Shabbos for One
I was sprawled on the swing in the backyard one Sunday when my little sister Dini came running out.
“Guess what?” she shouted. “Guess where I’m going?”
“Where?” I asked, disinterestedly, as I flicked through the magazine on my lap.
“Michal invited me to the country for Shabbos! Mommy said I can go!”
“Wow,” I said, tossing the magazine aside and finally paying her some real attention. “How will you get there?”
“Mommy said I can get a ride with Mr. Stein,” Dini said. “He’s leaving Thursday night around supper time.”
“Well, lucky you,” I responded. “That leaves Chavi and me at home for Shabbos. It’s going to be a quiet one.”
The summer had been a quiet one so far. My brothers were away at sleepaway camp. I was working in a local day camp; the very same one my two younger sisters attended. My days were mostly pleasant and uneventful, although there had been a couple of days when my co-counselor was absent and I had to contend with an entire bunk of active six year olds on my own. The weekends were long and leisurely, as they tend to be in the summer.
Lots of people I know complain about Shabbos in the city, but I don’t mind them. I have a handful of friends working here with me who are usually around in the afternoon, and if they are busy my sister Chavi is only a year younger than me and great company.
But by the time Tuesday arrived that particular week, Chavi had plans of her own. “Miriam invited me for Shabbos,” she told me over dinner that night. “I was going to walk over just for the afternoon, but it’s been so hot that we decided it’s better for me just to sleep over.”
“Wait,” I said. “Can you go a different week? I have no plans, and no one else will be home for Shabbos. It’ll be so weird with just Mommy, Tati, and me around the table.”
Chavi shrugged. “So make plans. I already told Miriam I’d go and it’s going to be really fun. Wait, you want to join us?”
I shook my head. The last thing I wanted was to be the tag-along older sister. I tried inviting a couple of friends, but it seemed like no one was going to be around for the weekend.
“Maaa,” I whined the next morning. “I’m dreading Shabbos! I don’t want to be alone!”
“You won’t be alone,” she said in her very best “everything will be alright” voice. “Tati and I will be here. It will be great!”
“Yeah, right,” I grumbled. “Sounds like a real party.”
“So, I hear we’ll have the pleasure of your company this Shabbos,” my father said that evening as I walked into his study to find a book.
“Very funny,” I answered. “But not funny. I love you and all, but this is not what I consider a fun plan.”
“Well, Mommy and I think it will be nice,” Tati said, “but if you are so unhappy about it, why don’t you also find a place to go for Shabbos? We’d miss you, but will understand.”
Now, why didn’t I think of that?
I picked up the phone and called Bubby in Lakewood.
“Hi, Bubby!” I said brightly. “How would you like to host your favorite grandchild for Shabbos?”
“Oh, mamale, I would love to,” she said, “but I have some sort of virus that I can’t seem to shake. I’m just not up to cooking this week. Would you like to come next week instead?”
“Thanks, Bubby, I’ll let you know. Refuah shelaima!”
I hung up the phone, deflated, when another idea occurred to me. My cousin Shifra in Monsey! I hadn’t spoken to her in ages, but what better time to catch up than the summer?
“Hi, Tante Yoch,” I greeted my aunt when she answered on the third ring. “Can I please speak to Shifra?”
“Oh, Shifra’s not home,” came the response. “She decided to go to camp last minute, remember?”
I guess that’s what I get for not answering her calls during the weeks leading up to summer, I mused as I hung up.
I tried two friends in the Catskills with no luck.
My options for the weekend were nil. I was stuck at home, alone with my parents.
“I don’t get it,” my friend Raizy said when I complained to her. “It sounds amazing to be the only one home. I have three nephews and two nieces coming up here for Shabbos with my sister and brother-in-law, plus my brothers will be home for Shabbos. It’ll be a zoo. Now that is something to kvetch about.”
When Erev Shabbos rolled around, I gloomily set the table for three. I didn’t bother making a dessert, my usual pre-Shabbos job; instead I picked up a box of ice pops from the corner store.
And when my father came home from shul a few hours later, it was with a great show of reluctance that I made my way to the table.
“So, Rina.” He beamed at me. “How was your week?”
“Yes, tell us all about it,” my mother agreed.
I did my best to fill the silence, join in with my father’s zemiros (that was usually Dini’s job when the boys weren’t home), and eat as much as I could of my mother’s delicious food (well, that part wasn’t too hard). After I finished clearing the table (which took about five seconds), I went upstairs, passing all the empty bedrooms, and went to bed, breathing in the silence.
The next day I slept as late as possible. I took my time davening and sat through another quiet meal. As I put away the last dish, my mother said, “Rummikub?”
“Wait, what?” I asked.
“Rummikub,” she replied. “Want to play a game with Tati and me?”
I shrugged, but got the game anyway and sat down for a few rounds. When we’d had enough, my parents invited me to join them for a stroll. We chatted as we walked, stopping every so often under a shady tree to recover from the heat, circling the neighborhood and cutting through a nearby park. By the time we got back, it was time for my father’s shiur.
I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the couch with a book, then surprised my parents with a beautiful spread for shalosh seudos.
Before I knew it, Shabbos was over. And I had actually enjoyed every minute.
Chavi came home late that night.
“Rivka stopped by Miriam’s house this afternoon and said she’d love to have me next Shabbos,” she said. “But I told her I should probably wait a week or two since you won’t be too happy to have a quiet house again so soon.”
“No, its fine,” I said. “You can go.”
“What?” Chavi asked, her eyes wide. “Really?”
I know that the rest of this summer will fly by, as summers tend to do, and that the house will fill up again with the happy bustle of all my siblings. And I look forward to that. But while I will be happy to see the seats filled once again around our table, I will also cherish the memory of my special Shabbos for one.