In the narrow, sherbet room there is one wall with floor-to-ceiling shelving. The shelves are filled not with books but yarns, threads, ribbons, and lace, in descending order of frequency. The colors cooled by the light bouncing off the walls. A painting of Luda hangs on the opposite wall, above the twin bed. The faint blue and purple shadows in the folds of her flesh.
“If it tastes good, it’s kosher,” was her motto. And this was manifested in her, and the portrait continues to manifest it.
In her final years, the seamstress lived in this sewing room, though she didn’t do much sewing anymore. She simply beamed at the wall of threads and admired the woolen yarn and the half-completed rug on the loom by the window. Her daughter had tried weaving in her unemployed days, but was now too busy at IBM to have “productive leisure time.”
Luda would sit on the bed with her hands on her knees and listen to the son-in-law mend curtains on the sewing machine, or do other odds and ends. What a handy boy.
Few people came to the funeral. They’d either died or were stuck in Romania. A few letters of condolence arrived in thin airmail envelopes. They had a short service at the cemetery and the rabbi gave a generic speech based on the five minute pre-funeral interview. A flock of honking geese flew up as rocks were strewn in the grave and the small party (daughter, with baby on hip, her husband, and me, the neighbor) got into the Subaru and drove back to Brooklyn.
Her daughter Mia invited me in after the service. I had made a pot of cholent before the funeral. I lived next door and occasionally swapped stories with Luda in her better days. She’d told me about her life, her sewing and her cooking. She made cholent with bacon fat. So I finally tried the sacrilegious recipe in her honor. It worked well with the meat and the beans, added a smoky flavor.
Mia was sitting on the floor of Luda’s old room when I arrived. The baby was waddling around, banging at the loom and babbling to it. Her husband was in the dining/living room, arranging flowers.
“That’s it, then,” Mia said, as I stood in the doorway.
“She’s in a better place,” I said, dreading all the clichés and wishing for something better. I barely knew Mia. “I’m so sorry.”
Mia grabbed at her boy and swung him into her lap. He squeaked with joy.
“I wish she had come over more, I so enjoyed her stories,” I said. “We always talked of knitting together. I didn’t realize how much yarn she had!”
“She used to make beautiful things.”
“I can imagine.”
The afternoon light threw a muted orange triangle on half of Mia’s face. She had her mother’s roundness and hearty build, but her eyes were darker and stronger. Her hair was red but I’d only known Luda’s stark white.
“Sit down,” said Mia.
Her husband brought in some plates of cholent. I started for the bed, hesitated, then opted for the floor, beside Mia. Luda looked on, above us. The cholent was thick and not very hot, just the right warmth. We ate in silence.
(Maybe part of a larger work. Then again, maybe not.)