Life is never boring.
Even if you’re over sixty. Really.
If you don’t believe me, well, let me tell you about Yaakov, the man who cleans our stairwell each week lichvod Shabbos kodesh. In addition to washing floors, he works at the zoo, where he’s in charge of feeding the lions and tigers and bears. Every morning, rain or shine, he gets up at 3 a.m., when normal people are still sound asleep (and others are lying in bed, wishing they could sleep!), so that he can get to the zoo by four. When I asked why these particular animals partake of such an early breakfast, he explained, “Savta, you have to understand, we can’t feed the lions and tigers and bears when the zoo is open because they eat meat — sometimes live meat. It’s bloody…but I won't go into all the gory details.”
I was glad he didn't.
Yaakov is one of the kindest people I have ever met. He’s profuse in his praise and rushes to help anyone with anything. Every time he catches me schlepping a bag of groceries up the two flights of stairs to my apartment, or running (okay, hobbling) down those same stairs to take out the garbage, he grabs whatever it is I’m schlepping and booms, “Savta, it’s my pleasure! I love helping you. Save your energy for your grandchildren, Savta. Halevai when I reach your age, I’ll be as active as you are…”
I never know whether to laugh or cry, but I always accept his help.
Hoshana Rabbah afternoon, I was on the verge of collapse from the constant cycle of cooking, cleaning and serving. The floors needed to be washed (aka, sponja), while my body craved sleep. Suddenly, I heard a loud knock on the door. It was Yaakov, requesting asking for a bucket of water to clean for washing the stairs. I had an epiphany. Perhaps Yaakov was the answer to my dreams, or should I say, my desire to be in dreamland? Yaakov literally jumped at the opportunity to sponja my floors. “Savta, really, at your age you should be saving your energy for your grandchildren. Isn’t that what we’re here for, Savta? To do mitzvos and help each other?” I couldn’t (or wouldn’t)argue with his logic.
One Thursday evening I had just returned home from walking two granddaughters to the bus after tutoring them in English and math, when a grandson walked in to inform me that he and his older brother (who are learning in yeshivah here in Eretz Yisrael) will be staying with us until the end of bein hazemanim. I was in the middle of defrosting the chicken for Shabbos, so I removed a couple more pieces from the freezer, lichvod Shabbos kodesh. Big pieces, because yeshivah bachurim like to eat.
Half an hour later, the same grandson informed me that in the end, he and his brother would be spending Shabbos with their Rosh Yeshivah in Bnei Brak. I was just about to put the still-frozen pieces of chicken back in the freezer when my daughter called to ask if her two teenage daughters could spend Shabbos with Bubby and Zeidy.
The chicken was not returned to the freezer.
The phone rang again. “Mrs. Shapiro,” said the sweet but slightly hysterical seminary girl. “I know it’s kind of late to ask, but could me and my friend come for the Shabbos morning meal?”
I took a few more chunks of cholent meat out of the freezer.
I really wanted to start cooking, but first I had to finish my sponja. Yawn. I hate sponja. I’d much rather sleep. Or cook. Or do anything else, but…
Then, like in one of those Eliyahu Hanavi stories, there was a loud bang on the door. It was Yaakov, asking for water to wash the stairwell. Of course I asked him if he could finish my sponja, and he was more than happy to comply. “Savta,” he boomed, “it’s a mitzvah. I love to help! You just stay healthy, Savta. Halevai I should be so active when I’m your age…”
As Yaakov squeegeed the last of the water out the front door, into the stairwell, he began to talk about his job feeding the tigers.
Suddenly, I had another epiphany.
The window box outside my kitchen has become Jerusalem's main pigeon facility. Somewhere in the city there must be signs posted in pigeonese informing all birds that they can do their thing at the Shapiros. Now, I have nothing against pigeons, as long as they stay far away from me… but I really have no idea how to clean the mess, nor how to permanently close the facility. But I was sure that Yaakov would know.
Not only did Yaakov know what to do, he offered to come by next week and take care of the problem. “Savta, don’t worry. It’s no big deal, Savta," he boomed. “Savta, see that house over there?” he pointed to a brightly lit window on the third floor of the building across the street. “Last week, a rat the size of a large cat was hiding in their kitchen closet.”
I turned white. My grandchildren, who had been listening to the whole conversation in amazement, had to hold their stomachs to stifle their laughter.
“Oh, Savta, there’s no reason to get upset," Yaakov said when he saw my expression. " I didn’t mean to make you sick. There is no rat in your house. It was over there, Savta, across the street. I got rid of it for them by pretending to be a cat. Listen, 'meow, meow.'” He really did sound like a cat. “The rat wanted to get away from the cat, so it ran out of its hiding place and I—”
I won’t go into the gory details of how Yaakov managed to extricate the rat and cause its early demise, but the moment he closed the door behind him, after promising, of course, to return next week to take care of our pigeon facility, my grandchildren almost fell off their chairs as they broke out into hysterical giggling.
“Bubby,” one of them gasped between bursts of laughter. “These things only happen in your house.”
I don’t know if that’s true. I really don’t know what goes on in other peoples’ homes. But one thing I do know. Life in my house is never boring.
Even though I’m over sixty.