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The Future of Her Choice

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An old photograph of cows grazing, labeled Cows Grazing in Isham Park

The May evening air was sweet and moist as Schprintze walked home. Her back and legs were a little stiff from sitting and sewing all day, but she was buoyed by the good news she had to tell Mama and Papa and Bielke. Life was comfortable enough these days, with Papa a trusted employee at Greene's Dairy and no longer hurrying into the city to deliver milk in the early hours, but that didn't mean her family couldn't use every penny Schprintze could earn.

She turned the corner and opened the gate to the back yard of the little apartment building. Yonkers was growing from a town into a young city. It was hard to believe that there were cows grazing only ten streets away. Buildings like theirs lined the main streets, with shops below and families living above. To her surprise, Bielke was sitting on the back steps, chewing her nails.

"Bielke! Stop that!"

Her little sister flushed and snatched her fingertips out of her mouth, but her head was high. "My name is Beulah, Stella," she said, with no trace at all of a Russian accent.

"Your English is better than mine, but you were still groaning over your geometry book last night. Why aren't you upstairs studying? Or helping Mama with dinner?"

Bielke's head drooped. "Miss Lewin is upstairs talking to Mama and Papa."

"Your teacher? Why? You are top of your class, you said!"

"That's just it. She wants me to go to high school."

"She's right," said Schprintze, slowly. "You're too smart to spend all your time just sewing, sewing, sewing, like me."

The door behind Bielke opened. Miss Lewin came out, neatly dressed in last year's style, her hair tucked under her modest hat in a not-too-fashionable pouf, steel-rimmed glasses perched on her nose. Papa was just behind her. "Say good night to teacher lady," said Tevye, gruffly.

Bielke stood up, awkwardly tall, twisting her hands together with the bitten fingernails hidden. "Good night, Miss Lewin."

"Good night, Beulah," said the teacher, kindly. "Good night, Stella."

"Good night," echoed Schprintze.

"Come inside now, you two," said Tevye, and turned and went up the stairs. Miss Lewin smiled sympathetically and walked out to the street, shutting the gate behind her. Bielke hunched her shoulders and went inside, with Schprintze trailing behind her.

"Look at them," said Mama, as they came into the main room of the apartment. Supper was cooking on the stove, but the table was as yet unlaid. "Butter wouldn't melt in such mouths! As though you weren't listening."

"I wasn't, Mama," said Bieke, miserably. "But I knew why she came over."

"High school," said Golde, scornfully. "And for what? They will just stuff your brains with silly notions, worse than Hodel's Perchik!"

"I want to be a nurse, Mama."

"Wiping sick people's behinds all day! Who would want to marry that?"

"Golde," said Tevye, and shook his head at her. "Mamashayna, it's not that we aren't proud that you're a smart girl. But we need the money you could be making. People know that you can work hard: you could earn enough to set yourself up in style and get a good man."

"Papa," said Schprintze, "Would it help if I were making almost half again as much as I'm making now? Could Bielke go to high school then?"

There was a stunned silence. "Zeisele, what are you talking about?" said Golde, at last. "You sew so nicely, but no one would pay you that money to do it!"

"But they would pay me that money to be the assistant manager of Bateman's Dress Shop."

"Who, you? Since when? You are only sixteen years old!"

"Since yesterday, when I went through Mrs. Bateman's billing and showed her where she was owed nearly five hundred dollars." Schprintze dug out her little purse. "Look - fifty bucks. She gave me this as a bonus and said now she would really make me earn my keep, but as assistant manager, not a seamstress!"

"Oh ho! What a Yiddische kopf!" said Tevye, grinning. Golde pressed her hands to her cheeks.

"Oh, Schprintze! My smart girl, my golden one! So grown up, already."

Tevye put his arm around Schprintze's shoulders and nodded to Bielke, whose eyes were as big as plates. "Our two smart girls, Mama — real Amerikaner girls! So, Bielkele, you want to go to high school?"

Bielke threw her arms around Schprintze and burst into tears. Schprintze, torn between embarrassment and pride, hugged her younger sister and thought about the other three who knew nothing of what had happened to their family today.

Image from My Inwood, a history of Inwood, NY, just south of Yonkers.