1000 B.C. - Come ye into the tabernacle with me, that I may show you a new thing. Moses, should these people wash their feet before they come in? I guess I had better not mix levity with Leviticus, but get on with my story.
Our Cleveland News is carrying a passing feature - of interviewing various and sundry people on various and sundry subjects. Yesterday's question was, "What period in history - and place - would you like to live in?" Last night I was carried back, willy nilly, over 30,000 years - to some spot between Egypt and the Land of Canaan. I am sure it was in the wilderness, for I heard a voice (my voice) crying in the wilderness, "Where am I?" And a voice came out of the darkness - from above - "You are all right. Come right up these stairs." And I groped my way - in a strange land - on a strange mission.
To clarify things, let's go back to the beginning. Bear in mind that we Taylors are still living with our Baptist minister. By the way, Dr. Phillips arrived by plane from Jamaica at 2:20 a.m. yesterday, with a delightful tow-headed nephew of 15 in tow. Last night at 9:30 I was talking on the 'phone to Sister Margery when the door-bell rang. While I was excusing myself from the 'phone, the impatient visitor made use of the old-fashioned knocker - an imperative summoner - and made me "step on it." It was Irwin, the 11-year-old next door, who had never volunteered a greeting the whole six months we have lived here. "Would you come over and turn off a heating pad for me. I'm not allowed to touch it." His eyes were red, and I darkly suspected that he had already been half electrocuted. I couldn't resist his boyish plea, but the grim thought went through me on the way over to his house that I was sticking my neck out for lightning's guillotine. Then, as we groped our way up the front steps and into the dark reception hall, Irwin explained that it was now the Jewish Sabbath, beginning at sundown Friday night. No true follower of the Mosaic law will touch an electric light switch during the Sabbath, which ends at sundown Saturday evening. There was a light in the dining room at the rear left, and I could see people sitting around the table. I felt like a prowler, an intruder, almost like a sneak, as I followed Irwin through the dark room and up the unlighted stairway. Finally I balked - or floundered - in the dark, and Irwin came back, took my hand, and put it on the light switch, but told me I would have to turn it on. Likewise he showed me the bedroom switch, then led the way to the bed, where, snuggled under the covers, was the warm and useless heating pad. His stepmother had need of it in the afternoon, and turned it off. But the exploring boy had turned it on again, and forgot to cover up his tracks. He dared not after sundown. "Now," in that imperative boyish treble, "you're to come down to the dining room." "Oh, no, I'd rather not," for I still had my kitchen apron on. "Oh, yes, you must," he insisted. So I slipped the little apron off, and let it be an altar cloth on some piece of furniture - I know not what.
I was embarrassed. I felt like Irwin's accomplice in crime. And, bear in mind that only the little girl, Bertha, had ever spoken to me before. I had seen Mr. and Mrs. K. quite often, working on their front lawn, and had greeted them in a friendly fashion - the first time. How did I know that Mr. K. is near-sighted, and that Mrs. K., a brand new stepmother, cannot yet speak English? It was an awkward situation. But they all turned and smiled at me. Two oldish men sat, like priests, at each end of the table. They wore the traditional black cap, that men must wear in church and on holidays. Of course they did not rise. That would be undignified. But the gallant soldier son arose at once, and offered me his seat at the table. Again I demurred. I was still a fish out of water. And the hostess had said nothing. But the head of the house peered kindly through his large glasses, that had slid down several notches on his nose. So I sat - and exchanged smiles with Mrs. K. Bertha explained then that her new "Mama" could not speak English. "Would you like some wine?" cordially invited Mr. K. I said no, thank you, that I don't drink wine. "Then have some tea," he urged, and Bertha jumped up and brought me some tea - in a tall glass. They don't use cups - at least not on Friday night, after sundown. I don't know how the child carried it, for I couldn't pick up up until I had spooned it out and down a ways. Mrs. K. looked so sweet and wholesome - and pretty, with her bright red hair. I longed to talk to her. I got an inspiration. "Sprechen Sie Deutsch?" I asked her. "Ach, ja! Jawohl!" she beamed. And we were friends, just like that. Of course in thirty years you forget all the German you learned in two brief years. But it was fun, anyway. I was offered apple sauce and a cookies.
Val, in his twenties, is a very nice young man. He had no chair now, but stood with all the grace of a courtier, and told me about the orthodox Jewish laws. I will tell you all about them another time. But the column is full now. I must squeeze in this little item: I got home just ahead of Dr. Phillips, and regaled him with my new experience. (Virgil was working on the second shift). Dr. P. was half amused, half disgusted. About the electric switch he said, "I think you were the scapegoat, sent into the wilderness."
Florence B. Taylor
P.S. I was invited to come over the next morning, and turn off the dining room light. But I was rewarded both times with delicious cookies and cake.
Next - 9/23/48 - Visit to PA with Dianne
By-Ways Table of Contents