“Oh, please go on, Oma,” Rebecca begged. “It’s a wonderful story. What happened after Opa decided not to be a Jew?”
“It’s very sad. You’d think it might be the non-Jewish people who were upset, but it wasn’t. They were happy, in fact, to have a convert in their community. Some of the people Opa knew in the synagogue weren’t so happy.”
“Why not, Oma?” Hannah asked.
“Another good question, dear. They must have felt Opa had deserted them and their religion.”
“But Opa was just trying to help his family. Right, Oma?” Rebecca said.
“That’s right, dear. Nothing was more important to him. We had six children by that time.”
“Was Mother one of them, Oma?” Hannah asked.
“Yes, Angelina was just a little girl at the time.”
“What happened then, Oma?”
“Several of the people from the synagogue came to our house, and they had terrible arguments with Opa. I tried not to pay attention, but they were very loud, and Opa was upset after they left. The more they argued with him, the more he was determined to stand his ground. He never gave an inch.”
“In Chicago, they would call Opa a tough guy,” Rebecca said.
“Oh, he was a tough guy, to be sure,” Sara said. “Unfortunately, sometimes being tough can cause unpleasant consequences.”
“Is that the sad part?” Hannah asked.
“Yes. One night, our house caught fire. We could never prove it, but both Opa and I were convinced the people he argued with were responsible.”
“They really set your house on fire?” Rebecca asked, her eyes wide with surprise. “It burned down?” Hannah held her hand over her mouth.
“By the time the firemen arrived, it was too late to save the house. That wasn’t the worst part, though. Everyone got out of the house, but our youngest—just a baby little Janny was—breathed in too much smoke and died in Opa’s arms. It broke his heart. He never got over it, and I think he blamed himself.”
“But he didn’t start the fire, Oma. It wasn’t his fault!” Both girls had tears streaming down their cheeks. Rebecca saw a faraway look in Oma’s eyes, and her pipe had gone out again.
Oma set her pipe on the side table, rose from her rocker, and took her granddaughters’ little hands in hers.
“That’s enough storytelling for now. Let’s go make some lemonade.”