“Gifts of Love” is a heart-warming story about the friendship that develops between two children from diverse cultures. They share an optimistic view of the world, and while one struggles with illness, the other strives to help her friend in a very personal way. Parents may want to read this story with their child and discuss the important value of taking an active role in supporting someone fighting a serious illness. Published originally in 2013 in my collection of short stories entitled “A World of Blessings, Inspirational Stories for Jewish Children”
Gifts of Love
I met Rosa one Sunday morning when my mother and I were taking a walk through the park near our home. I’d brought hallah bread left over from Shabbat to feed the ducks. My mother sat on a bench and watched as I walked to the small lake at the center of the park. There I noticed a young girl about my age, also there to feed the ducks, tossing crumbs into the water. It was a warm day, but the girl had on a knitted, wintery cap that completely covered her head.
She smiled shyly at me as I approached. “I’m Rosa,” she said.
I wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers, but she was a young girl about my age, so I figured it was okay. “I’m Mira,” I told her.
“Want some cornbread to feed the ducks?” she asked, holding out the loaf.
“No thanks,” I said. “I brought hallah for them.” I showed her the chunk of braided bread in my bag.
“Hallah?” Rosa said, looking at it with curiosity. “What’s that?”
“It’s a special bread that we eat each week when we celebrate, Shabbat, the day of rest,” I told her.
“Oh,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever eaten hallah. My mom makes the best cornbread and it tastes delicious dipped in honey.”
“Hallah tastes good dipped in honey too,” I replied thinking about Rosh Hashanah when we dip our bread into honey for a sweet New Year.
The ducks paddled over to us as we took turns gently tossing pieces of hallah and cornbread into the water.
Rosa scratched her head through her woolen cap. I wanted to ask her why she was wearing it, but I didn’t want to be rude. So instead, I just said, “Aren’t you hot in your hat?”
“It’s a little itchy,” she admitted.
“Why don’t you take it off?” I suggested.
“Because I don’t have any hair and people will stare,” she answered.
When I gave her a puzzled look, Rosa continued, “I have cancer.”
“Oh,” was all I could think to say.
Rosa told me that she’d been going to treatments every Monday for more than two months. “The medicine made my hair fall out,” she said.
I ran my fingers through my long dark hair and looked back at my mother. She was sitting on a bench talking to a small pretty lady with short dark curls who looked a lot like Rosa. I guessed it was her mother. My mother wore a wig over her own dark hair as is the custom with religious Jewish women, once they are married. I looked back at Rosa.
“Could you get a wig?” I asked.
“We can’t afford one,” she responded. “But I’ve applied to a special organization called Locks of Love. They give children like me wigs made from hair that people donate. I’m hoping I get mine before my birthday.”
“When’s your birthday?”
“In two weeks,” she replied.
“Mine too,” I said excitedly. “On July 9th I’ll be eight years old.”
“Me too!” laughed Rosa. “We have the same birthday!”
Suddenly I heard my mother’s voice. “Mira, it’s time to go. You’re father’s workday is almost over. We can meet him at the bookstore and walk home with him.”
I made plans to meet Rosa the following Sunday. “If I feel well enough I’ll ask my mom to bring me,” she assured me.
“What’s cancer?” I asked my mother on the walk home.
“It’s a serious illness,” my mother explained. “Sometimes doctors can treat it and the person gets better. But sometimes the treatments don’t work.”
“Do you think Rosa will get better?” I asked.
My mother nodded. “I spoke with Rosa’s mother while we sat on the bench. She says that Rosa’s treatments seem to be working.”
“They made her hair fall out,” I said.
“I know,” my mother replied gently. “It will grow back once her treatments end.”
“I hope Rosa gets her wig from Lots of Love,” I said.
“Locks of Love,” my mother corrected me. When we arrived home with my father, I helped my mother make cornbread using a recipe she had gotten from Rosa’s mom. “Rosa’s mother serves it with chili. I think I’ll serve it with yesterday’s cholent,” my mother announced as she stirred the thick leftover meat and bean stew that I loved.
“This cornbread is delicious!” my father said during dinner.
“Rosa said it tastes good with honey,” I told him as I spooned a large sticky spoonful onto my piece of bread.
He smiled. “I’m sure it does.”
The next Sunday, I was so excited to see Rosa that I skipped all the way to the park.
I saw her sitting by the lake. She waved at me as I ran to join her. “Shalom!” she shouted. “My dad taught me the Jewish word for hello. Want some hallah?” she continued. “My mother got the recipe from your mom. I helped her braid it the way she used to braid my hair. It tasted great! But I did save some to feed the ducks.”
“Gracias,” I said grabbing a handful of crumbs.
Rosa laughed. “Where did you learn that?”
“My dad brought home a Spanish/English dictionary from the book store,” I proudly told her.
Rosa and I took off our shoes and dangled our feet in the water. A big bullfrog lifted his head out of the water and startled us. We shrieked and splashed our feet. My hair got drenched and fell in my face while Rosa’s cap got soaking wet.
“Why don’t you pin it back while it dries?” Rosa suggested when a wet curl fell into my eyes.
“I don’t have any hairpins,” I told her as I watched Rosa remove her cap and wring out the water. Even without hair, Rosa looked beautiful. I must have been staring because she quickly replaced the cap.
“Rosa,” I heard her mother say, “Time to go. We have to stop at the market on our way home.”
“Next Sunday is our birthday,” I reminded Rosa. “Let’s meet here and celebrate together.”
“Okay! I can hardly wait! Shalom, Mira,” she said with a grin. “My dad told me it also means goodbye.”
All that week I thought about a special gift I could give Rosa. I finally made a decision. I asked my mother to take me to a hair salon that would cut my hair and donate it to Locks of Love.
“Mira, that’s a wonderful idea! It won’t necessarily go to Rosa but it will help another child like her,” my mother explained. She made an appointment and took me the next day.
I listened to the snipping of the scissors as my long hair was cut into a very short boyish style. The hairdresser carefully placed my long hair in a box to be mailed away to the Locks of Love organization.
Afterwards, we stopped at the bookstore to visit my father. “Mira, you did a mitzvah, a special kindness! I’m very proud of you,” he said.
I smiled at him and pulled at my hair as if that might suddenly make it long again. Although I was glad I had donated it, I missed my long curls.
“The hat shop next door is having a ‘two for the price of one’ sale,” my father said to my mother when we got ready to leave. “Perhaps Mira can find a pretty hat for her birthday and she can also choose one for Rosa?”
I nodded happily at his suggestion. “Rosa says her knit cap is itchy. I’ll try to find hats that we can wear in the summer heat.”
With my mother’s help, I selected two straw hats. On Sunday morning I picked fresh flowers from our garden and wove them into the brims of both hats. I could hardly wait to share my gift with Rosa. I put my hat on so it completely covered what little hair I had left. I then wrapped Rosa’s hat. I ran ahead of my mother all the way to the park.
“Happy birthday!” I shouted when I spotted Rosa.
“Happy birthday yourself!” she replied handing me a small wrapped package.
Inside was a pair of hairpins that Rosa had decorated with the same yarn that had been used to knit her cap. Rosa had glued small blue beads in the center of each hairpin.
“I figured these will help keep the hair out of your eyes,” she giggled.
“Yes!” I smiled at her. “Muchos Gracias, thank you very much.”
“Take off your hat, Mira, and try them on,” she urged me.
“First open your gift,” I replied.
She quickly unwrapped the straw hat. “It’s beautiful!” she said smelling the fresh flowers on the brim.
“Put it on,” I insisted.
“Before I do, I have another surprise,” Rosa said. She pulled off her knit cap. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the soft dark curls that covered Rosa’s head.
“You got your wig!” I cried. “It looks beautiful!”
Rosa placed the straw hat on top of her new wig. “This hat will keep the sun out of my eyes. Thank you, Mira. I really like it. Now, try on the hairpins I made you.”
“I also have a surprise,” I told her removing my hat. “I donated my hair to Locks of Love.” I took the hairpins and pinned them to the brim of my hat. “I’ll keep them right here until my hair grows back.”
As we hugged, we both agreed that we had never received birthday gifts as special as the ones we shared with each other on our eighth birthday.