A great believer in the power of extravagance to cheer the necessities of life, my mother, Molly, one day had her cramped, creaky old bed hauled off to the Hadassah thrift shop and a brand-new queen-size one delivered. ''The Beautiful,'' she called it, a godsend to bones starting to poke out here and there like worn bedsprings. With glossy sheets she decked it out, with pillows soft as angel food cake, and a spread as blue as a mountain lake when the sun has signed its name in every drop.
Often when my father was out of town I would go over to her house in the evening to see that she was all right. My mother worked at the Hadassah thrift shop where her old bed was now for sale, and was sometimes on her feet all day, so when she got home she went to bed quite early. I'd usually find her snoozing away in the scenic expanse of 'The Beautiful,'' her little gray dog, Muffie, curled up beside her like a rain cloud that had landed for the night.
By the light of a candle she always kept in a niche above her bed I could see the marks her knees made in the rug when she knelt down to thank Him for all the things that had brightened her life that day. Some of the women at the shop said it wasn't right for a Jewish woman to kneel by her bed when thanking God; that was what the Christians did when they prayed. But my mother paid no attention to this worry about whether to thank God up or down. God, she felt, would not begrudge the rest to her feet, nor blame her knees, for with Him peace and innocence always came first. Many prayerful moments she said her thanks out loud , her head bowed low, like a candle flame in a draft, her hands pressed to her heart, her feet touching heels and looking serious as a wishbone.
Some nights she wouldn't go right to sleep after her thanks but would lie awake, singing. All her life she'd had a soft, sweet, good voice, but now it was even better. Just as a bird sings better on a bough that is strong and steady, instead of on a little twig that is liable to snap at any moment, so my mother sang better in her firm new bed.
''Lord of the Universe, I will sing Thee songs,'' she'd begin, and then sing the songs her mother had taught her, old Yiddish songs she knew so well that she couldn't remember a time she didn't know them. A song about a husband coming home from the synagogue with slow, Sabbath-keeping steps. A song about a wife, no longer young, who's succumbed to a mood of sadness, and her eyes are moist. A song about a boy, named David, who loves a girl so much that when they part every evening he prays that she will come to him in his dreams. The caress of her voice brought back to me how it was when I was a child cradled in her arms, a child she was singing to sleep, and I wondered if even God Himself might be feeling a little sleepy.
If you listened very closely, not just with your ears but with your whimsy, you could hear something else, too, something I don't think God minded at all. While my mother was singing songs to Him, her little dog was singing one to her. You couldn't possibly mistake it for whining, moaning, snoring, or any of the other unmusical sounds a dog can make. It was pure, kindred singing, and, in its humble way, as reverent as hers. I heard it many times and I know it by heart. It was called ''Muffie's Prayer.'' I'll sing it for you. Please, dear God, Hear this prayer From me down here To you up there. Let me awake With breath that's sweet And pad about On playful feet. Give me the grace To fall not flat Or take out peeves Upon poor cat. Let me for all The example set Of how to be A perfect pet: Never naughty, Never snoopy, Always ready To do my duty. Stick to basics, Avoid the frills, Smile and swallow All my ills. And when I see My Molly weary, To up and do Something cheery No less a thing Than simple this, Upon her nose To plant a kiss. For what is life, Four legs or two, But you for me And me for you? And, God knows, Below or above, All of us Have need of love. So pray I, The foe of folly, Beloved pet Of beloved Molly. After I'd lingered, listening, I would go quietly from the house, my heart full. How blessed I was to hear such songs, and to see, in my mother's window, the candlelight bringing the beautiful singers closer to God's eyes.