Jewish World Review Dec. 14, 2005 / 13 Kislev, 5766
Making his rounds
By Libby Lazewnik
The conditions outdoors made the Steinman living room seem especially cozy in comparison. Those children who had school on Sunday were already home. Board games were spread out on the rug, books were open on laps, and an enormous number of snacks were being devoured at a slow but steady pace by various family members. A particularly strong gust shook the glass in the windows with a whistling sound.
Avi Steinman looked up suddenly from his book. "Hey, Shloimy, where're you going?"
Mendy Steinman lifted his head from the Parcheesi game he was playing against his two sisters. "Out on his rounds, probably."
"Shloimy!" Mrs. Steinman protested, putting down her knitting. "You can't really be thinking about going outside in this weather!"
Shloimy was at the front closet, peacefully putting on his raincoat. "Just for a little while, Ma. I need to stretch my legs."
"But on a day like this?"
Shloimy just smiled his sweet smile and said, "Be back soon, Ma. Bye, everyone."
He opened the front door, allowing a glimpse of the inclement weather and introducing a current of chill autumn air. Bracha shuddered. "You won't catch me going out in that rain!" she declared. Estie nodded in heartfelt agreement. Avi and Mendy exchanged a look that contained all their own feelings about their brother's decision. Even Mr. Steinman seemed perplexed by Shloimy's actions. As for his wife, she had long since grown used to her son's unusual ways. She loved her Shloimy dearly, but she couldn't honestly say that she understood him ...
A second later the front door had closed behind him, shutting out the rain and wind, and underlining the coziness within. The game and the knitting and the reading were resumed as Shloimy was, for the moment, forgotten.
Shloimy sauntered slowly down his block, head slightly lowered to avoid getting rain in his eyes. His family's reaction to his leaving worried him not at all. He was used to it. If his brothers and sisters thought he was a little crazy at times like these, he did not find that a cause for concern or distress. It was truth that counted, wasn't it? Shloimy was very attached to the truth to emes. He cared only about what was real, and not about what people thought was real. He knew that he wasn't "crazy" at all. So why should he care if his siblings mistakenly thought otherwise?
"Making his rounds", Mendy had sarcastically called it. Thinking of that now, Shloimy smiled. In a funny way, it was true. What had started out as a simple walk, one day some months back, had turned into a steady habit. A responsibility. Like a doctor in a hospital ward, he was making his rounds. His "patients" were anyone who might need his help ...
It had started in a very minor way, on a Sunday afternoon very much like this one except that the sky had been cloudless then, and the sun blazing with uncomfortable warmth. A mewling from the upper branches of a tree had attracted his attention. At once, Shloimy had climbed up and rescued the frightened creature. A tag around the cat's collar told him that the cat belonged to old Mrs. Feinbluth, who lived in a large house of white stucco around the corner. In the process of returning her pet, Shloimy had made the old woman's acquaintance and become a regular visitor. Mrs. Feinbluth made the best oatmeal-chocolate-chip cookies this side of the Missisissippi!
There were other "regulars" whom he'd met in the course of his wanderings. People whom he would probably never have had anything to do with otherwise. Shloimy was glad he'd had the chance to get to know them and to lend a hand.
Once, Shloimy had used to use his free time very differently. He used to play endless board games or card games, or shoot a steady stream of balls through hoops in his back yard, or plug himself into some mind-numbing electronic game. These things had given him the illusion that he was using his time. But he'd suddenly realized one day with a pang that felt like a lightning strike that he was actually wasting it. Big time. The moment he'd realized that, he'd decided to do something useful with his time instead. That very day, he'd offered to go to the store for his mother and on the way had that fateful encounter with the cat in the tree. Since then, he'd found someone to help or something to put right, nearly every time he went out. All it took was a vigilant eye ...
Take this overturned trash can, for instance. It belonged to his neighbor but why should that stop Shloimy from picking it up and setting it to rights again? He made a mental note to check in on it later, on his way home, in case the bullying wind decided to toss the can down again. A little further down the block, he came to a small candy store. A young boy stood outside the shop window, looking disconsolate.
"What's the matter, Yanky?" Shloimy asked. The rain had lightened a little, making conversation possible without getting a faceful of rain.
"I saved up all my money this week to buy a chocolate bar," a woebegone Yanky told him. He opened a grubby fist to reveal a pile of nickels and dimes. "It costs 65 cents. But when I got here, the man said that I only gave him 60 cents. I must've dropped a nickel somewhere, only I can't see where. It might be lying in a puddle. I'll never find it!" The boy's eyes welled up.
Shloimy looked into those eyes and saw days of eager saving up of nickels and dimes. He saw a youngster depriving himself of small treats so that he could enjoy a bigger one come Sunday. He saw the excitement of starting off for the little candy store, all by himself on this wet afternoon. And he saw the pain and horror of finding that the longed-for chocolate was out of reach after all ...
"Don't bother looking for it," Shloimy advised, digging into his own pocket. "Too many puddles. Here. Enjoy!" He handed Yanky a nickel. The light in the boy's face was all the reward he needed. "Thanks, Shloimy!" Yanky exclaimed. "If you wait for me, I'll give you a bite. A big one!"
"Thanks, but I'll be going now," Shloimy grinned. "See you later, Yanky." And off he went.
He turned the corner. Another block stretched ahead of him, so long that he couldn't see the end of it from where he stood. He found two more tipped-over trash cans that needed picking up, and helped Mrs. Blackman maneuver her baby stroller and rain-spattered grocery bags up the few steps leading to her house. Thanking him, she invited him in for a snack, but Shloimy politely declined. He had the rest of his rounds to do ...
Near the end of the long block was Mrs. Feinbluth's house. Long before Shloimy reached the house itself he saw the old woman, rocking on the wide porch of her stately home as she did nearly every day, rain or shine. She had visitors today, Shloimy saw. Two figures were standing on the porch steps, oblivious to the rain which was now reduced to a light drizzle and chatting with the old woman as she rocked.
Coming closer, Shloimy stared with puzzlement at the figures. They were a young man and woman he'd never seen before. The man was bareheaded and the woman immodestly dressed. What could they be discussing so animatedly with Mrs. Feinbluth?
While he waited for them to finish their visit, he decided to go across the street and see how the Willners were doing. They were also elderly, and sometimes needed a bit of shopping done for them in bad weather. As he stepped into the street, he glanced back over his shoulder at the Feinbluth house. This time his view was from a different angle. What he saw made his eyes open very wide.
While the two strangers were talking with Mrs. Feinbluth on the front porch, a third figure was making his stealthy way around the side of the house. He had what looked like an empty pillowcase over his shoulder. As Shloimy watched, he saw the man stop at a window near the rear of the house and begin to fumble with the latch.
On the front porch Mrs. Feinbluth, oblivious, smiled and rocked and chatted with the young couple, who seemed anxious to keep the conversation going ....
Shloimy stared a moment longer, then continued across the street and up to the Willners' front door. A moment later Mrs. Willner was beaming at him, her face a network of fine wrinkles that seemed to light up from within at the sight of him. "Shloimy! How nice to see you!"
From the kitchen came Mr. Willner's raspy voice, "Hi there, Shloimy! Do you mind picking up a jar of coffee for us? We're all out, and the missus gets a bit nervous without her daily dose of caffeine ..."
"I get nervous?" Mrs. Willner said. "I think we're mixing up our pronouns, my dear..."
"I'll be glad to get the coffee," Shloimy said. "But I need to make a quick phone call first. May I?"
"Certainly!" Mrs. Willner led the way to the kitchen phone. Shloimy dialed "911". At the sound of the operator's voice, he said, "I want to report a robbery in progress." Quickly, he rattled off Mrs. Feinbluth's address.
Before many minutes had passed, two patrol cars sirens off were speeding up the quiet street. As they pulled up in front of the house, the two strangers with Mrs. Feinbluth looked first startled, and then panicky. A couple of leaps brought them down the porch steps to the sidewalk right into the waiting arms of two police officers. A third officer, meanwhile, raced into the house through the front door, while yet another made his way around back. He was the one who caught the burglar as he was attempting to make his getaway through a rear window, his pillowcase now bulging with jewelry and other valuables from Mrs. Feinbluth's house.
Old Mrs. Feinbluth herself seemed bewildered by the sudden turn of events.
"They were such a nice young couple!" she told the policemen, blue eyes shocked and uncomprehending. "They stopped to ask me about the neighborhood. They said they were thinking of buying a house around here ..."
"Those two, and their companion, will soon be taking up residence somewhere else, ma'am at the State's expense!" the leading officer assured her. The three crooks were led away in handcuffs to the waiting patrol cars.
The episode had naturally attracted some attention. Various neighbors were poking their heads out of their front doors or hurrying over to comfort Mrs. Feinbluth. Old Mr. Willner came out of his own door and called to Shloimy, who had re-crossed the street when the patrol cars came. "What's happening, Shloimy? Did they get anyone?"
At Shloimy's nod, Mr. Willner came hobbling down the front walk to hear the details. He had nearly attained the sidewalk when a large puddle slipped him up. Down went the frail man, with a groan that sent Shloimy racing back across the street.
"Are you okay, Mr. Willner?"
"My hip," Mr. Willner gasped. "I must've jarred it in the fall. Hurts..."
Mrs. Willner came out to crouch worriedly by her husband, while Shloimy dashed back inside to dial "911" again. This time, it was an ambulance that came racing up the street, sirens blaring. In short order, the Willners were aboard, Mr. Willner lying on a stretcher and his wife hovering anxiously nearby. A couple of paramedics assured Shloimy that Mr. Willner would receive the best possible treatment. Shloimy promised Mrs. Willner that he would be by to visit as soon as possible. "And I'll make sure to get the coffee before you get back!" he ended.
With a tearful smile, she thanked him. The ambulance doors swung shut, and they were gone.
Slowly, Shloimy continued his walk. Behind him, small clusters of neighbors were still chattering over the twin excitements of police and ambulance on the same sleepy Sunday afternoon. Ahead stretched uninterrupted street. All was peaceful. Soon he had rounded the last corner and saw his own home looming up ahead.
He opened the front door and stepped inside. Everything was just as he'd left it an hour earlier. His mother's knitting was an inch or two longer, his father's sefer had been exchanged for a different one, the Parcheesi tournament was still in full swing, and his brother Avi had nearly finished his book. Shloimy took off his still-damp raincoat and hung it over the newel post to dry. Mrs. Staiman smiled at him from the couch. "Had a nice walk, dear?"
"Sure," Shloimy said, coming over to join the others.
"Anything interesting happen on your rounds?" Mendy asked, with the same trace of sarcasm he'd had when using the expression earlier.
Shloimy thought a moment. "One or two things," he said vaguely, taking a seat next to his father. "I gave Yanky Lichter a nickel so he could buy some chocolate."
"Sounds exciting," Avi said, with another exchange of amused glances with Mendy.
Shloimy was unperturbed. He didn't care what his brothers thought. He cared about the reality. The emes.
Because they didn't bother to ask, or even to feel genuinely curious about what it was that their brother actually did "on his rounds", it wasn't until the next day that they finally heard about the exciting events that had taken place just around the corner events that their brother had been right in the thick of.
"Shloimy caught three crooks red-handed! And got an ambulance for Mr. Willner when he fell and hurt his hip!" Avi said. And Mendy added enviously, "Boy, some people have all the luck."
Shloimy just smiled. He knew that it wasn't "luck" at all. It was doing what he'd been put into this world to do. It was wishing to be useful to others. It was using time, instead of killing it.
It was emes.
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© 2005, Yated Ne'eman