Jewish World Review Jan. 25, 2007 / 6 Shevat, 5767
By Libby Lazewnik
I'd just taken out the sum total of my savings: Seven dollars and sixty-three cents.
After all my birthday money, Chanukah money and occasional babysitting money, this is what it had boiled down to: Seven dollars and change. Not even enough to buy the book I'd wanted to get myself. I felt discouraged.
More, I felt hungry. Not for food for cash. I was in the eighth grade now, and there were suddenly lots of things that I wanted to buy. When I was little, a piece of candy or a gum ball had been the height of wealth. My horizons had expanded now. There were all sorts of accessories, and books, and cards and gifts to exchange with my friends. There were too many thing to count as opposed to the bills I'd just taken out of my wallet. Those were almost too pitifully few to count...
It was just about then that I heard a sound at my bedroom door, and Avigayil was there. Avigayil is my best friend. She's inches shorter than me in height, but I'll have to admit inches bigger around the brain. How such a smart girl ever became best friends with someone like me I didn't know. But I was very grateful she had.
"Hi!" Avigayil said, coming inside with her usual measured step. Unlike me, Avigayil never leaps before she looks. She actually thinks things through. I've had occasion to admire that in the past.
Sometimes, I've even learned from it. But, sitting at my desk that January afternoon, I still had a long way to go...
"Why so late?" I asked. I'd expected Avigayil nearly an hour ago. We usually hang together on Sundays.
"I had to run an errand for our neighbor, Mrs. Baylor. She's laid up with a bad cold, and my mother said to get her a few things from the grocery." Avigayil grinned. "And while I was at it, my mother asked me to pick up our dry-cleaning, too. I just got back from delivering everyone's stuff."
Maybe it was the word "delivering", juxtaposed (good word; I'd learned it from Avigayil) with my empty wallet, that started the germ of the idea sprouting in my brain. I stared ahead sightlessly, catching hold of the idea and studying it. Avigayil waited patiently. She knew that look.
Finally, she said, "Batsheva? What's on your mind?"
I looked at her with the beginnings of a broad smile. "I just had a brainstorm!
Avigayil, do you realize that we have a whole strip of stores just a couple of blocks away? It's practically a a mini-mall!"
"So let's use it to make us some money!"
I outlined my idea. Each of us knew people on the block or around the corner (where Avigayil lived) who could use some help. With a little bit of effort and knocking on a few doors, I was sure we could find some more. As the founder of the down-defunct Helping Hands organization, which had been designed to help girls with problems at school, I decided to revive the organization now. Only this time, we'd be helping people in our immediate neighborhood for pay!
Avigayil was not as enthusiastic as I was. Maybe she didn't feel the same pressing need for cash.
But, being the good friend she was, she went along with my plan. Right then and there, we set out to start lining up our customers.
The Moskowitzes, an elderly couple who lived a few doors from my house, both suffered from arthritis and were thrilled at our offer to bring home a few groceries for them every few days.
Avigayil was pretty sure that Mrs. Baylor, who lived right across the street from the Moskowitzes, would want us to do the same (we would ask her once she got over her cold).
Without a car, we could not make any big supermarket trips, of course but between the two of us Avigayil and I had four Helping Hands to dedicate to the cause. And, as I say, the grocery and other stores were just two blocks away. Mrs. Perl, who lived near Avigayil, had her hands full with six lively little kids including a newborn, and was delighted to have us pick up her husband's dry cleaning on a regular basis. So were the Shambergs. By the end of the day, we had a total of eight customers going all the way around the block. I beamed at Avigayil, and rubbed my fingers together as though I could already feel the mo! ney rustling in them. "We're in business!" I crowed.
Avigayil still looked thoughtful.
The business worked like a dream. Every day after school, Avigayil and I trooped over to our customers' homes to get their orders for groceries, pick up their dry-cleaning stubs or collect the clothes they wanted cleaned. Sometimes someone wanted something at the hardware store near the grocery, and once old Mr. Moskowitz even asked us to pick up flowers for his wife's birthday, as his arthritic hip was bothering him too much to let him take the walk himself. With no overhead to speak of, we really began raking it in.
Over the next month, we made a total of two hundred dollars. Two hundred!
Dividing that in half made an even hundred for each of us. And we were still going strong. That week we got another two customers, for a total of ten in all. Word of the Helping Hands was spreading. It didn't hurt that it was the tail end of winter a nasty tail, with icy winds and sleet and other things you didn't want to go out in unless you had to. Avigayil and I were more than happy to go out for them.
The money in my cashbox (I'd graduated from a wallet; too slim for our pickings) grew to a hundred and twenty. I counted it each evening, after our business rounds were over, and dinner and dishes and homework. I was usually exhausted by then but exhilarated, too. All that money! I was getting richer by the minute. For now, I didn't even want to spend any of it. It was too much fun just watching it grow...
"Mrs. Perl's in trouble," Avigayil said the moment she saw me next afternoon. She spoke in a kind of gasp, which was unusual for her. "I just went over there to pick up her dry cleaning, and she was absolutely distraught." (Have I mentioned Avigayil's vocabulary? It's out of this world and very often out of my league, too...) "Her in-laws are coming for dinner, and little Yanky chose today to get sick some kind of stomach flu, no fun at all, poor kid. Mrs. Perl has managed to put together a nice dinner, but the kitchen is a frantic mess." She slanted a look at me. "I thought maybe we could go over and lend a hand."
"But that'll cut into our rounds!" I protested. "People are counting on us." My cashbox was counting on us.
"Batsheva. She needs us."
"Oh, all right." I gave in with ill grace, stomping beside Avigayil all the way to the Perl's house. There, I found that my friend had not exaggerated: The kitchen was a mess, and the living room seemed to be a whirlwind of rollicking kids, crying baby, pale-faced patient and desperate mother.
"We're here to help," Avigayil announced.
To my surprise and discomfort Mrs. Perl's eyes filled with tears. "You are? Oh, you girls are angels... Real angels..." She sniffled her way back to the kitchen and showed us what needed to be done.
With both of us working at full speed, we only just barely managed to get the place spin 'n span before the doorbell rang to herald the in-laws. If it was dinnertime at the Perls, I realized with a sinking heart, it must be the same at our house. No time to make any money today. I was in a foul mood as I said good-bye to Avigayil and made my way home through the cold and the dark.
A couple of days later, when I knocked at the Moskowitz's door as usual to ask if they needed any groceries, Mr. Moskowitz met me with a worried look. An unpleasant smell was rising from the kitchen. A garbage smell.
"I can't manage the trash today," he told me apologetically, following my gaze to the overflowing kitchen bin, and the two other filled bags waiting beside it. Obviously, this had been going on for longer than just 'today'. "My hip has been acting up so much lately..."
Forcing a smile to my lips, I gathered up the first bag and began the first of what turned out to be four round-trip visits to the trash cans out back. Time was money and here I was, wasting both. I wanted to be counting bills, not hugging bags of trash. To top it all off, the Moskowitzes didn't even need any groceries that day. A total wash-out...
Mrs. Spielberg, up the street, was a different story. She handed me a long shopping list, apologizing for making me drag all those bags home. I smiled and told her I didn't mind at all. This was what I was living for. This was a cash deal. Avigayil was out with her mother today, so I'd have to do all the shlelpping alone, but the thought of the rewards kept my spirits up. Sure, my arms would ache as I walked all those groceries home, but then the job would be over. The cash that would last.
I was halfway down the block with Mrs. Spielberg's shopping list when I heard the sound of trotting feet behind me. Young Shimi Spielberg burst into view, breathing hard and obviously glad he'd caught up with me. "Batsheva wait!" he panted.
I waited. No doubt he had some last-minute item his mother wanted me to add to the list.
He had a last-minute item, all right, but not from his mother. "Ma forgot to put my special Shabbes (Sabbath) cereal on the list. I'm sure she'd want you to get it."
I frowned, thinking of the sum she'd given me to pay for the groceries. "I'm not sure I'll have enough to pay for that, too."
"Could could you lay out the money? I'll personally make sure you get paid back."
I had a little cash in my pocket, but the suggestion outraged me. Some business day this was turning out to be. First I'd hauled the Moskowitz's garbage without turning a penny's profit and now, this kid wanted me to actually lay out money for him! I was about to say no, when I happened to glance into his eyes and see the need there. His need for his special Shabbos cereal reminded me of my need, just a few weeks earlier, for money to buy all the things that seemed so important to me. So I shrugged, and sighed, and said, "Okay."
"Thanks, Batsheva! You're the greatest!" With that, he spun around and pounded back toward
That night, I decided to ask my father to exchange all my smaller bills for a few big ones. I kind of wanted to see how a couple of fiftys would feel. We made the trade, and I tucked the $130 into my wallet, where it fit nicely. On impulse, I put the wallet in my pocket as I started my rounds next afternoon. The feel of it lying there made me feel like a successful businesswoman. It made me feel rich.
At the Moskowitzes there was more garbage to take out, but this time I had Avigayil to help me. As we emerged from the driveway after depositing the bags in the trash cans, we saw Mrs. Baylor, across the street, waving for us to come over. It turned out that she wanted us to take out her garbage, too. A little sleet had fallen the day before and she was afraid of stepping out onto the icy walk.
"What're you muttering about?" Avigayil asked as we walked across.
"I'm not muttering, I'm grumbling. This is no way to run a business."
She gave me a look, which I pretended not to see. I got through the garbage detail at Mrs. Baylor's as quickly as possible, then hurried Avigayil on to the rest of our customers. The paying ones.
It was that evening that I made a discovery that sent a chill of disbelieving horror down my spine. I'd sat down at my desk as usual, to do my homework and count my money. But the second part of the program proved impossible.
My wallet was missing.
"Where could it be?" I wailed to Avigayil as we practically ran up the block. It was the following afternoon, and the two of us were planning to knock on every one of our customer's doors to ask if they'd seen my wallet. "I can't believe this! I worked so hard for that money more than four weeks' worth schlepping things for people day after day. And what do I have to show for it all?
Nothing, that's what! Ab-so-lute-ly nothing!" A small sob escaped me.
"Not nothing," Avigayil said quietly, so quietly that I hardly heard. I didn't want to hear. Nothing could comfort me for my loss. One hundred and thirty dollars gone in a puff of smoke! A tragedy, that's what it was. If I'd been a little younger, I'd have burst into tears and thrown a full-blown tantrum right there on the street.
But of course, I didn't do that. Instead, I told the story of my loss to the Moskowitzes, and Mrs. Baylor, and Mrs. Perl, and Mrs. Spielberg, and all the rest. Old Mr. and Mrs. Moskowitz, looking concerned, pulled themselves creakily out of their chairs and began to move slowly around their kitchen, searching for my wallet. Mrs. Baylor did the same a little later, and even went so far as to accompany us out to where her trash cans were, in case I'd dropped the wallet out there.
At the Perls, Mrs. Perl and her children turned the house upside down for me. I kept protesting that they didn't have to search the bedrooms, as I'd never been inside them, but they weren't listening.
One and all, they were intent on "finding Batsheva's wallet, with all the money she has in the world."
Poor Batsheva. Poor me...
When Shimi Spielberg heard about my loss, he ran to his room and emerged a minute later with a small box in his hand. Carefully, he picked out three dollars and fifty cents. "For the Shabbos cereal," he told me in a whisper, as his mother checked under the table and behind the sofa to see if my wallet was there. "I didn't exactly get around to asking my mother... but I promised you'd get paid back. So here." And he thrust the money probably the lion's share of his savings at me.
It was then, as I gazed into his young, earnest face and remembered all the other concerned and caring faces I'd just seen, that I realized how wrong I was. I had it all backwards.
All afternoon all day, actually I'd been moaning to Avigayil, "I have nothing!" Suddenly, standing in the Spielberg kitchen with Shimi's carefully-saved-up three-fifty in my hand, I realized that I had everything. Everything that really means anything, that is. The only thing I didn't have was money.
"Too bad," Avigayil murmured as we trudged along outside later. The wind had picked up, slapping my cheeks and making them sting, but I hardly even felt the cold. I was too warm inside.
Eagerly, I turned to my friend. "It doesn't matter. Maybe I'll find the wallet, and maybe I won't. But you know something, Avigayil? We have the best neighbors in the world!"
"That's for sure," Avigayil said with a smile.
"Hey! I just had a brainstorm. Why don't we show them all how much we appreciate them, by throwing a block party? A Round-the-Block party!"
"We'd have to wait for the weather to get a little warmer," Avigayil pointed out.
"So we'll wait."
"And it's going to cost a pretty penny, throwing a party for that many people. You realize that, don't you?"
I stopped walking and threw out my arms in a grand, "Who cares?" gesture. "What's money?" I said.
Avigayil let out her breath in a long, long sigh. That's my best friend for you. She can wait patiently for me to get over almost any zany stage and grow past some not-so-delectable middos (character traits). Which is another reason why, like the patriarch Jacob when he met his brother Esau, I knew at that moment that, "yesh li kol [I have everything]."
I was cold, and tired, and my wallet with all my savings was no closer to being found.
And I had absolutely everything.
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Libby Lazewnik, the highly acclaimed juvenile author, writes weekly for the Monsey, New York-based weekly, Yated Ne'eman. Comment by clicking here.
© 2005, Yated Ne'eman