it will be a poetry reading by a young Asian Professor,PKC, from the college.
The room becomes very quiet as PKC comes to the front of the room with a book of poetry he has just published. I note he is Chinese, and beautiful, slight of build, with thick shiny hair, smartly dressed, and wearing wire rimmed glasses. He begins to read from his book, My Tears Belong to Maylasia, poems from where he grew up, and there is laughter and tears in his voice. At the end of each poem a smile plays on his mouth, and I am entranced.
After the reading I make my way to where he stands, now surrounded by
people who have been likewise enchanted. This close I note he smells like coconut oil, and that his bow tie is rose –colored. When I am in front of him I introduce myself and say how much I enjoyed his lovely readings. I say I hope we will meet again. He smiles.
Little did I suspect in a years time PKC and I will travel around the world together.
I am sorry when the evening comes to an end. I have met some wonderful people and for the first time since my break up with Peter, I feel a part of this community.
Muse and Billy stand at the door, bidding everyone goodnight. I am one of the last to leave. I offer my hand to Muse who pulls me a little to the side, bowing her head to look at me over the top of her half-glasses, and says,
My dear, whatever are YOU doing up here? This is not a place for a woman such as yourself ! This place is not big enough for you!” And then she returns to Billy’s side.
I am struck dumb but don’t think to ask what she means, rather I wonder what is she doing up here? But her words are like a tape I cannot get out of my head, leaving me to wonder, when she looks at me, who does she see?