Fair Slice| February 20, 2019
My mother had always told me that life was fair — that everyone gets a slice of the pie. But whenever we spent time with Tante Heidi, I had a hard time swallowing that.
Tante Heidi isn’t really an aunt, but she’s always been a part of our family. And she’s a person you feel bad for. Nothing in her life went her way. She never married, is in poor health, and has been living alone for many decades in a neglected high-rise, where she shares facilities with all of the residents on her floor. She lives off a social services stipend.
Tante Heidi’s financial status is immediately evident. There was the five-dollar check she gave us as a wedding gift, the ’70s suit she’s been wearing to every event for years, the time she missed the train back home after a vort in Monsey and had to sleep in somebody’s basement, and the Chanukah when she cut apart one roll of colorful yarn and doled out the pieces of string as gifts to all of my grandmother’s grandchildren.
Recently, though, my view of Tante Heidi — maybe even my worldview — overturned. While waiting for the dance music to restart at a cousin’s wedding, Tante Heidi sidled up to me, impishly proffering a small white ceramic plate bearing a mini custard pie.
It’s okay for the diet, is what she probably said, though I can’t recall her exact words. I accepted the plate but just held it. I don’t enjoy these sweet treats. Give me a squash soufflé, and I’ll be your friend. She held another identical plate aloft and delicately dug in.
“One Shabbos morning, I woke up as usual at 7:15 to go the Agudath Yisrael shul for Shacharis and Mussaf,” she began.
As she approached the exit to her building, she told me, she was greeted by the sight of snowdrifts. Overnight, a huge snowstorm had covered the entire city in a heavy white blanket. The snow was coming down fast and hard, so city sanitation workers were still huddled in their beds. Resolutely, Tante Heidi stepped out onto the steps. Easier said than done. With each step, her legs trod into 30 inches of heavy snow. Within seconds, she was freezing, wet, and exhausted beyond belief.
“It took me ten minutes to get down those front stairs!”
The streets were silent, deserted. Suddenly, a 4x4 came rumbling down the avenue.
“He stopped beside me and rolled down the window. ‘Lady, can I offer you a ride anywhere?’ he asked. I said no, thanks, of course.”
He insisted, claiming he’d drive her to wherever she needed to go. The weather conditions were obviously awful.
“I told him it’s my Sabbath, and I couldn’t possibly ride in a car. I told him it’s a holy day. He claimed I would die in the snow. We argued like that for a coupla minutes, until this fellow put his car in park and got out. I was kinda scared — what would he do to me? Would he force me into that car of his? But no, he retrieved a shovel from the car’s backseat and plodded over to where I was struggling through the snow.”
The guy bowed slightly and told Tante Heidi to follow him.
“He proceeded to shovel the sidewalk in front of me, forming a smooth walkway. I felt like I experienced a modern day splitting of the sea! He shoveled and scraped and sweated, while I walked like a queen.”
(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 631)
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