When Grandfather saw the man outside

IT happened in a year when Christmas Eve came on a Friday. Friday evening was celebrated in a special way, which is customary in Jewish homes. An elaborate, festive meal was served to the children, married or single, and the sons- and daughters-in-law as well as the grandchildren. And it happened on that evening.

The whole family sat expectantly, from one end of the room to the other, around two tables that had been placed together and were covered with a white tablecloth upon which Grandmother placed one serving bowl after another. No one was allowed to help her, since the Sabbath was a day of dignity on which there should be no bustling and running around.

As everyone sat at the table and Grandmother kept going in and out, one of the grandchildren pulled at Grandfather's sleeve and pointed at one of the windows in the ground-floor room.

There was a man out on the street. He stood motionless in the snow staring through the window at Grandfather. We knew immediately that he was a supplicant, a Christian. They always stood at the window in order to get Grandfather's attention. They didn't dare knock at the door, since Grandmother would come and send them off.

When Grandfather noticed the man outside, he emphatically gestured to him to wait and not go away. Grandfather signaled the family to keep silent by putting his finger to his mouth. Shortly afterward, Grandmother carried in the main dish of the evening, a huge roast goose on a large porcelain serving platter. She placed the goose in front of Grandfather for him to carve.

Just after Grandmother had left the room to get salad and vegetables, Grandfather grabbed the platter with the goose and rushed to the barred window. He hastily opened it and energetically pushed the goose through the bars into the hands of the man outside. After that had been accomplished, Grandfather gestured to him to disappear.

Grandfather then shoved the empty platter under a cupboard and hurried back to his place at the table. The sons, daughters, sons- and daughters-in-law, and grandchildren were horrified and looked at the old man with wide eyes. His bushy red beard covered the lower part of his face, but twinkling eyes revealed that he was very pleased.

Then Grandmother came in again. As she placed some bowls on the table, she asked Grandfather: ''Why don't you serve the goose?''

''I have already served the goose,'' said the old man. Grandmother looked at the empty plates and asked: ''Where? What?''

She has to be credited with realizing what had happened very quickly. After all, she had been married to Grandfather for many years. She slowly sat down on a chair without uttering a word. Then she looked forlornly at one person after another. One grandchild said: ''It was one of those people whose houses burned down in Unter-Tannowitz. They're going everywhere to collect. And it's Christmas.''

''Christmas!'' said Grandmother, as if she were speaking of something from another planet, ''Christmas! And what should we eat now?''

''I can see plenty of other things here,'' said Grandfather, ''baked potatoes and red cabbage and . . . ''

''Red cabbage and potatoes,'' shouted Grandmother. ''And this should be our Sabbath!''

''We celebrate the Sabbath every week,'' said Grandfather. ''But Christmas comes only once a year.''

Translated from the German by Herbert Kuhner.

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