The unmistakable aroma wafted from the kitchen into Shprintza Genendel’s living room, where she and her best friend Chani were playing a board game. It was called that because it is played on a board. And also because the two girls would quickly grow bored with it. That Friday, the delicious smell didn’t help.
“Chicken soup!” observed Chani, turning toward away from the game to the kitchen and licking her lips with anticipation. Shprintza Genendel agreed with that pronouncement and explained that “Ima always makes chicken, and chicken soup, on erev Shabbos morning.”
“Think she might let us have some now?” Chani asked.
“Sure!” said Shprintza Genendel, knowing her mother well. “But I have to tell you, we’re all out of croutons.”
“No croutons?” Chani said, her voice laden with disappointment. “Chicken soup just isn’t the same without croutons!” Shprintza Genendel solemnly agreed. With seriousness, too.
“Let me ask Ima if she’ll give us some money to go down to Fresser’s Delight to buy some,” suggested Shprintza Genendel. Chani gave her friend a smile and a thumbs-up.
Shprintza Genendel disappeared into the kitchen for a minute and came back holding a five-dollar bill. “Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!” cried Chani. That was Chani’s way of expressing enthusiasm.
Shprintza Genendel and Chani practically danced out the front door, leaving the board and its pieces all over the floor – which elicited a deep sigh from Ima when she came out a few minutes later for a short break from cooking. By then, though, the girls were already marching up and down the aisles at Fresser’s Delight, looking for croutons. When they saw that the shelf where such things belong was bare, their faces fell.
Picking them up, they walked over to the checkout counter to ask the grumpy man standing there if the store had any croutons. “Maybe there are some in the back, somewhere?” asked, and hoped, Shprintza Genendel.
“Nope, sorry,” the checkout man responded dryly. “We sold the last container earlier this morning.”
“Oh, no!” exclaimed Chani. “What will we do?” Shprintza Genendel chimed in.
Mr. Grump-face just looked at the girls, smiled a crooked smile, and said “Why don’t you just go looking for a crouton tree?”
“A crouton tree?” both girls asked incredulously and in unison (and with wonder and at the same time, too). “There’s no such thing as a crouton tree!” Chani added, raising one of her eyebrows (a talent she possessed).
“Why, sure there is, girls. Where do you think WE get the croutons from?”
The girls looked at each other and then at the Mr. Grump-face, then back at each other.
“See that woods behind the store?” he said. “There are crouton trees in it.”
The girls were skeptical (also, they didn’t think he was right). But Shabbos was hours away, and they had nothing better to do, so they set off on a path into the woods.
The birds were singing as they walked. One, a reddish bird with a black tail, landed right in front of them. “Hi bird!” Shprintza Genendel chirped at it.
And do you know what the bird said?
Nothing, of course. Birds can’t talk.
And so the girls continued down the path, with the sun winking through the trees at them, as if to signal to them that they would indeed find a crouton tree on their walk.
But they didn’t. What they did find, though, was a squirrel, standing on a tree branch alongside the path, panting and eyeing them strangely.
“Mr. Squirrel,” Shprintza Genendel said quietly, making Chani smile and roll her eyes. “Would you know where we might find a crouton tree?
The squirrel shook its furry tail, and do you know what it said?
Nothing. Squirrels can’t talk either.
A half-hour later, after passing many different kinds of trees and shrubs but finding nothing that had anything like croutons hanging from it, the girls reached the end of the path, the end of the woods. They were in a neighborhood they didn’t recognize.
“Maybe we should head back the way we came,” said Chani, sensibly.
“Maybe we shouldn’t,” said Shprintza Genendel, non-sensibly.
Chani was about to start arguing with her friend but, as she looked around, she saw that down the street, not 500 feet away from them, stood a food store.
The sign over it read: “Basch’s Noshes.” Shprintza Genendel saw what Chani was looking at and, taking her by the hand, headed straight to the store.
There was a friendly-looking woman behind the counter, and she greeted the girls.
“Hi, ladies, I don’t think I’ve seen you here before.”
“That might be,” Shprintza Genendel offered helpfully, “because we have never been here before!”
Chani chuckled, and told the lady that they were on a quest to find croutons.
“Croutons!?” the lady almost shouted and then broke into a long, loud laugh.
“Yes, croutons!” said Shprintza Genendel.
“Well, my little pretties,” said the lady with a cackle that momentarily alarmed the girls. “You are in luck! You’ve come to the right place.”
She then pranced out from behind the counter and explained. “I ordered one case of croutons last week and the company sent me five cases by accident! I was wondering what I might possibly be able to do with so many containers of croutons! I need my shelf space for other things, like gefilteh fish and breakfast cereal, shoe polish and muffin mix!”
Shprintza Genendel and Chani slowly turned to look at one another, and the same smile seemed to crawl across their faces simultaneously (and at the same time, too).
They turned back to face the lady, who, then disappeared into a back room and returned a moment later with ten containers of croutons!
“All we have is five dollars,” protested Chani.
“No problem. Take them all. I need to unload these croutons. You’ll be doing me a favor by taking them!”
The girls couldn’t believe their good fortune. “Baruch Hashem,” said Chani, and Shprintza Genendel agreed. And before they could properly thank the lady, she had put the containers of croutons into a bag for them. Then they thanked her properly.
Taking turns holding the large bag, which somehow seemed to grow heavier as they walked, the girls headed back along the path they had taken before.
At one point, a dragonfly hovered in front of them, its slender, glistening body shiny blue and its wings beating furiously. “Hi, Mr. Dragonfly!” said Shprintza Genendel. “How are you today?”
And do you know what the dragonfly said?
He said, “Fine, Baruch Hashem. I just ate a tasty mosquito!”
It was a talking dragonfly.
The girls were momentarily taken aback, but it was getting late, so they didn’t carry on the conversation. They wished the dragonfly good luck finding other mosquitos, and hurried on their way.
When they reached the end of the path, they saw that Fresser’s Delight was closing for Shabbos. Mr. Grumpy-face was locking the doors. When he saw the girls, he asked them what they had in their bag. They showed him.
“Where did you get all those croutons?” he asked them.
“Oh,” answered Chani, carefully avoiding saying a lie. “Weren’t you the one who told us about the crouton trees in the woods?”
“Yes!” added Shprintza Genendel, following Chani’s example. “Thank you so much!”
And then the girls turned and headed home, but not before stealing a glance over their shoulders to see Mr. Grumpy-face, headed quickly down the path into the woods.
They giggled all the way home.
P.S : The soup was superb!
(c) 2017 Rabbi Avi Shafran