True Stories

First thought: I really should’ve remembered how incredibly short this book is and brought a second to work.  Oh well, guess I’ll have to be social on my lunch break.

Two Old Women is yet another former textbook, though this one is from college and not off of a summer reading list.  When I was in school, I figured out that you could look at your unofficial transcript at any time, and if you hadn’t completed a requirement yet, it would list out all the classes you could take for it.  That’s how I noticed that one choice for NonWestern [European] Civilization was Native American Literature, an English class that played to my strengths as opposed to yet another history class.  Don’t get me wrong, I like history, but I love reading novels far more.

Velma Wallis relates the legend of the Two Old Women, a story passed down to her from her mother that likely goes back over the decades and perhaps even centuries back to the very tribe that lived this tale.  There may be some fictional elements, details and conversations and the like, but I believe the story to be as true as those of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

The setting is Alaska, near the Yukon River.  The time is sometime before Europeans came to the region, by how much or how little I have no idea.  And it is winter, when the nomadic tribal groups can become desperate to survive.  This is when the People, as our group calls itself, decide to leave behind their two eldest members, leaving themselves with two less mouths to feed.

These women, however, do not simply sit where they are abandoned and accept death.  They can walk, and talk.  Their eyes are still keen and their hands are still nimble though they are some seventy-five and eighty years old.  And they have more than just the training and experience the whole group possesses – they have memories that date back to before most, if not all, of the others were born.

Wallis’ tale isn’t specifically meant to be a lesson, though it contains those.  We can learn of the resources we possess in the form of our elders, we can learn that even though we aren’t as young as we were, we are still more capable than we realize, we can even learn that anyone can make a mistake, and that forgiveness can still be offered.  This story is a relation of events that once occurred, a thread in the tapestry of history.  Perhaps not the most important tale, but one worthy of being remembered.

I like stories like this, which may not be true in the particulars, but are so in the generalities.  Judaism is filled with teaching stories which aren’t true in the least…but every now and then a true one jumps out of the most unlikely spot.  This is a true story of Tzfat (or Safed) that I learned on Birthright.

Tzfat is a mountain city in the north of Israel, north of the Sea of Galilee.  After the Second Temple was destroyed, many of the religious adherents moved north to Tzfat, making it their new home.  The city sits atop a mountain, one of many in the area, with streets and alleys wound all around.  One of the streets happens to end facing the Mount of Olives.  This is the location where the Messiah is supposed to descend to Earth when they come, and so if you stand at the end of the street, watching, you can be one of the first to see them.

There was an old woman who did just that every day.  Every day she’d walk down a somewhat steep road to the end of the street, and wait for the Messiah to come.  The city installed a handrail because citizens were concerned that this old lady might injure herself on her daily treck.  But more to the point, she would bring a cup of coffee, a cup of tea, and a biscuit.  This, she said, was because she didn’t know which the Messiah would prefer; coffee or tea.

Unfortunately, she passed away six or seven years ago from what I was told.  Still, this is a true, if strange tale.  I heard several Tzfat stories when I was there, but that’s the only one I could swear to be true.  I always appreciate truth, especially after celebrating a fictional holiday like Hannukah.  Yes, it’s a real holiday, but the story is completely made up, originating somewhere around the sixth century Common Era.  It’s a good story, yes, but it would be better if it was true.


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