old as the hills 1

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this is a work of fiction, no flash intended; any similarity to persons living or dead must surely be coincidental

“I was about your age”, said the old man, looking at me as if he was searching for something in my face, “and we were suffering through the previous war then… my parents worried whether we could make it through. We’d seen sights in the streets…” he paused. I knew he was thinking maybe it was best I didn’t hear what he’d seen in the streets at that time. He was still looking at me with that big question in his face, but I figured I might have to wait a long time till I figured out the question. Maybe he was wondering if I’d cry when he finally got around to telling me what he had to say. I knew it wasn’t about the sights he’d seen in the last big war, because he never talked about such things… and I knew that no matter what he said, I wasn’t going to cry… because it was hard for him to bear, and we didn’t have too many of these heart to heart talks. They usually came when there was bad news in the offing. I’d tried now and then to initiate a conversation with him. But I really didn’t know the things that interested him. So I just did my best to hold up my side of the conversation. The contact… the communication was precious. This time, he wasn’t telling me something that I was supposed to have known before he even started talking. No, this was about getting a piece of news. And my part of the interchange was just waiting for it to get out there; the less I said, the easier it would be for whatever it was to get out.

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We were heading towards another war. That I knew. He said he didn’t think it’d have to be as bad as the previous one… though you never can tell. Still, there might not be much food around for a while. And food is very important when you’re growing. Children, he explained… didn’t see any of them around… have all kinds of needs. They make noise, even without realizing it. I couldn’t help wondering about that. I knew children made noise. But it seemed to me that they were aware of it. Didn’t say anything myself. Because I knew that such facts had been assembled to let me know what was coming… this wasn’t about sharing mutual experiences.

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It turned out that we children… me and my sister, and the next door neighbor’s boy and a few other kids were going to be sent far away, though it wasn’t really that far… to a farm, where there’d be all kinds of animals, and nice people who weren’t like us at all, and chores that we could do, to help out on the farm. Maybe there were children there too, that we could get to know and play with once we learned their language, and it was a lot easier to learn a new language when you were a kid. We’d have plenty to eat, and lots of new things to learn. We’d see where food comes from.

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Now, here was a new idea… my first thought was I knew where food came from; from the market, from the green grocer, from the bakery… but his words told me that I didn’t. It sounded interesting. For the first time since he’d taken me aside to ‘talk’ I realized that the news might be seen as an opportunity. I didn’t like the idea of going far away… nor all the rest of the things that had been mentioned… terrible things to be seen in the streets, or nice people that spoke a different language… it didn’t seem like I’d want to go far away, even to see animals. I’d seen my share of animals. But none of them had been quite as intelligent as my cat, and he was always here with me. mmmm… I wondered if my cat could join us on this trip. But I had a feeling I knew the answer to that one. No. All the same, it would be interesting finding out where food came from… before it got to market.

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40 responses to “old as the hills 1

  1. A very thoughtful young child. He seems to have lived through a lot but much more is to come yet. I love the start of the story.

    • Hi Olga. Glad you liked it. I imagine that many children think quite a bit, but don’t have the ability to express their thoughts well. There’s the problem of expectations as well. If children should be seen and not heard, we’re not going to know too much about their thoughts.

  2. What a beautiful and poignant story. I can picture in my mind’s eye the young boy listening intently to the man….who must have seem so old. Thank you Shimon – your posts are always beautiful pearls of wisdom. Janet xxx Big hug for Nehcma 🙂

    • We’ve become more aware of relativity after learning that time was relative, but age seems always to have been relative. The young see people over 40 as old, and I remember well the injunction of Jerry Rubin in America, not to trust anyone over 30. Glad you enjoyed the story. I’ve just come back from a walk with Nechama across grass, sparkling with morning dew. When the clouds were overhead, the grass was slightly blue… and then when the sun came out, they turned back to rich green. I’ll pass on the hug. How nice it is to hear that purr when she is being hugged. xxx

      • What a lovely picture – you walking with Nechama in dewey sparkling grass. I smile to think of it?
        Do you see lots of storks in Israel? I saw a film which indicated that it was one of their migrating stops. I love seeing them when I go to Olhao in Portugal to teach. They arrive during the spring to inhabit their huge nests balanced on the town churches. Continue to enjoy this day and the week ahead. janet xxx

        • Oh yes Janet, there are a lot of storks in Israel, and I used to see them when I traveled more around the country. For some reason they don’t visit much in Jerusalem. And I get out of the city less these days. But I’m not a serious bird watcher. Those in the know, are able to tell in advance when certain birds will appear, on their way from Africa to Europe and back again, to Africa. There are many gorgeous birds who migrate by way of Israel, and we are more than happy to provide stopover facilities. Thanks, and wishing you a very good day too. xxx

  3. I loved too dear Shimon, and especially the last part, “But none of them had been quite as intelligent as my cat, and he was always here with me. mmmm… I wondered if my cat could join us on this trip. But I had a feeling I knew the answer to that one. No. All the same, it would be interesting finding out where food came from… before it got to market.”

    Thank you, Blessing and Happiness, Love, nia

    • Thank you for your blessing Nia. Hope you’re enjoying the summer. Wishing you health and happiness, and many good feline conversations with love.

  4. At the moment, I can’t recall how long I’ve known you, and this is (I think) the first post you have done of this type. Leads me on. I to was a child once, but was never taken or sent away. Is this “common” in Israel? Children are such friable creatures.

    • We’ve known one another for about 13 years now, Bob. And you’re right. This is the first time I’ve written fiction on the blog, and the first time I’ve written from the point of view of a child. You ask if a child being sent away is common in Israel. Unfortunately, it existed before the modern state was established, and even before that, when Jews were spread across the world in the Diaspora. Four years ago, during the rocket attacks from Gaza, many of the children from the south of the country were sent to villages in the north for ‘summer vacation’. This year the parents couldn’t do that, because there are outbreaks of violence from the Syrian civil war in the north, where there is also some Isis military activity. But even so, there are good people in other places who open their homes for children they don’t even know.

  5. I thought of how many people, even with the knowledge of the world at their fingertips, have no idea where their food comes from before the grocery store. A poignant story.

    • Thanks Judy, and that’s an important part of what I was thinking about when I decided to write this story, whose first chapter is presented here. We tend to take our own knowledge for granted, and often find other types of knowledge exotic.

  6. I too was a child once, friend Shimon … quite a fragile one inside and out … in 1963 (8 years old) some officials came to our camp and took me away because of my “failure to thrive”, and I was put into a “fattening up” camp far away from my family … We, about 100 or more kids from all over the country, were forced to eat second helpings or else … and were weighed twice week and shouted at if we didn’t … There was no hugs or affection and surely no animals (except for the human kind) … I was very home sick … and started rocking and singing and hitting ma head against the wall ( I only stopped that habit by age 17) … Our letters to home were censored or destroyed depending of what I wrote … My mumme’s parcels were opened by the staff and contents was distributed among my 12 room mates. After a gruelling 6 weeks, I came home a bed wetter with a painful boil on my bum … and a bruised soul … My Mumme got me my first kitten in order to help with the healing … I named him Moshe … He lived for 17 years and helped me thrive in many ways … I know this story is much beside your story, friend Shimon, but it opened my flood gates … I have never before talked about this. Sending you and Nechama much love. Always, Theo and cat.

    • I am moved by your sharing this story, my dear cat. I too have not written much about children on my blog. Though some people see life as a child as paradise, and are enchanted by the ‘innocence’ of children, I’ve seen life from a different angle. And I’m sure that there are many people who live their lives with an ever present horror of something they encountered in childhood. Some mention it with ease, as a trauma that somehow justifies their behavior later in life, and others prefer not to mention it at all, because the telling of it still causes them pain. love, and a little scratching behind the ear for Theo.

  7. We so often try to protect our children from what is to come by giving them reasons that have a ring of truth about them at least. As a writer, I have come to the conclusion that almost all our stories are mainly based on facts (either personal or stories told us) and then embellished a bit to make them even more interesting. Truth is stranger than fiction.

    • I agree with you Bev. Truth is stranger than fiction, and often more interesting too. The reason I decided to tell this story as fiction is because the true story is just too terrible for me to tell. When I first started writing, I promised myself that I would never tell horror stories; that I would try to find positive things in this world to offer people hope. When I was a child, I saw people crazed by pain and despair.

  8. Forgive me, but this gave me chills. A child processes information about moving to a strange place and contemplates encountering a new language, strange animals and unfamiliar food. An adult, one who has seen the horrors of war before, is attempting to gently prepare the child for what is coming in its own young future. This happened to children who were sent to safety before and during WWII.

    • Yes, you’re right Myra, it did happen before WWII, and lots of other times as well. And I can understand that it gave you the chills. But strangely enough, these were the lucky ones. I remember later in life sitting with a friend, and discussing a third friend who had been sent away. I knew the boy that was sent away later in life, and knew how much he had suffered, and was surprised to hear my friend speak of him with resentment… about how good he had had it, and that his father loved him more than his other children whom he didn’t send. The third friend had told me once that his father had sacrificed him, so that if all the family was slaughtered, at least one of them would survive.

  9. Oh goodness, this little boy seems extremely knowledgeable, sensitive, intuitive, caring and wise, what insight he has, especially when it comes to knowing and understanding his father. As a young girl, I would have got on very well with this little boy. Really looking forward to more….xxxx

    • The boy that I knew was all of what you describe. But he never really knew his father, who died before he could get to know him as an adult. And being uprooted as he was, he always had a problem getting real close to other people. He carried that reserve with him all his life. Some folks thought he was too proud to open up. But I was aware that he was traumatized, and that it just looked like pride from the outside. Glad you liked this chapter, Dina. xxxx

  10. As an adult, I have internal flutters of unpleasant emotions about the impending ‘unknown’;
    I share in the mixed emotions of the child;
    I care deeply about the protection of our young;

    Shalom
    x

    • I have to admit, menhir, that I have no preference for the young rather than other ages. I believe that each of us carries a universe within him. Some are more sensitive; some are more aware… there are those who are totally lost, as the world tosses them here and there, and there are those few who go through childhood like it was the garden of Eden, and then miss it terribly when it’s gone. Wishing you peace and strength, shalom. x

      • An alternative view it most certainly is. I don’t think that I am expressing a preference solely for the young, much as you are not. I express a bog standard human emotion about procreation. If we were to be totally wiped out, ageisms would be irrelevant. If we were not, then we would continue to procreate to support the generations, the healthiest of the youngest, their undeveloped universes and the older generations with their multiverses. both being very much in need.

        Peace and strength to you my friend. X

  11. Shimon, Consolation is a wonderful name for a cat.. there must be plenty of consolations around Yerushlayim… as for childish things you got it wrong .. but I had to check it first 1. Corinthians 13 (google makes it easy). Allegedly written by one Saul/Paul who got hit by lightning I think on the road to Damascus. I certainly would not want to be going to Damascus at the moment.. a good place to stay away from for a long time. I like your photos .. they remind me of the piercing light of Jerusalem and the white limestone buildings. I had a few adventures there many years back. .. ! cheers, Tim F

    • Pleased to meet you Tim, and your mention of the meaning of my cat’s name (and other things) indicates that you’ve been reading a bit of my blog before making your appearance, I’m the same way when I come across a blog that I find interesting. I thank you for your correction of my bible mistake. I’m indebted to you. Yes, the light in Jerusalem is an inspiration, and I too love the limestone buildings. In fact, I live in one. As for Damascus, many years ago I would hear friends talking about what peace would be like when it finally would arrive, and folks would say, ‘we’ll eat humus in Damascus’. Thanks for the comment.

  12. What strikes me most is the depth of their relationship, Shimon. This is a pair that already has been through a bit together, and even if they don’t verbalize their knowledge of each other, it’s a rich lode to draw on. To say, “this wasn’t about sharing mutual experiences” implies that such sharing has taken place in the past, and it helps to make the old man’s hesitancy and the child’s patience understandable.

    Lovely writing. It reminds me of the days when I was a child, and we were living in a two story house. When my parents had guests, I’d creep to the hidden stair landing and just listen. I didn’t understand much of what was said, but I took it in, and pondered it.

    • Thanks Linda. I think that many of us have had that experience of being close to magic… being almost able to reach out and touch a world that remains beyond us. The circumstances of my own peculiar childhood found me surrounded by adults. Sometimes I would watch children play, and wonder what it would be like, if I ever had the chance. I’ve known people who waxed nostalgic at tales of childhood, but I felt grateful to have survived it.

  13. How carefully we often try to rationalise things to children, when often they surprise us with their understanding and acceptance. This is included in my “I wish I’d written that!” list.

    • Thanks very much Paol for your kind comment. I’ve often wondered about the way most adults relate to children. You remember that old saying years ago, that all blacks looked alike? I suppose that when we encounter a group that has some very specific characteristic in common, it’s easier for us to see them as if they were all the same. I think that happens with children too; some people don’t take the time to get to know the child as an individual unique human being. Thanks for your comment.

  14. This story bridges the gap between adult experiences and fears to childhood sensitivity and innocence, beautifully, dear Shimon. ❤ and hugs flowing to you and Nechama. xXx

    • Glad you liked the story, Jane. I don’t know about innocence though. The word in Hebrew has a very different implication than it does in English, and it is very seldom that it is used to describe children. In Hebrew it has a sense of wholeness, completeness. I don’t know if I’ve ever appreciated innocence in its English meaning in children. Thanks very much for your greeting, and my best wishes to you, xxx

  15. Such a concentrated piece. Reads like each word lived and has resurfaced carefully chosen. The two character so well developed – the bonds between them, and their measure of each other.
    “such facts had been assembled to let me know what was coming… this wasn’t about sharing mutual experiences.”
    As you said incumbents, children often “know” but before having the vocabulary/concepts to put in words.
    Appreciate you crafting a window to this very real world

    • Thank you Phil. Yes, it seems to me that children, foreigners, and animals are often thought less aware than they are. Though there are many states of awareness for all living things. If we’re comfortable and secure, we may only be aware of our own sensatory pleasure or displeasure. Then, it’s only our curiosity that can take us beyond our envelope. But when our existence is threatened, we quickly grow much more aware.

  16. Too real. I understand that in London, on the eve of the war, they evacuated nearly every child to the country before the bombing started. And they evacuated the zoo animals as well. Children and animals first. Adults have to stay and fight, or work.

    • Yes, that’s what happened in London. There were other places too, before and after WWII. It’s happened here so many times, I can’t count them… though usually, it’s not ‘all the children’. The parents who worry and can afford it, send their children off to safety. Sometimes brother and sisters are separated. Fortunately for America, people in your country have not experienced the savagery of war in their own backyard since the civil war. We have had similar scenes here twice in the last decade.

  17. Moving story. Let’s hope such scenarios are not repeated.

    • I regret to say Peter, they still happen. Children were sent to safety just four years ago, when thousands of rockets fell on civilian towns before Israel reacted.

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