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Balancing Self with Religion Advice - Sammy's House

Written by Jon Sindell

"Sammy was Aunt Esther's kid, my Mom's big sister. Mom always made me go over to Sammy's house, 'cause she and Aunt Esther had this brilliant notion that Sammy and I should be friends. It was worse than that, they thought we were friends.

Mom was always saying, 'But you like Cousin Sammy,' and I'd say, 'You're trippin', Mom!' Which, Mom being Mom, it took two hours to convince her that I didn't know what a 'trip' was, and that I wasn't on drugs. So off I'd go to Sammy's house.

"It was like another world over there. It was always dark, since they always kept the curtains closed. Sammy's father lost family in the Holocaust, but his mother, Sammy's grandma, survived, because a Hungarian farmer hid her in his barn. But she hated opened windows, and the curtains at Sammy's were always closed. And there was serious, dark wooden furniture everywhere, and thick carpets, and thick air. Even the smells from the kitchen were thick, like Aunt Esther's brisket of beef and sweet cabbage. They had this beautiful mahogany cabinet with all their Sabbath stuff in it, blue and white china and silver goblets, and a silver pitcher engraved with Hebrew letters.

Sammy's mom was compulsive about cleaning. You couldn't even tell kids lived there. I'd go over there and have nothing to do, and I'd sit on the sofa while Sammy's little sister, Sara, played violin. She was something, a true prodigy. I'd stare with my mouth wide open while she riffed on Tchaikovsky, and she'd catch me gawking and give me this superior little 'I'm musical, and you're not' smirk. OK, I provoked her. Like, 'Hey, Cousin Sara, play Purple Haze!' So I'd just sit there, bored out of my skull, flipping through my baseball cards and waiting for a chance to go home.

Of course, Sammy didn't have any cards. Though, yeah, he actually did show a little interest once or twice, looking over my shoulder like I was handling a rare jewel, which was totally annoying 'cause he didn't know a home run from a French fry. He'd make some inane remark about how nice the team's uniforms were, or whether the photograph was set up well, then his dad would walk by and ask if I was studying Hebrew.

That was absurd and totally gratuitous, 'cause he knew damned well we weren't religious, which he'd never fail to remind my dad when he caught him washing our car on the Sabbath. But he'd ask every time, and every time he'd give me this pitying smile when I'd say 'No.'

"Finally, I'd get so bored sitting there, I'd even start playing with Sammy. And the funny thing was, he played like a regular kid. That just blew me away. We'd run around playing cowboys and Indians, and I'd corner him and move in for the kill. Then his dad would come over, and sit us down and tell us about David and Goliath or something. Man, he alwaysbrought it back to religion! A physicist, too.

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