lesson10 The Washwoman
1.Our home had little contact with Gentiles.But there were the Gentile washwomen who came to the house to fetch our laundry.My story is about one of these.
2.She was a small woman,old and wrinkled.When she started washing for us,she was already past seventy.Most Jewish women of her age were sickly,weak,broken in body.But this washwoman,small and thin as she was,possessed a strength that came from generations of peasant ancestors.Mother would count out to her a bag of laundry that had accumulated over several weeks.She would lift the heavy bag,load it on her narrow shoulders,and carry it the long way home.It must have been a walk of an hour and a half.
3.She would bring the laundry back about two weeks later.My mother had never been so pleased with any wash woman.Every piece of laundry was as clean as polished silver.Every piece was neatly ironed.Yet she charged no more than the others,because it was too far for the old woman to come a second time.
4.Washing clothes was not easy in those days.The old woman had no tap where she lived,but had to bring in the water from pump.For the clothes and bedclothes to come out so clean,they had to be scubbed thoroughly in a washtub, rinsed with washing soda,soaked,boiled in an enormous pot,starched,then ironed.Every piece was handled ten times or more.And the drying！ It had to be hung in the attic.
5.She could have begged at the church door or entered a home for the poor and aged.But there was in her a certain pride and love of labor with which many Gentiles have been blessed.The old woman did not want to become a burden,and so bore her burden.
6.The woman had a son who was rich.I no longer remember what sort of business he had.He was ashamed of his mother,the washwoman,and never came to see her.Nor did he ever give her any money.The old woman told this without bitterness.One day the son was married.It seemed that he had made a good match.The wedding took place in the church.The son had not invited the old mother to his wedding,but she went to the church and waited at the steps to see her son lead the “young lady” to the altar……
7.The story of the faithless son left a deep impress on my mother.She talked about it for weeks and months.It was an insult not only to the old woman but to all mothers.Mother would argue,“Does it pay to make sacrifices for children？The mother uses up her last strength,and he does not even know the meaning of loyalty.
8.That winter was a harsh one.The streets were icy.No matter how we heated our stove,the windows were covered with frost.The newspapers reported that people were dying of the old.Coal became dear.The winter had become so severe that parents stopped sending children to school.
9.On one such day the washwoman,now neatly eighty years old,came to our house.A good deal of laundry had accumulated during the past weeks.Mother gave her a pot of tea to warm herself,as well as some bread.The old woman sat on a kitchen chair trembling and shaking,and warmed her hands against the teapot.Her fingernails were strangely white.These hands spoke of the stubborness of mankind,of the will to work not only as one's strength permits but beyond the limits of one's power.
10.The bag was big,bigger than usual.When the woman placed it on her shoulder,it covered her completely.At the first,she stayed,as though she were about to fall under the load.But an inner stubbornnessseemed to call out：No,you may not fall.A donkey may permit himself to fall under his burden, but not a human being,the best creation.
11.She disappeared,and mother sighed and prayed for her.
12.More than two months passed.The frost had gone,and then a new frost had come,a new wave of cold.One evening,while Mother was sitting near the old lamp mending a shirt,the door opened and a small puff of steam,folled bygigantac bag,entered the room.I ran toward the old woman and helped her unload her bag.She was even thinner now, more bent.Her head shook from side to side as though she were saying no.She could not utter a clear word,but mumbled something with her sunken mouth and pale lips.
13.After the old woman had recovered somewhat,she told us that she had been ill.Just what her illness was,I cannot remember.She had been so sick that someone called a doctor,and the doctor sent for a priest.Someone had informed the son,and he had contrubuted money for a coffin and for the funeral.But God had not yet wanted to take this soul full of pain to Himself.She began to feel better,she became well,and as soon as she was able to stand on her feet once more,she began her washing.Not just ours,but the wash of several other families,too.
14.“I couldn't rest easy in my bed because of the wash,” the old woman explained.“The wash wouldn't let me die.”
15.“With the help of God you will live to be a hundred and twenty,” said my mother,as a blessing.
16.“God forbid！ What good would such a long life be？ The work becomes harder and harder…… my strength is leaving me…… I do not want to be a burden on anyone！” The old woman crossed herself,and raised her eyes toward heaven.
17.Fortunately there was some moeny in the house and Mother counted out what she owned.Then she left,promising to return in a few weeks for a new load.
18.But she never came back.The wash she had wash was her last effort on this earth.She had been driven by an indomitable will toreturn the property to its right ful owners,to full the task she had undertaken.
19.And now at last her body,which had long been supported only by the force of honesty and duty,had fallen.Her soul passed into those spheres where all holy souls meet,regardless of the roles they played on this earth in whatever,in whatever tongue,of whatever religion.I cannot imagine paradise without this Gentile washwoman.I cannot even imagine a would there is no reward for such effort.