Back cover description:
After breaking her hip, 78-year-old Rheabie Slominski realizes that it’s finally time to share the secrets of her life with her granddaughter, Shoshana. Rheabie’s tales about the Jewish chicken ranchers of Petaluma, California, a vibrant cluster of Zionists, anarchists and communists struggling to survive the Depression, are populated b the most surprising characters: unhappy family ghosts, mysterious Guardian spirits of the land, and strange Uncle Mas.
“Could Grandma be slipping into Alzheimer’s?” Shoshie wonders. Yet, when the Guardians begin to show themselves to Shoshana and she stumbles on even deeper family secrets, everything she knows about herself and her history is called into question.
Chapter 1 – Unexpected Stories
Every morning the past week, a wolf wakes me up from the kitchen. The minute I open my eyes, I hear it, walking back and forth. Yes, Shoshana, it’s you I’m talking, pacing like a caged animal. I know it’s hard to be here, taking care of a sick old woman, but enough already! Maybe you should relax a little? Just sit down?
I want we should visit. Listen, how often do I get the pleasure? Three stays in twelve years – and never more than a week. It’s not much.
Now, don’t get huffy. Did I say it should be any different? I know from the restless in you, my woman-what-loves-the-road. That itch to travel – it’s in those eyes of yours. Green – like the trees you love so much in Washington State. Seattle, Berne, Lydon – all the rainy places you’ve lived, they show in your face.
So listen, I understand how it must be hard, all this California sun here in Petaluma. September is the worst month, so hot and no fog. Still, we are trapped together in this little house, until my broken hip should get better, or I give up and die like your grandfather. You know the tsuris what happened the night I broke it. Giving up I don’t do. So maybe we can pass the time, telling each other stories? The truth, I’m talking. The real business of our lives.
I don’t mean the “everything’s fine, don’t worry” we both of us tell your mother and sister. I mean the big deal, Shoshana. All those surprising afternoons with a lover, for instance – I know you’ve had them – full of juicy business. Or those nights that broke apart in the sink maybe, like a tea glass whose pieces you couldn’t find.
Yes, of course, I’ve known my share and more, those kind of moments. These stories I’ve been waiting all your life to tell. Why? Because it was promised a long time ago, you should listen. By who? Never mind. That’s coming. And because even as a baby, the way you tapped your feet – so cute in those red corduroy booties – I could see you knew from restless. Only one year old and walking already. You lived with the same hurry and push what was born in me.
You don’t believe? All right, I’ll prove. Get out the photo album. The one what your grandpa put together – our early days on the ranch. You remember where it is? The left-hand book case, third shelf down. That’s right. Ach, so many memories. Look. This one, taken five years after we started here. You see? Me, feeding the pullets, in a hurry to get back to the kitchen. So much to do that day, for the camera I didn’t have time. “Enough already!” I swore at your grandpa. “The borsht is waiting!”
“Just one more,” he begged. “Smile.”
Notice the grin on my face, dolly, so strong and stubborn. Like I was biting back a curse, so much hidden behind those teeth. And did you ever wonder what I was seeing? Look at my eyes turned sideways, lost and lonesome. Hungry I was – for a glimpse of the Ukraine, a bissel of Terlitza, what I hoped might appear behind the barn. Oy, those were hard days. Like you, I was woman what did not know from home.
It’s not an insult, lovey, only the truth about us. Take a look at this one. Bent over the garden, showing my tuchis to the world. I was bigger in those days, yes, by a good thirty-five pounds; you could see me coming. I liked having hips back then, curves what meant something. Afraid I never was of zaftig thighs. But sorry I am to say, all that weight – it wasn’t all my body. Here’s the truth, dolly: I was a woman made big from carrying the dead.
tsuris – trouble, woes, worries, suffering
bissel – a little bit
Oy – a lament, a protest, a cry of dismay or joy
tuchis – buttocks
zaftig – juicy, plump, buxom