Worse Than Before


(A retold fable)

In a small village on a small plot of land in a small house lived a big man with a big wife and a big family. They also had a large she-goat, a cow, a big fat mare, a huge rooster, and several fat laying hens.

Each morning when the big man, Efriam, awoke, he looked around the crowded room filled with eight beds. He counted two heads on each of the seven beds. Yes, all of his children were accounted for as was his wife, Hannah, who slept soundly next to him. Bless her soul.

Then Efriam would quietly climb out of bed, pull on his work clothes, and tiptoe out of the small house onto his small plot of land to do his chores.

One morning while standing just outside the closed door and looking upward, he drew in a deep breath. “I’m grateful, Lord,” he said, scarcely above a whisper. “Who could want for anything more?” And he looked around him at the tasks awaiting his hands.

“It is not for naught either,” Efriam continued speaking as he walked toward the barn. “For it is but for your asking, your command, and I shall follow. Thy will, not mine,” he said loudly.

Efriam worked the land and groomed old Bess while speaking gently to her. “How old you grow, Bess. Soon you will need to be pastured and not work at all. Yet, can I get another to replace you?”

Bess responded by nuzzling her nose into his hands. After that, Efriam milked his cow, milked the goat, fed the chickens, gathered the eggs, and returned to his small house where he found the children awake and scampering about. Food was on the table and Hannah waited with a smile to serve him. Laughter filled the small house, and Efriam thought that it sounded as though the rooms were flooded with the music of the great masters of the world.

Thus life went on for Efriam and his big family. But one evening before retiring for the night, Hannah sat solemnly without a word spoken between them.

Efriam broke the silence. “Speak, my silent wife. What burdens you?”

“It is of my parents I am thinking,” she said, gazing into his eyes. “They are ill and unable to care for themselves. What will become of them?” Then she asked, her eyes brimming with tears, “Can you see it in your heart to allow them to live here?”

“But we have scarcely room for ourselves,” Efriam gently replied.

She touched his hand. “If the heart is big enough, Efriam, there is room for others in the house.”

“What of beds? We have no room for another bed.”

Hannah arose. “Look!” she said. “Two little children in this bed can sleep with the two children in that bed. And my parents can sleep in the empty bed. Where the heart wants to, Efriam, one can manage to manage.”

Efriam nodded in agreement, and soon after that her parents came to live in the small house with the big family. Just when Efriam grew accustomed to his enlarged family, once again he came upon Hannah, who was more solemn than the time he found her weeping over her parents.

“What is it now?” he asked, feeling a fear clutching at his heart.

“It is my sister Rachel and her children that I grieve for. Ever since she became widowed, matters have grown from bad to worse. She is unable to care for her land, she is penniless and unable to pay her debts, and she is even now being turned out of her home. What will become of her and her three children?”

“We have no room for more!” Efriam said almost sternly.

“But we can make room,” Hannah entreated. “The two children in that bed can sleep with the two in this bed. And Rachel and the two small children can sleep in the empty bed.”

“What of her son, Herschel? Where will he sleep?” Efriam questioned. “And him almost as big as old Bess and eating much more—what of him?”

“There is room to push this bed that way and that bed this way. Herschel will have room to bring in his own bed and place it there.”

Efriam scratched his head.

Hannah touched his hand. “If the heart is big enough, Efriam, there is room for others in the house. Where the heart wants to, one can manage to manage.”

Efriam nodded his head in approval, and shortly after that Rachel and her children came to live in the small house with the big family.

Soon though, life became miserable for Efriam. He noticed that Herschel slept almost through the day. When he was awake, he did no chores. He did nothing but make sounds that were neither melodious nor sensible, only a constant rise and fall of his voice, “Ta, da da da, da da da, dum dum.”

The worst part for Efriam was the dum dum. It dummed dummed in his head until he could no longer bear it. To speak of it to Hannah was of no use. She was always busy talking, crying, and laughing with Rachel. It seemed to Efriam that at times Hannah was unaware of his existence.

Efriam thought about what he should do. Who do I know who is wise enough to give me some sound advice, he wondered. “Of course,” he murmured, “the rabbi! I’ll go to him.”

So early one morning, instead of putting on his work clothes, Efriam dressed in his one and only suit and best boots that he wore for special occasions. He hitched old fat Bess to the wagon, climbed in, and, without telling Hannah where he was going, rode off to see the rabbi.

The holy man ushered Efriam into his study, allowed him to tell his story uninterrupted, made no comments except to purse his lips when Efriam mentioned Herschel’s habits and his ta, da da da, da da da, dum dum.

“Worse than that,” Efriam added, “Herschel makes no move to help me with the chores—milking the goat and the cow, grooming old Bess, feeding the chickens, gathering the eggs, hoeing the gardens.”

The rabbi leaned back in his chair and stroked his beard. Finally he counseled the distraught man: “Efriam, go home and bring your goat into your house.”

“The goat into my house?”

“That is what I said. You will see the wisdom of it in time.”

So it was that Efriam went home and brought the goat into the house. Soon he noticed that though the goat made goat noises, no one else seemed to notice. And still above the din, Herschel continued his ta, da da da, da da da, dum dum.

Everything was worse than before. When Efriam could stand it no longer, he returned to the rabbi. As before, the rabbi ushered him into his study, allowed him to speak without interruption, then said, “Go home, Efriam, and bring into your house your cow.”

“My cow?”

“That is what I said. You will see the wisdom of it in time.”

Efriam went home, brought the cow into the house, and as before, no one took any notice of her. But life was intolerable. The moo-mooing, the bla-blaing, and Herschel’s dum dumming were too much for Efriam’s sanity to contend with. He returned to the rabbi only to be told this time to bring in the rooster and hens. Now it was pandemonium.

When Efriam returned to the rabbi, he declared, “I can no longer live in my house.”

The rabbi said, “Go home, Efriam, and remove the goat.”

Efriam removed the goat, but the din hardly improved.

When Efriam visited the rabbi the next time he was told to remove the cow.

Efriam did as the rabbi suggested, but the cock-a-doodle-dooing of the rooster, the cackling of the hens, and the laying of eggs all over the house were too much for him.

On his last desperate trip to the rabbi’s house, Efriam was told to remove the rooster and the hens.

When all the birds were out of the house, Efriam had a new feeling of spaciousness about him. He looked around contentedly at his increased family. He listened to their sounds, and even Herschel’s monotonous ditty seemed pleasant enough.

Efriam thought how grateful he was that the good Lord had given him enough to share with others. He looked upon Hannah’s happy face and pondered her charitable advice. Then he remembered, If the heart is big, there is room for others. And if there is room there, there is room in the house. Where the heart wants to, one can manage to manage.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Shauna Mooney