Sun dappled trees lined the clearing where a little girl and her aging Zayde sat side by side along the sloping banks of a slow running creek one balmy spring morning. The girl’s bright red hair caught the sunlight so well, making it seem like her round, cherubic face was wreathed in a halo. Her grandfather watched her closely as she wandered a few feet away from where he was sitting, his emerald-green eyes sparkling with amusement at his pitsele. He was both concentrating on keeping her safely on the sandy banks and attending to a thin bamboo fishing pole that was bobbing merrily on the surface of the still water.
"Forsiht, Willow. Ir Bobe wolt seier aufgebracht sein, wen ich noch Hois ganz nassen Einikl anschtot an drobnen fetten Fisches brengn sollten." he chuckled musically; he was more comfortable speaking in Yiddish whenever he was with his granddaughter. ("Be careful, Willow. Your grandmother would be very upset if I were to bring home a rather wet grandchild instead of a nice fat fish,")
"I’m a big girl now, Zedeh Mischa," Willow replied in English, with as much authority as a five year old can muster. "I’ll be good." She stood up and toddled over to him, wrapping her arms around his stout neck. Willow watched him carefully remove a fish from his line and release it back into the small rapids created by large rocks underwater.
"Jo, Willow?" ("Yes, Willow?")
"How do you know when to put the fishy in the basket and when to let ‘em go?" Little Willow climbed into her grandfather’s lap and pressed her baby-soft cheek to his rough, unshaven one. The combination of Mischa’s soothing voice and the unseasonably warm day made her drowsy so she leaned back into his sheltering arms and made herself comfortable.
"Wisnd den Fisch…ahh…dos wen zu behaltn, ist der kitslige. Du must es filn, wen der Fisch zu dich kumn wel. Es dermonst mich fun as erscht ir Bobe zahn. Irig zu sein. Ich wiste fun erschten Zeit, as dos mir trafn, zi Schtarkeit gehob un in iren Oigen polirte Libe. Ich wiste richtik wi, dos zi war, ir amerikanischer Freinde ‘anen Wechter’ zogn wolten." ("Well, knowing when to keep the fish…ahh…that is the trickiest. You have to feel it, when the fish wants to come to you. To be yours. It reminds me of when I first saw your grandmother. I knew from the first time we met that she had strength and love shone in her eyes. I knew right then that she was, as your American friends would say, ‘a keeper’. ")
"Wow," Willow gasped in awe. "You got ta keep gran’ma, huh? Coooool," she marveled. Mischa Rosenberg kissed his only granddaughter on her forehead and once again turned his attention to fishing. They were silent for a time, enjoying each other’s company. Words seemed so unnecessary whenever they came to this place, their special spot. It was as if she and her grandfather shared a bond that went beyond those that made them family. Some minutes later, it was Willow who broke the stillness.
"Zedeh, do you think I can have ‘a keeper’ too?" she inquired in a hushed tone.
Her grandfather held her close in his arms. "Eines Toges, pitsele. Eines Toges, du weibt werdest, as du diese Person gefunen hobn. Und du werdest teier und zu Ihnen sein lib as Lebn grod. Ein Geschank fun Himl. Gornischts weiniker far meine sheine Maydele, eh?" he nodded resolutely. "Time to go home. Bobe will start to worry once the daylight starts fade," he said in halting English. ("Someday, pitsele. Someday, you’ll know when you’ve found that person. And they’ll be more precious and dear to you than life itself. A gift from the heavens. Nothing less for my pretty girl, eh?")
Willow stood up reluctantly and helped him gather all the fishing gear and the remains of their lunch long forgotten. Together they hiked through the fields to the elder Rosenbergs’ home, her tiny hand in his large one. As they walked, Willow thought that ‘someday’ sounded like a really long time. She hoped that she could wait that long for her keeper.
(Thirteen Years Later)
Willow wandered aimlessly through the fields behind her grandparents’ house in eastern Arizona, reliving old memories….good, happy times. She knew that everyone was concerned about her. Even Tara, who usually rather reticent when it came to speaking what was on her mind, voiced her misgivings about Willow going off to her grandfather’s funeral alone.
"Are you sure you want to do this by yourself, love?" she had asked.
Willow had held her arms out in a mute request for Tara to hold her. She moved into her lover’s embrace, trying very hard to keep the well of tears within her from overflowing.
"I have to do this, baby. Zedeh and I….well, we were two peas in a pod, my mom used to say," Willow chuckled fondly at the memory, her lips turned up at the sides in a wry smile. "He and I would go off for hours, just us and no one else. He talked to me like I was a grown up all the time. He made me feel so special." Her green eyes lit up when she thought of him then quickly clouded with sorrow. She took a deep breath and put on her best resolve face. It pained Tara to see Willow so distraught. In the end, though, she granted Willow request.
"If you need me for anything, just call me. Promise?" Tara said quietly.
Willow nodded. "I promise."
* * * * * *
Willow walked down to the little creek that had been so good to her and Mischa Rosenberg over the years. Sitting down on a rock by a large willow tree, she noticed that it still babbled as loudly and steadily as ever. She could feel her Zayde’s presence everywhere. It was if his very essence was imprinted on the rocks, had seeped into the sand or was playing about the surface of the water.
"You’d be happy to know that I think I found someone, grandpa," she said aloud. She was almost sure that he was standing beside her listening to every word.
"She’s smart and funny and the kindest person you’ve ever met. Even if she isn’t Jewish," Willow grinned. Her features softened as images of Tara…sleeping, brushing her hair, wearing her eyeglasses on the tip of her nose (something that always drove Willow completely wild). "Her name is Tara and I wish that you could’ve gotten to meet her," she paused. "I know I know, you always thought the little Sonnenstein kid down the street was perfect for me but, ya know, he really sucked at kissing." She could almost hear her grandfather laugh at such a bold admission. "There’s something about her, Zedeh. I can’t explain it. I’ve never had someone complete me so well. Like you once said, a gift from the heavens."
Willow plucked a few strands of honeysuckle from a patch near the rim of the sandbar. She walked to the edge of the water and laid them on its relatively calm surface. "Zay gezunt, Zedeh," she whispered sadly. "Ich libe dich."
(Two Days Later)
Tara sat in LAX, nervously fidgeting with the artfully frayed ends of her skirt. She hadn’t heard from Willow the whole time she was gone and that made her worried. Glancing at her watch, she silently cursed her habitual punctuality, as an announcement was made a few minutes previous that Willow’s flight had a slight delay. After about a half hour, Tara could finally see Willow’s red head bobbing amongst all the other weary travelers. She didn’t look have as tired and wrung out as her fellow passengers for some reason. Her eyes were bright and very deep green and her face reflected a kind of serenity that was not present before she left for her grandparents’.
"Hey there, stranger," Tara smiled.
"Hey yourself." Willow dropped her bags and drew Tara into warm, loving embrace. Over Tara’s shoulder, she thought she could see a filmy outline of her grandfather a few feet away.
"What do you, think, Zedeh?" she asked in the silences of her mind.
"I think," his ghost said to her, "that this one is very much ‘a keeper’. Mazel tov, meine scheine Maydele." He smiled lovingly at his favourite grandchild and faded away.
"Thank you, grandpa." Willow grinned broadly. Just knowing that her Zedeh wished her happiness, both in life and in death, made all of the difference. She leaned back and gazed intently into the perfect blue of her lover’s eyes. It seemed that eternity stretched before them in that single look.
"Let’s go home, baby," Willow said quietly.