“Why is it raining!?”
Yesterday morning, as I was getting ready to drive Offspring #3 to school, she looked out the window and demanded an answer to her question. Actually, she wasn’t really asking a question, she was just letting me know that she was annoyed with the weather. Afterall, this is California and it is just not supposed to rain in September.
Nevertheless, I am a parent and when one of my children asks a question I feel duty bound to answer. It’s my job to impart knowledge, wisdom, truth.
“It’s raining because HaShem is crying.”
Offspring #3 pins me with a look that’s like: Did Daddy really say that?
It takes me a moment to realize what I have just said; it takes me a moment to remember where this has come from.
My grandmother. My mother’s mother: Chana Gittel, Z’L.
There are people in my life who have influenced me so deeply that it’s impossible to measure. Nanny is one of these people. She was always there, a solid and sturdy woman who spoke heavily accented English, and whose disciplined and self-assured manner was the keystone of our family.
I remember that Nanny used to teach herself English by reading Charles Dickens out loud.
I remember that Nanny used to make omelettes for me and then cut out smiling faces in the eggs.
I remember that when my parents went away for Shabbos, I always stayed with Nanny and Aunt Pearlie and being with them was heaven for they spoiled me shamelessly.
I remember Nanny telling me that back in Europe she carried a bayonet in order to defend her children.
I remember that whenever I was sick my mother Z’L would call Nanny before calling the doctor.
I remember that Nanny spoke proudly of her years as a teenager in Berlin. She was employed as a seamstress in the French Atelier Department of Kaufhaus auf Westens, the finest department store in Berlin. She may have been the only Jew employed in the store at the time. She proudly said that her department made clothes for the Kaiser’s daughters. Nanny did some modeling of the clothes because she and one of the Kaiser’s daughters wore the same size. Nanny was very proud of this connection to royalty.
I remember as a child firmly believing that Nanny would never die and when she did I was an adult, married to Karen for six months and still I waited for her to rise from the dead. It took several days for me to realize that she was truly, irrevocably gone. It was a shattering experience. Our family was never the same. It was as if everyone was nudged out of orbit. Nanny was born in 1892. She was niftar in 1978. She witnessed two world wars, saw Europe descend into incomprehensible madness. Nanny also loved America and taught me to appreciate what a wonderful country this is, especially for Jews.
I think about Nanny every single day and sometimes, in the middle of the night, I can still see her sitting in her little apartment, looking out the window, as rain falls on Brooklyn, her chin resting on the head of her cane.
“Nanny, why is it raining?” I ask.
“It is raining,” Nanny says, “Because G-d is crying.”