Authors: Ellen Schwartz
Copyright Â© 2000 Ellen Schwartz
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the publisher or, in the case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a licence from CANCOPY (Canadian Copyright Licencing Agency), 6 Adelaide Street East, Suite 900, Toronto, Ontario, M5C 1H6.
Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data
Schwartz, Ellen, 1949â
PS8587.C578J47 2000 jC813'.54 C00-910207-8 PZ7.S4074Je 2000
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number:
Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support of our publishing programs provided by the following agencies: the Department of Canadian Heritage, The Canada Council for the Arts, and the British Columbia Arts Council.
Cover design by Christine Toller
Cover illustration by Don Kilby
Interior illustrations by Kirsti
Orca Book Publishers
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IN THE UNITED STATES
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The author would like to thank Mrs. Davies' grade 3 â 4 class at Frank Hobbs Elementary School, and Ann Featherstone, for their editorial assistance
“Remember, children, your family reports are due tomorrow,” Ms. Brannigan reminded the class as they headed out the door.
That stupid assignment. He hadn't even started it yet.
What was he going to do?
Scowling, he shoved his hands in his
pockets and started across the school field.
Tomorrow? No way.
What a dumb project anyway. “Find out how your relatives came to Canada,” Ms. Brannigan had said. “Find out when they came and why they came, and what the conditions were like in the country where they came from. Write it all up in a report. Then we'll put all the reports together in a big scrapbook that the whole class can share.”
Yippee, Jesse thought, kicking a stone. As if he cared about his dumb old relatives. What difference did it make when they came to Canada, or why, or how? They were all dead now, had been dead for years. They got here and now Jesse's family lived here â that was all that mattered. So why bother going back in time to find out all that stuff?
Jesse whacked at a tree with a stick.
And how was he supposed to find it all out anyway? He knew nothing about his relatives, didn't remember hearing any
stories. He had no papers or pictures or scrapbooks or diaries, like some of the other kids. And the stupid report was due tomorrow.
Jesse aimed a stone at a telephone pole.
Shoot. He'd have to ask his parents. And then they'd know he'd left it until the last minute. Again. Last time, with the science project, was bad enough. But now, again â¦
Well, there was no help for it. No one else to ask. Might as well face the music â and hope his mom or dad could bail him out.
He entered the kitchen. No sign of his dad, but his mom was there, stuffing papers into her briefcase.
“Hey, Mom,” he said, “how's it going?” No harm buttering her up a bit first.
“Hi, Jesse.” She waved a hand as she hurriedly slipped on her dress shoes.
“Got a minute?”
“As a matter of fact, no. I've got to dash.
“Where're you going?”
“Big meeting at the office â remember?”
Jesse's heart sank. “But Mom, I need your help.”
“For what?” she said, stuffing papers into her briefcase.
“A social studies report. About our relatives.”
“Which relatives? What about them?”
“The long-ago ones. The ones who first came to Canada. I need to know when they came and why they came and how they came and â”
Jesse's mom laughed. “That's quite a project.”
“I know, Mom, that's why I need to ask you â”
“Not now, that's for sure.”
“But Mom â”
“Sorry, Jesse, I'm running late as it is. Tell you what. We'll sit down tomorrow after school. You can ask me all the questions
you want. Promise.” She ruffled his hair, then started putting on her jacket.
Panic set in. “But Mom, it's due tomorrow.”
She stopped with the jacket halfway on. “It's what?”
Jesse lowered his eyes.
“You left this until the last minute?”
“Well, yeah, but â”
“Aw, Mom, you know how much I hate Social Studies, and it's a dumb assignment anyway â”
“That is no excuse.”
“I know, but â”
“I can't believe you've done it again, Jesse. You've got to smarten up!”
“I know, Mom. I will. Really. But in the meantime can't you at least tell me when they came? And where they came from?”
She frowned at him, shaking her head. “They came from Russia. Around the end of the nineteenth century.”
” Jesse repeated, dismayed. “Don't you even know the year?”
“Not the exact year.”
“Because nobody kept any records.”
His mom ran a brush through her hair. “They were poor Jews, Jesse. They escaped at a time when many Jews were leaving Russia. Things were crazy. People were dying. Everyone was in a hurry to get out. There was no time to keep proper records.”
“Some help that is!” Jesse snapped.
“Look, young man, this is your own fault. If you hadn't let it slide â”
“OK, OK. But how did they come? Do you at least know that?”
The doorbell rang. His mom opened it. “Oh, hi, Sally,” she said, ushering in the babysitter. “Just in time. Dinner's in the oven. I'll be back around nine.” She grabbed her briefcase, gave Jesse a quick hug. “Be good.”
“Mom!” Jesse wailed.
She turned back, giving him an exasperated look. “Try looking up in the attic. Your great-great-grandfather â Yossi Mendel-sohn, his name was â was about your age when the family left Russia. There's an old traveling case that used to belong to him up there somewhere.”
“What's in it?”
“I don't remember.”
“There might be some passports or diaries or other documents that can help you.”
His mom gave him a sharp look. “Well, do you have any other ideas?”
“No,” Jesse said miserably.
Her voice softened. “Go ahead, give it a try, Jesse. You never know what you might find.”
Blowing him a kiss, she left.
Jesse pushed aside the trap door and pulled himself up into the attic. A speck of dust tickled his nose.
Blech! It was dusty up here.
Smelled, too. Old and musty. Yuck. Jesse stood up.
“Ouch!” Why hadn't Mom told him the attic walls were so steep?
Rubbing his head, he looked around.
Cartons, suitcases and trunks crammed the narrow space.
Great, he thought. He was going to die from the dust, if he didn't knock himself out first. And how on earth was he supposed to find that box in all this mess, anyway?
Grumbling to himself about how he'd rather be riding his bike or kicking around a soccer ball with the guys or practically anything else you could think of, Jesse started searching.
He pushed aside an old dresser to reach a box wedged under the eaves. Printing showed between the flaps. Maybe â¦
No, just old, musty-smelling magazines, their pages stuck together.
Jesse opened another carton. Clothes, it looked like. He lifted out a pair of blue booties, then a tiny yellow sweater embroidered with bunnies. His baby clothes. Embarrassing! Good thing the guys weren't around.
He tore open another box. Several pairs of ancient ice skates, with worn toes and dull blades.
Maybe his mom was wrong, and that old box of Yossi's wasn't up here, and this whole thing was a waste of time. I'll give it five more minutes, he promised, and then that's it.
He searched the shelves of a bookcase, but found only toppled-over books.
OK, forget it. It wasn't his fault. He'd tried. He'd just have to tell Ms. Brannigan that he couldn't â
Turning, Jesse caught his foot on the corner of the bookcase. WHOMP! Down he fell.
Lying flat on the floor, he saw it. A box. Shoved under the bottom shelf of the bookcase. He pulled it out. Dark brown, heavy leather, with two cracked leather straps that buckled to hold it shut. Flat and rectangular, about the size of his mom's briefcase.
This must be the one. Yossi's traveling case. In spite of himself, a tingle went up Jesse's back.
The straps were stiff with age. One metal buckle opened easily, but the other was rusted shut. Jesse pried. He shoved. He wiggled. Rust flaked off on his fingers. Finally, he managed to shove the prong out of the hole. Freed, the strap slid through the buckle.