The Old Woman and the Devil

Here is one tradition that I remember from my childhood: Once a week, usually on Friday afternoons, when I was about 7 or 8, my grandmother wanted me to learn to sew simple things, e.g. buttons etc, which I disliked a lot, particularly threading the needle, so I used to cut very long threads which got entangled and caused me a lot of frustration. . My grandmother then told me an old Slovak story which made me realize that being lazy usually backfires. Here is the story which I published some time ago in a Slovak newsletter. It is not Jewish, but it was popular in Slovakia ( and told to kids) when my grandmother was growing up in a very small Jewish community. Nadia

The Old Woman and the Devil

The old woman – Baba – was sewing at her window when the devil flew by and said:
” Babka , let us bet who will finish sewing a shirt first, you or me?”
“And what is the bet?” asked Baba
“If I finish the shirt first, you will give me your soul; if you are done first, I will give you a hundred golden coins,” said the devil.
“Fine,” said Baba, “let us start!” and she handed the devil linen for the shirt, a ball of thread and a needle.
The devil sat at the open window and put through the eye of the needle such a long thread that each stitch threw him up in the air and far out of the room. The thread got all entangled around the stable. The devil had to disentangle it, and jump back into the room to perform each stitch. And so he ran continuously with the thread around the stable and back to the small bench where he was sitting.
Baba did not even give him a glance. She used only short threads and kept sewing and sewing so fast that her hand and fingers seem to fly through the linen. When the shirt was sewn, she showed it to the devil and said: “Show how much sewing you have done. I have finished t he shirt!”
The devil had been so busy jumping in and out with the thread that he had not even finished half the shirt. When he saw that Baba had won the bet he threw the hundred coins on the table and was so mad and ashamed that he disintegrated into tar.

Translation by Nadia Grosser Nagarajan
Originals in Slovak taken from Baba a Cert : Andrej Melichercik; SLOVENSKY FOLKLOR. Bratislava 1959, p, 220

Nadia Grosser Nagarajan is the author of Jewish Tales from Eastern Europe, in which she retells many such stories. Below is the link for anyone interested in reading more of her stories. =sr_1_2_10/107-1638811-9135767

Please share some of your childhood (or adulthood) stories with the TR family.

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