Vol. 11


The Brush and the Manicure Set

c. 1949; Haverstraw, New York, USA

When my grandmother was growing up, she had to face great challenges. My grandmother, Elizabeth Cecile Berger, was born on February 15, 1938, in Vienna, Austria. When she was one year old, Elizabeth and her parents went on a boat to America because the Nazis had taken over Austria, and the Nazis hated the Jews. Elizabeth’s family was Jewish.

When Elizabeth was eleven, she got polio. She went to a hospital called Haverstraw. She got so sick she was paralyzed. She couldn’t sit up, stand, or walk.

My grandmother was really special, because even though her situation was difficult, she saw that there were other children who were in worse situations than she was. She was even able to help another girl.

It was Christmas/Chanukah time. The air around the hospital kitchens was filled with wonderful smells of latkes, cookies, mince pies, jelly donuts, homemade applesauce, pine trees, freshly baked bread, homemade chocolate, and much, much more. In the hallways were Christmas trees with shiny metal red and blue balls, lights, and homemade ornaments. On the windowsills were menorahs with flames dancing in the moonlight.

On one fine day firemen came to visit the children in a large polio ward. Elizabeth was in bed. She could move only her fingers. The firemen gave the children presents. The girl next to Elizabeth got a hairbrush. The girl’s hair was shaved because she needed an operation. The girl didn’t like her present — especially because she couldn’t use it. The girl asked everyone in the room if they would trade with her. They were all happy with their presents, so they all said, “No.” The girl was very disappointed.

Finally the girl approached Elizabeth. Elizabeth had gotten a wonderful manicure set. It had three colors of nail polish with scissors and a nail file in a beautiful leather case. Elizabeth didn’t want to trade. The girl asked her hesitantly, “Can I trade with you?”

Elizabeth really wanted the manicure set. She knew the girl really wanted to trade with her. So even though Elizabeth had a brush like that one already and she was happy with her present, she decided she would trade. Then Elizabeth answered, “Sure, I’ve always wanted a brush like that one.”

The girl replied excitedly, “You really want to trade?” and without letting Elizabeth answer, she said happily, “Thank you! Thank you!”

Even though she didn’t get the present she wanted, Elizabeth was happy that she was able to help the girl. Throughout her life, Elizabeth’s goal was to make people happy.

After several surgeries and a lot of physical therapy, Elizabeth regained her ability to walk. She was able to get married, have children and grandchildren, and have a career. She became an artist well known in Canada, and made people happy with her colorful watercolor paintings.

Faigy Arnold; New York, USA



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