Recently, my cousin and her family came to visit us. It was the day after Thanksgiving, and she came bearing cupcakes for one of my nephews who was turning 27, and some old children’s books for my grandson, Avery. These were books that had been favorites of her children when they were little, and one of these books utterly charmed me. It is called Mrs. Katz and Tush, written by Patricia Polacco. It tells the story of an elderly Jewish woman, an immigrant from Poland, who has just lost her husband of many years. Her neighbors, an African American mom and her son stop by to pay their condolences. Mrs. Katz cries in the mother’s arms wondering what she will do, she is all alone now that she has lost her husband, who in her words was “such a person.” They never had any children, so her future does indeed look to be a lonely one. But the boy, Larnel, decides that he needs to do something to help Mrs. Katz, so he decides to bring her a kitten. It is the runt of a litter born in the basement of his building. The kitten is none too pretty, and has even lost its tail, so nobody else wanted it. When Mrs. Katz sees the kitten, she is unsure what to do. She’s never had a kitten before, but Larnel promises to help her, so she agrees to keep the feline and names it Tush, because, without a tail, the kitten’s tush is quite a prominent feature.
As the story progresses, Mrs. Katz falls completely in love with Tush. She knits toys for the cat, cooks her special food, and often, when the kitten has been especially pleasing, Mrs. Katz will tell Tush that she is “such a person.” But something else also happens after the kitten comes into her life; she and Larnel develop a very close bond. They discover that though they are very different, they also have a lot in common, the cat is only the start of it. Over time, Mrs. Katz becomes a true part of Larnel’s family, and together they go through many generations of Tush’s progeny. By the time Mrs. Katz passes away, Larnel is a grown man. She has been a part of his life and his children’s lives, and she is loved and remembered by all of them. When they inscribe her tombstone, the epitaph reads, “Mrs. Katz, our bubbee. Such a person.”
The book really isn’t meant for a 13-month-old. Avery’s tastes tend toward Boynton’s Barnyard Dance, and Donaldson’s The Gruffalo. Mrs. Katz and Tush is not even a board book, but for some reason, since Thanksgiving, Avery has asked me to read it to him on a couple of occasions. Maybe he senses how much I love this story. There’s something about Mrs. Katz and Larnel’s friendship that really resonates with me. It touches on themes that I am currently exploring as I write Ahote’s Path. Like Mrs. Katz, Ahote discovers that life can surprise you. There are times for all of us when we think we can’t go on, only to then discover that not only are we stronger than we know, but there is so much more to life than we had ever imagined. We look at ourselves and see someone separate and alone only to find that with just the smallest opening of our hearts love will come pouring in. Unexpected acts of kindness and generosity of spirit are the antidotes for much of what ails us. For Mrs. Katz, it was Larnel and the kitten who changed her lonely future, for Ahote it was a shaman named Storm Singer, and a vibrant, young Havasupai woman named Lena.
In the scheme of the universe we are all so very small. Our conception of existence is made up out of knowable patterns, but patterns aren’t the complete truth of who we are or what the world is. The possibilities for learning and growth are so much more than we can ever fully realize. You could look at this as a bad thing, but Ahote and I, we see it as a good thing. It means that over the course of our lives there is no end to the ways in which we can learn, grow, love and know. There is no end to our ability to discover new things about ourselves, each other, the earth, and the nature of the divine. The way to start this process of knowing begins by opening our hearts, by reaching out to others, and by always remembering to be humble in accepting all that we don’t know. When Mrs. Katz lost her Myron, she thought her future would be a lonely one, but she was willing to open her heart to an ugly cat and a little boy with a generous spirit. From there her world just grew and grew past her wildest imaginings. Ahote does the same, he opens his heart to Storm Singer and the Havasupai people, and soon finds himself immersed in an adventure that changes the course of his entire life.
So as the lights of Hannukah flicker out, and with all the other holidays of the season just around the corner, this is my prayer for all of us. Let our hearts remain open. Let us be kind to ourselves, each other and to the earth. Help us to be more loving, accepting and generous of spirit. Help us all to be humble enough to discover more of what we are truly capable of every single day.
On the second to last night of Hannukah Avery had a sleep over with us. It was his first without his parents, having just been fully weaned a little over a week ago. It was a great Hannukah gift all around, for the parents, the grandparents and for this extremely loving, irrepressibly happy little boy. I will leave you all with a few pictures of our Hannukah with Avery. He loved this holiday, from the latkahs, to the candle lighting, to the presents, to the sleepover. He is really such a person!
Happy Holidays Everyone!