| Treeo Serial |

Home Ground: Epilogue

It’s like life lit up in color since my family came home, after being in some kind of black-and-white world for a long time


Six months later…

I’M ready for school a whole half hour early, which means I have time for a full-on hot breakfast.

“I’ll drive you today,” Ima says, smiling at me and then turning back to the pan to flip the next pancake. She’s dressed up, a trendy outfit that Aunt Chana probably chose on one of their sisterly shopping trips. I’m secretly happy.

After all, it’s the first time I’m bringing her into school with me.

Tomorrow’s the last day of the school year; today is PBY’s annual exhibition. It’s a major event, there’s a schoolwide theme, and then each class receives a sub-theme and we have to create projects in groups. Posters, 3D models, whatever, and graded written reports too (of course).

We could choose whom to work with for the exhibition, and Tammy and I teamed up. We’d decided to take things to the next level — posters and models get boring after a while — and so we created a puppet show that would run every half hour throughout the exhibition. The soundtrack was prerecorded but we’d have to man the puppets. It was a 12-minute performance (12 minutes and 23 seconds, to be precise) so we’d have time to look around the rest of the exhibition as well, between shows.

My whole family had pitched in to help us prepare the puppet show — Abba and Yaakov put together the frame for the stage, Ima helped us make the curtains and the puppet costumes, and my little siblings cheered us on as we practiced over and over.

Just thinking about it makes me smile. It’s like life lit up in color since my family came home, after being in some kind of black-and-white world for a long time.

Bubby’s coming to the exhibition too, Aunt Chana will drive her. Raizy took an eye-rolling approach to it all and ended up in a group with six other girls doing “a poster.” I don’t think she’d care if Aunt Chana shows up or not, but of course my aunt will. Ima’s coming with me earlier, though. She wants to come and meet my teachers, see my school up close.

When we park in front of the building, Ima looks at the school’s logo, emblazoned on the wall.

“Wow. PBY… fancy being back here.”

I wonder what it’s like for her. “Is it… strange, to come back?”

“Not really, it’s a new building and everything. But still…” Ima falls silent. I wonder what she’s remembering. Are there good memories too, of her school years? Or only difficult ones?

It makes me realize how much is inside Ima that I don’t even think about… memories, painful times, a whole rich world of emotions and experiences.

What will my teenage daughter think one day about my experiences? Will I tell her about this roller coaster of a year — adjusting to a new home, new country, school, social life…. Will I tell her about the terrifying experience we went through when my family was missing? Or will she read it in my diary someday, much like I came across Ima’s letter…

I picture a future daughter of mine — for some reason she’s coming up with Raizy’s face — reading my diary and having all these questions, who and what and why… And Ma, you didn’t like Aunt Tammy who’s been your BFF for a million years?

I giggle to myself. Okay this is getting weird.

Tammy herself pops out of our classroom and pulls me inside, where my class is milling around with Mrs. Gerber debriefing various groups before we’ll head down to the auditorium. Ima says a quick hello to the mechaneches — they’ve spoken on the phone a few times — and then makes her way unobtrusively back to the door.

Mrs. Hirsch pokes her head in just then, and her eyes widen when she sees Ima. “Oh my goodness, Shayna Auscher!”

Ima tilts her head to one side. “Chaya Klein?”

“Hirsch now. But yes! Oh my goodness, it’s so good to see you!”

Ima looks at me. “Mrs. Hirsch and I were classmates.”

Oh wow, wow, wow.

Mrs. Hirsch is beaming at my mother like my she’s some long-lost princess. “You know who else you might know here? Gila Perr, she was Rubin, a few years below us — now she’s busy with extracurricular, you’ll see, she’s running this whole event…. And of course there’s some of our teachers here from back in the day.… remember Mrs. Melber from the office? She’s still there…. and oh — look who’s here! Mrs. Abramson! This is Ashira Newman’s mother, she was Shayna Auscher, from my class… you must remember….”

Mrs. Abramson gives us a huge smile. “Wow! This is so special. Mrs. Newman, you have a very special daughter. Much, much nachas.”

The school speaker system blares to life, interrupting us. Girls, please make your way to the hall, the exhibition is starting in ten minutes…

My class streams off down the hallway. Ima and I are about to follow when something catches my eye. An elderly woman has just entered the school building, leaning on a walker. Mrs. Gerber runs over to greet her.

“Who’s that, her mother?” I ask Tammy, who’s standing near us.

“No,” Tammy giggles. “She’s this old teacher who comes back every year, she used to be assistant principal and she speaks at the exhibition, it’s like a tradition.”

Assistant principal?

I turn to Ima and her face is slightly pale. I want to grab her and run, but the crowd clears and suddenly, we are face to face with…

“Shayna Auscher.” The elderly woman says, eyes piercing Ima, then me. “Fancy meeting you here.”

Ima is breathing a little harder than usual, but she manages a calm smile. “Rebbetzin Brodie, it’s lovely to see you.”

“I hope you mean that,” the old woman says and then suddenly she sighs. “Ahh, things happen, don’t they? At this stage of life, I know, I can’t let the past color the present. And it looks like you’ve built a beautiful present for yourself. This is your daughter? Wonderful, wonderful.”

She shuffles past. My classmates, including Tammy, have moved on too, but I stand still, next to Ima, in the suddenly empty hallway.

“Ima,” I say. “She didn’t apologize.”

Ima tears her eyes away. She looks a little shaken, but also, strangely, at peace. “I think that’s the closest that she can give.”

“I’m sorry,” I say. “That she came… I didn’t know…”

“Nothing to apologize for,” Ima says. “It’s all good. I’m actually… happy. It feels like we’ve closed a circle.”

We head down to the exhibition together, and two hours fly by in a haze of performances interspersed with dashing around to see other exhibits. Ima walks around with Aunt Chana and Bubby and talks to everyone, teachers and mothers and girls. I’m secretly so proud that she’s my mother.

When we’re driving home, I ask her what it was like, going back.

She doesn’t answer me directly. “You know, I always wonder… did I do the right thing?”

“Ima, of course you did!”

Ima gives a small smile. Her eyes are sad. “Maybe, maybe not. I was all fiery and passionate and maybe I went too far. I left my home, my parents, very young… it worked out, but it could have backfired…”

She clears her throat. “Still, I don’t regret it, of course not. Because the life I have now… it’s only because of what I did then.”

“Ima,” I say. “It’s not just that. Your story… it inspired me so much this year. It taught me so much. If not for you, I don’t think I’d have the friends I have. And… other things.” Like confidence, like inner strength.

Ima gives me a real smile this time. “Then it was all worth it,” she says.

The car turns the corner. We pull up in front of Zaidy and Bubby’s familiar house. Warmth rushes through me.

Ima squeezes my shoulder. “Come. It’s time to go home.”


(Originally featured in Treeo, Issue 989)

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