Here’s an example of one of those times. I think it was in the Bronx and I was in the third grade. The teacher read us a story about a rabbit and a turtle. I think it actually was about a hare and a tortoise. It seemed that they had a race and the fast rabbit lost the race with the slower turtle. That didn’t make sense.
I said to Mama, “The teacher told us, ‘Slow and steady wins the race.’ Mama, we then went out to play and I ran slowly and all the boys beat me in the race.
“Mama—Papa always says, ‘Makh shnel’ (go fast) and you always say ‘hob geduld’ (have patience). Should I go fast or have patience?”
“Oy, Fishele, du fregst azoy fil frages. S’iz faran an untershid tsvishn zakhn un mentshn, khayes un geviksn. (Oh, Fishele, you ask so many questions. There is a difference between things and people, animals and plants.)
“Ven du arbetst un ven du geyst ergets makh shnel, un ven es kumt tsu lebedike zakhn—mentshn un khayes, hob geduld. (When you work and when you go somewhere go fast, and when it comes to living things—people and animals, have patience.)
“Es nemt a lange tsayt far a kalb tsu vern geboyrn, un a lange tsayt far veyts tsu vaksn.” (It takes a long time for a calf to be born, and a long time for wheat to grow.)
Many years later I remember telling Mama that my students seemed to be getting lazier and didn’t want to do all of their homework on time. Mama then said, “Du darfst hobn geduld mit dayne studentn.” (You need to have patience with your students.)
By this time Mama sometimes spoke to me in English and said, “The difference between your smart students and those that are not so smart is how long it takes them to learn. Once they learn it, they know it just as well. Everybody learns the address of where they live no matter how long it takes them.”
Mama had patience after Papa went away. Then, in 1990 she said, “I want to see if they are taking good care of him.”Mama, I still remember your advice of when to makh shnel and when to have geduld.