In America, they don’t let you burn. My mother told me that.
When we came to America, we brought anger and socialism and hunger. We also brought our demons. They stowed away on the ships with us, curled up in the small sacks we slung over our shoulders, crept under our skirts. When we passed the medical examinations and stepped for the first time out onto the streets of granite we would call home, they were waiting for us, as though they’d been there the whole time.
The streets were full of girls like us at every hour of day and night. We worked, took classes, organized for the unions, talked revolution at the top of our voices in the streets and in the shops. When we went out on strike, they called us the fabrente maydlakh, the burning girls, for our bravery and dedication and ardor, and the whole city ground to a halt as the society ladies who wore the clothing we stitched came downtown and walked our lines with us. I remember little Clara Lemlich, leaping to her feet at a general meeting and yelling, “What are we waiting for? Strike! Strike! Strike!” Her curly hair strained at its pins as if it might burst out in flames, the fire that burns without consuming.
I was raised in Bialystok. I was no stranger to city life, not like those girls from the shtetls who grew up surrounded by cows and chickens and dirt. Though I had my fair share of that as well, spending months at a time with my bubbe, who lived in a village too small to bother with a real name, three days’ journey from the city.
My sister, Shayna, she stayed in the city with our dressmaker mother and shoemaker father, and learned to stitch so fine it was as though spiders themselves danced and spun at her command. Not me, though. I learned how to run up a seam, of course, so that I could be a help to Mama when I was home, but my apprenticeship was not in dressmaking. Mama could see from the beginning that I was no seamstress.
Mama didn’t have the power herself, but she could find it in others. Eyes like awls, my mama had. Sharp black eyes that went right through you. When I was born she took one look at me and pronounced, “Deborah—the judge.”
When Mama saw what I was going to be, she knew that I would have to spend as much time with my grandmother as I did with her, and so when I was four years old, my father rented a horse and cart and drove me out to my bubbe’s village.
ATCs (with the inspirational prompt named before each card):
Hot Cuppa (for my T Stands for Tuesday connection. Our host Elizabeth will have a live link as soon as her electricity comes back on -those Kansas storms don't play around- and I'll add a link to the post then. edit: Here's this week's T link.):
Just One Word:
In the Sky/In the Air:
Random (not from a prompt):