Posted in 1930s, Atlantic City books, Historical fiction, holidays, Writing

WeWriWa—Resisting assimilation

Copyright Jüdischen Museum Im Stadtmuseum, Berlin;
Yad Vashem Photo Archives 5409/3083

weekend_writing_warriorsveteransbadge_4

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP.

As last year, my Christmas- and Chanukah-themed snippets come from Chapter 20, “Dueling December Holidays,” of the book formerly known as The Very First (which is set during 1938). The new and improved title will finally be revealed upon its release next year!

It’s now the eighth night of Chanukah, which coincides with Christmas Eve, and the Smalls and Filliards are having a joint holiday meal. Cinnimin’s mother tries once again to talk the Smalls into adopting secular Christmas symbols, but they steadfastly refuse.

Mrs. Filliard helped herself to more pierogi. “Are you sure you don’t want to put up a Chanukah bush and a few secular decorations? The Christmas season ain’t over till January seventh, Russian Christmas. Even many people who ain’t Orthodox celebrate Twelfth Night on January sixth with special foods.”

“We’ll never celebrate Christmas,” Mrs. Small said. “It’s your holiday, not ours.”

“Chanukah is about resisting assimilation,” Gary agreed. “The Maccabees fought against the Seleucids’ attempts at introducing Greek customs, language, and religion into Judea. If our ancestors had given in and accepted foreign religion and culture, we’d be as much in the dustbin of history as the Seleucids are now. The holiday is about so much more than the oil lasting for eight nights instead of only one.”

Posted in 1930s, Atlantic City books, Cinnimin, Historical fiction, holidays, Writing

WeWriWa—Holiday decorating begins

weekend_writing_warriorsveteransbadge_4

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP.

As last year, my Christmas- and Chanukah-themed snippets come from Chapter 20, “Dueling December Holidays,” of the book formerly known as The Very First (which is set during 1938). The new and improved title will finally be revealed upon its release next year!

This is the opening of the chapter, when Sparky Small (birth name Katharina Brandt) and her older brothers start realizing just how predominant all things Christmas are during December in their new country. It’s particularly hard to avoid because they live with a Methodist family.

Sparky, her brothers, the Filliard girls, and Elmira came home from school on the first day of December to a wreath on the door and Mrs. Filliard and Lucinda unpacking all the Christmas ornaments and decorations. Six crates stood in the center of the living room, while small boxes, coiled-up strings of lights and other decorations, and individually-wrapped ornaments were all over the davenport, chairs, side tables, loveseat, and Lucinda’s new turquoise velvet Ottoman. A black and dark green plaid, circular cloth was draped over the back of the davenport, and a green metal object which somewhat resembled a bell was off in a corner.

“You’re just in time to help us with decorating the tree,” Mrs. Filliard announced. “Michael should have it very soon. He was supposed to be back by now, but it’s just like him to inspect each and every tree instead of sawing down the first big tree he sees. If he ain’t back soon, Pietro might have him arrested for trespassing.”

Gary could barely disguise his horrified expression. “Kätchen, Otto, and I must respectfully decline your invitation to decorate a tree, but I’m more concerned about Michael trespassing to get your tree. Did you really send him onto someone else’s property without permission?”

Posted in 1930s, Atlantic City books, Cinnimin, Historical fiction, holidays, Writing

WeWriWa—At the butcher shop

weekend_writing_warriorsveteransbadge_4

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP.

As last year, my Thanksgiving-themed snippets will be coming from Chapter 19, “Happy Thanksgiving,” of the book formerly known as The Very First (which is set during 1938). The new and improved title will finally be revealed upon its release next year!

It’s two days before Thanksgiving, and Sparky (real name Katherine), her mother, her oldest brother Gary (born Friedrich), her best friend Cinnimin, and Cinnimin’s older brother M.J. are buying food for the Smalls’ half of the joint household’s feast. They’re now at their final stop, a kosher butcher.

Cinni held back after Gary opened the butcher’s door for her. Since she didn’t live on a farm and never helped in the kitchen if she could help it, she wasn’t used to seeing animal carcasses hanging up and strewn over tables. It was bad enough when she’d seen that fish head at the Smalls’ Rosh Hashanah supper.

“We usually go to a kosher butcher in Germantown, but this is much closer,” Gary said. “It’s not practical to haul all this stuff back on the streetcar, to our regular butcher, and back onto the streetcar again. I wish we’d settled in a place like New York or Newark, where all the Jewish resources we need are within a five-block radius of our home instead of a long ride and walk, there and back.”

Mrs. Small set her baskets down and approached a small pen of live turkeys. Cinni watched in amazement as she picked several up, felt for the meat on their bones, inspected their eyes and talons, and blew on their feathers. Mrs. Small might’ve never eaten a turkey or selected one for butchering, but she sure knew what to look for in her poultry.

Posted in 1930s, Atlantic City books, Food, Historical fiction, holidays, Writing

WeWriWa—A joint holiday celebration

weekend_writing_warriorsveteransbadge_4

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This year, my Chanukah- and Christmas-themed snippets come from Chapter 20, “Dueling December Holidays,” of the book formerly known as The Very First (which is set during 1938). The new and improved title will finally be revealed upon its release next year!

There have been a lot of religious conflicts during December 1938, as young immigrant Sparky (real name Katherine) and her family are inundated with symbolism of a holiday they don’t celebrate, and a variety of responses to their refusal to adopt Christmas as a secular holiday “everyone” celebrates. However, Sparky’s family has agreed to come together with their hosts the Filliards for a joint celebration of the eighth night of Chanukah and Christmas Eve.

This has been slightly tweaked to fit 10 lines.

Painting by Yelena Flerova

The Smalls had brought schnitzel, Kartoffelpuffer, chicken soup, brisket, candied carrots, bolussen, applesauce, and, best of all, plenty of Berliner Pfannkuchen, while on the Filliards’ side of the table sat roasted goose with stuffing; dried fruit compote; mushroom soup; gołąbki; pierogi stuffed with chopped mushrooms and mashed potatoes; kotlety; stuffed mushrooms; mazurek stuffed with dried almonds, chocolate, and apricot jam; chocolate sernik; zefiry; and several heaping platters of cookies. There’d be more than enough for everyone.

“You don’t know what you’re missing,” Mrs. Filliard said as she cut into a gołąbek. “You’ve been generous to share your food, and oughta taste some of ours in return.”

“Perhaps next year, we can cook by your recipes in our kitchen,” Mrs. Small said.

“It’s ‘with,’ not ‘by,’” Gary gently corrected her. “You’re making the mistake of directly translating a German expression into English. Sometimes being too literal results in improper English.”

“My mother and I made that mistake too, when we were learning English,” Mr. Filliard said. “That expression translates from Russian the same way it does from German, and it took a long time for me to realize I wasn’t being grammatically correct.”

Kartoffelpuffer are German latkes; bolussen are Dutch sweet rolls; Berliner Pfannkuchen are jelly doughnuts. Among the traditional Polish and Russian Christmas foods, gołąbki are cabbage leaves wrapped around a savory filling (usually including meat); kotlety are small, pan-fried meatballs; mazurek is a sweet, flat cake; sernik is cheesecake made with quark; and zefiry are similar to meringues.

Posted in 1930s, Atlantic City books, Cinnimin, Historical fiction, holidays, Judaism, Religion, Sparky, Writing

Tashlich 1938

This post was originally scheduled for 7 September 2013, as part of the now-discontinued Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop. It comes from an older version of the book formerly known as The Very First, which has since undergone even more edits.

***

In loving memory of the one and only Keith John Moon, greatest drummer ever, who passed from this life, far too early, 35 years ago today.

In honour of Rosh Hashanah, which spanned 4-6 September this year, this week’s post comes from my chronological first Atlantic City book, The Very First. (I know it needs a much better title, but after over 20 years, I just can’t think of it by any other name!) Chapter 12, “High Holy Days,” covers the full cycle of the fall holidays in 1938.

New immigrant Sparky (real name Katherine) is struggling to fit into her new town and American life. Her new best friend Cinnimin, whom her family lives with, thinks Sparky should make some compromises to be a real American girl. Each girl tries to convince the other, in a respectful way, of the merits of her side.

***

Monday after school, Cinni was skipping stones at the pond with Tina and Gayle when the Smalls appeared on the horizon, along with a bunch of other people Cinni didn’t recognize.  When she saw the man with the beard, she figured it must be their rabbi.  None of the other gentlemen had beards.  Perhaps he felt it were his duty to set an example and appear very religious on behalf of everyone else.  As it was, beards seemed so pre-modern, on a man of any religion.

“Would you like to skip stones with us?” Cinni asked. “It’s nice how your folks ain’t against having fun on a holiday.  I’ve heard some Christians in the olden days useta just sit and read the Bible on holidays and Sundays, and wouldn’t let their kids play or listen to music.”

“We’re not here to have fun,” Barry said, sneaking a look at Cinni. “We’re here for tashlich.”

“We’re going to throw crumbs into the water to symbolically cast off our sins,” Gary explained.

“Don’t you get rid of your sins by doing all that praying?  And I know you fast on Yom Kippur.  This seems like a silly superstition, like sacrificing children or spitting to ward off the evil eye.”

“It’s not meant to take the place of prayer and repentance,” Barry said. “It’s just a nice ritual done in addition to praying.  Some really religious folks spin a chicken or fish around their heads to transfer their sins to the animal.  We’re not nearly that goofy.”

“Barry and I are too young to fast on Yom Kippur,” Sparky said as the adults assembled a short distance from them. “We’re encouraged to not eat for part of the day, but we’re not supposed to fast the entire day before we’re obligated to keep all the commandments.  But Barry will be bar mitzvah in January.  He’ll have to do it next year.”

“Would you like to come to my bar mitzvah party?  I’ll give you a seat of honor at my table.”

“Sure, that sounds fun.  I ain’t a fan of most religion, but if there’s a party involved, it can’t be that boring.”

Cinni moved to another part of the pond with Gayle and Tina and continued skipping stones.  They watched the ceremony out of the corners of their eyes.

“I don’t understand what in the world they’re doing, or why, but I think it’s neat,” Gayle declared as she selected a round, flat gray stone and skipped it quite a distance across the water. “I wish Methodism had rituals like that.  I like religions with fun stuff.”

“Why do you even read about religion?” Tina asked. “It’s grownup stuff.  Grownup stuff is boring.  I only like reading stuff like comic books and magazine stories.”

“I like opening my mind to new worlds.  I don’t wanna look like some stupid American who only cares about her own culture and community.  When I grow up, I’d like a job where I can use my interest in these things.  Maybe I’ll be a fortuneteller or an astrologer.  Or maybe I can do what Mrs. Malspur does in her séance room, only make money for it.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever thought about what I really wanna do when I’m a grownup.” Cinni pulled a candybar out of her skirt pocket, ripped off the wrapper, and took a huge bite. “For now, all I wanna do is fill my stomach and have fun.”

They watched the man they assumed to be the rabbi reading from a prayerbook as some of the group followed along in their own prayerbooks or from memory.  At the conclusion of the brief prayer service, someone passed around a bag of breadcrumbs mixed with fish food, and people took turns going to the water’s edge to cast the crumbs into it.  Cinni noticed that there weren’t many young people in the group.  Sparky probably felt lonely.