Harriet the Spy

It is two years ago on this date that my mother died.

I say kaddish and light the yahrtzeit candles by the regular calendar.  This is not kosher.  We are supposed to do these things by the Jewish calendar.  But the 5th of Adar is just not meaningful to me.  March 11, however, it’s like a tattoo on my head.

At the time of her death, none of us three kids could recall a happy memory, a funny story, even a moment of warmth involving my mother.

Since then, my mind has been flooded with memories of words and deeds long forgotten.  These are not pleasant thoughts.  My mother haunts from the grave.

Anyway, the other day I’m bundling items for donation and my very favorite childhood book catches my attention: Harriet the Spy, a preteen novel about a young girl who spies on friends and neighbors.  I had completely forgotten about Harriet!

See, my mother moved while I was away at college.  Upon returning for the winter break, I found she had elected not to keep my meager belongings.  Even my guitar was gone.

The only things that survived were a few items kept with me at school.

My Jewish star, given to me by my grandmother after she made pilgrimage to Israel.  I wear this around my neck, always, since I am ten years old.  It is the only material possession that I truly treasure.

My Wishnik, given to me by my grandmother the time I stayed overnight in the hospital to have my tonsils out.  This little guy has stood guard on my bedroom dresser in every home since I am five.

My Orange Giraffy, a small stuffed animal given to me by our family friend and bon vivant Herbie Swersky, may he rest in peace.  Or did Herbie give me Purple Bunny?  Probably both.

And my paperback copy of Harriet the Spy.  A book that almost never came to my world.

By the elementary school, they had a program called the Scholastic Book Club.  Every month, we would get a brochure advertising popular and classic books for young readers.  Paperbacks at reasonable prices.  This is before Amazon.  My mother allowed us to pick one book each month.

Harriet the Spy book coverOne glance at the book cover and I was completely sold.  I wanted to be a spy!  I wanted to wear blue jeans and a red hoodie!  I wanted to have zany adventures!  I filled out the order form eagerly checking the box for Harriet the Spy

But then I found out all my friends were getting a Brady Bunch book.  Admittedly, I identified with the the over-shadowed, under-attractive, near-sighted Jan.  Foolishly, I sacrificed the intrepid Harriet in favor of the insipid Bradys.  I would never have dared to ask for two books.  I would never have dared to ask for anything.

When my mother gave me the check to bring to school, I saw something shocking.  She must have seen my erasures because my mother added Harriet the Spy back to the order.  I would be getting two books.  It was a surprise.  It was a nice surprise.

A small act of kindness from my mother.  I keep hoping I’ll remember something better.  Something really special.  It doesn’t seem likely.  But at least I have Harriet.

© 2013 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

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