Thursday, December 18, 2008

Just Enough

A Folktale from Russia
Adapted by Elisa Pearmain

Once upon a time there lived a tailor's son named Joseph. He worked beside his father in his little shop cutting and stitching clothing for the wealthy folks in town. As he grew older, Joseph began to dream of making something special for himself to wear. He pictured a warm coat made of colorful fabric. For many years he saved the few coins that he got from helping his father. Finally he had enough to buy the cloth that he wanted.

Joseph went to the market and bought the piece of cloth he had been dreaming of. It was a warm gray with bits of gold and silver and even a little crimson here and there. That night while his father was sleeping, Joseph went to the shop. He laid out the pieces of fabric and made a careful plan. He measured, then he cut and he stitched. After several nights of working, the young man had made himself a fine coat. When the tailor saw the work his son had done, he felt proud. "You are a tailor now in your own right," he said. "You have done fine work." Joseph loved his coat. It was warm and colorful and everyone looked at it. He wore it everywhere, and the seasons passed.

One afternoon when Joseph had been buying cloth in the market for his father, a cold rain began to fall. He saw a young woman, shivering, wearing only a thin shawl to keep her from the cold. She was about his age. Joseph took off his coat and offered to let her wear it home. Joseph walked with her. They came to know one another, and within two years, Joseph and Anna were married.

Joseph made his own tailor shop in the basement of their small apartment in their town. He continued to wear his coat. He wore it; he wore it; until he had worn it out. One day, he held his coat up, turning it round, and spoke to Anna in a sad voice, "This old coat has meant so much to me. It was my first dream come true. It made my father proud, and it helped me to meet you. Now there is nothing left. Nothing."

But then he laughed out loud, "There is something left. Just enough." Instead of throwing the coat in the rag bin, he took it to his workbench and began to measure, and to cut and stitch. By morning, he had made a jacket.

He loved the jacket. He wore it everywhere. Soon his wife gave birth to twin girls. When they were a year old, he looked outside one night and saw the first snowflakes falling. "Come on girls," he said, picking them up and tucking one into each side of his jacket and buttoning them in. "We will go taste the first snowflakes of winter." The girls laughed in amazement as the big flakes melted on their noses and tongues. Joseph danced round and round holding his two darlings under his warm jacket.

He wore the jacket for years. He wore it and wore it, until one day Anna remarked that it was all worn out. He held the jacket up. "Old jacket, you've meant so much to me. I'll never forget how I danced with the twins in the first snow. But there is nothing left. Nothing."

But again he stopped, "There is just enough here. Just enough." And instead of throwing the jacket into the rag bin, he went to his workbench and began to measure, and to cut, and to stitch. In the morning he had made a cap. It was a lovely cap with a small brim and a lining to keep his head warm in winter.

He loved the cap. He wore it everywhere. When his girls were thirteen years old, there was a famine in the land. The crops were poor. Even the rich were not buying new clothes. The tailor's family had very little to eat, mostly potatoes, cabbage, or a carrot from Anna's garden, but never anything sweet.

One day they went into the forest at the edge of the town to collect firewood. All of a sudden Anna began shouting, "Berries, come see all of the berries!" The family stuffed their faces with berries, but there were still more. "If only we had something to carry them in, I would make a pie," Anna said.

What did they have to carry them in? Joseph's cap! The cap was filled to brimming with beautiful black berries. Their purple juice left a permanent stain, but the taste of berry pie after so much hunger was worth it.

Joseph continued to wear his hat for years, until one day, he looked at it, and he realized it was all worn out. He held the cap, turning it round, "Old cap, you've meant so much to me, but now there really is nothing left. Nothing." Then he laughed. "There's enough here. Just enough." Instead of throwing the cap away, he went to his workbench and cut and stitched, until he had made a bow tie.

He wore the bow tie everywhere. He wore it to his daughter's weddings and the births of his grandchildren. When his first grandson was old enough to speak he sat on Joseph's lap and played with his bow tie. "Grand Papa you have a butterfly on your shirt," the boy cried. From then on, every time he played with the grandchildren he would take off his bow tie and pretend that it was a butterfly.

One day when Joseph's hair was gray, he came home from the market and took off his coat. "Where is your bow tie?" Anna asked him. He felt for it, but it was gone. "It must have fallen off." As fast as his old legs would let him, he jumped up and retraced his steps through the market place. He went back to every shop asking at each stall. Everyone knew of his bow tie, but no one had seen it. He told Anna. "I have to find it." It was not until late in the night that Anna was finally able to guide old Joseph home. He got into bed without his supper.

The next day he refused to get up. "What's the use?" he said. "The cloth that I loved is gone. Now there is nothing left. Nothing. I have been through so much with that cloth, I feel as if I have lost someone near and dear."

Joseph did not hear when his wife laughed quietly. She put on her shawl and went to her daughter's homes. "Bring your children," she said. They all came and plopped down on the bed. " I can't play today," said Joseph, "I am too sad, I have lost my bow tie. I have lost so many dear memories."

"Tell us about the cloth, Dad," said one of his daughters. "Your grandchildren do not know all of the stories."

"Oh, it is too sad," he said.

"Please Grand Papa," the children begged.

"Alright, I will" he said slowly. He told them about making the coat, and making his father proud. He told about putting the coat over the young woman in the market and meeting his wife. He told about dancing in the snow with his two young babies. He told about the cap full of berries. As he recalled all of these memories, the tears fell slowly down his cheeks. He told about wearing the bowtie to his daughters' weddings and the births of his grandchildren.

His eldest grandchild chimed in, "You made your bow tie into a butterfly Grand Papa. Maybe it flew away."

Old Joseph sighed, "Yes, it seems that my beloved bow tie did fly away. And, you have helped me to see that the memories I have that are so dear to me did not fly away. There were just enough memories left to make a story. The story will never be lost if you help me keep it." Then Joseph the Tailor hugged his family close and got out of bed. His story was passed down through many generations.

Sources: Many oral and written versions of this old Jewish folk tale exist. I first read it in Just Enough to Make a Story, by Nancy Schimmel, l972, (Berkley: Sister's Choice Press, l986).


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