Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Uncle Josh and His Shmate

Well, this is it. I have finally jotted down "Uncle Josh and His Shmate," a story that started out as a way to get my daughter rested and ready to go to sleep at night.

I hope to mail it out to a publisher tonight, but this is the current version:

When your uncle Josh was a little boy, he loved his shmate more than almost anything else in the world.

What’s a shmate? A shmate is a blanket. At least, “shmate” is what Bubbe called Uncle Josh’s blanket. And even way back when Uncle Josh was a little boy, we always listened to Bubbe. So if Bubbe called it a shmate, it was a shmate.

Uncle Josh took his shmate with him everywhere. He never went anywhere without it. One clear summer morning while Uncle Josh and his shmate were playing together in the woods, very close to his house, a boy who was just a little older came by and asked Uncle Josh to come over and play.

Uncle Josh said, “Yes, I’ll play.” When he started to run after the boy, though, the boy stopped and said “You can come to my house, but not your blanket. I am too big to have blankets around while I play.”

Uncle Josh did not know what to do; no one had ever told him before that he couldn’t bring his shmate. But he very much wanted to play over the boy’s house because he had watched as the boy moved into the neighborhood just a short time ago. The boy’s house seemed so interesting, and his toys seemed as though they would be a lot of fun. The house was big and long, with giant windows and a great green yard, just perfect for running. The toys included balls, bats, boats, bubble makers, books, blocks, baskets, and big boots.

Uncle Josh thought for a moment. Then he had and idea: he would place his shmate very carefully under a rock, by a tree, in the woods. This way, the shmate would stay in its place until he returned for it. So this is exactly what he did, and off through the woods he ran with the boy to the big, long, interesting house with the fun toys.

Josh stayed and played all day. He had a wonderful time, even if he did feel a little sad that his shmate wasn’t there with him. The boy and he chased each other around and around the big yard. They used the bats to hit the balls. They played pretend with the boats – and they could have played and played much longer.

It was starting to get late, so Uncle Josh went back through the woods toward his house. He couldn’t wait to have his shmate with him again. He looked very carefully and found exactly the tree where he had left his shmate. He looked down and found exactly the rock he had placed on his shmate. He lifted up the rock and found – the shmate was not there!

He looked on the ground, and at all the other rocks, and at all the other trees. He looked up and all around the woods, but he could not see the shmate anywhere. Uncle Josh began to get very sad and worried that he would never see and hold his shmate again, but he heard Bubbe calling his name and he knew he needed to go home.

When he came to the door, Bubbe saw how sad and worried he looked and said to him, “Why are you so sad, Uncle Josh? What is the matter?”

Uncle Josh cried, “I left my shmate in the woods, by a tree, under rock, and now it’s gone!”

Bubbe led Uncle Josh into the kitchen and had him sit down. “Stay right here,” she said. “I think I have something that will make you feel much better.” Bubbe walked out of the kitchen and down the stairs.

“I don’t think so,” said Uncle Josh softly, as he sat at the table and slumped cheeks in his hands.

When Bubbe returned, however, she had something in her hands. “Look,” she calmly said to Uncle Josh. Uncle Josh slowly lifted his head, and what do you think he saw? His shmate!

Bubbe explained: “I saw you leave the shmate behind when you ran off with the new boy in the neighborhood. I went outside and picked it up. I washed it and dried it and folded it all nicely for you, for when you came home.”

Uncle Josh hardly heard a word of what Bubbe was saying. That’s how happy he was to see the shmate again. He said “Thank you” to Bubbe many times for taking care of the shmate. And later that night, he held the shmate tight as he drifted off into a nice, peaceful, easy sleep.

The end

Postscript: Some grandmothers are called “Bubbe” (alt. “Bobe”), which is a Yiddish word for “grandmother.” Maybe “Bubbe” seems a strange word, but really it’s no stranger than someone being called a “grand mother.”

In Yiddish, a “shmate” is a rag. Most people consider rags to be tattered, threadbare scraps of cloth, but Uncle Josh’s shmate was not called “shmate” out of meanness. Just the opposite: by this name, we understood that the shmate was special and appreciated, even if its wonder and uncommon charm were not obvious at first glance.

In this world everyone and everything has a name. There are so many people and things around that we tend to say names without also recognizing that which is truly unique and individual about what’s been named.

Yet, some names remind us of the deep, loving connections we have with special people and things. “Bubbe,” “shmate,” and “Uncle Josh” are very meaningful names for me.

What are the names that have special meaning for you?
Comments and critique are welcome!

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