"Hold out your arm," Delia’s mother commanded. Obediently, Delia stretched her arm out long. She watched as her mother threaded two silver sewing needles through the sleeve of her flannel dress, right above her elbow.
"Now you have an extra one if the first one breaks.” Her mother gave her a long look that meant 'needles cost so be careful.' Delia nodded as if she had heard the words. The needles sparkled in the flicker of the gas jet. She admired them for a few moments, twisting her arm this way and that.
Her mother wore needles in her sleeve too. Sometimes only one or two, other times six or even eight if she was going to be working late. Delia had seen needles shining on her mother's arm like the badge a soldier might wear. Her mother rarely broke one, though. She was the best operator in the shop. All the ladies said so.
"You have your scissors?" Her mother turned down the flame on the lamp. Delia nodded again and they finished gathering up their things in the shadowy half-light of dawn.
Yesterday they'd paid Mr. Yakowsky, the hardware peddler, a nickel to sharpen her shears. She had watched sparks dance while he ground the blades against his screeching stone wheel. "Now they'll cut through anything,” he had chuckled as he handed them back to her. "Wool, felt, cardboard, bricks, even chains."
"Nu? She just needs them for cotton shirtwaists," her mother had explained.
Afterwards, Delia had tied her red ribbon through the handles so she could find them first thing in the morning. She had worn the ribbon for Rosh Hoshanna--New Year’s. But today was special too.
Now she looped the ribbon around her belt and gave it an extra knot to make sure it was tight.
"Hurry, Delia." Her mother wrapped a sourdough roll with cheese for each of them in old newsprint. "If we don't get there by seven, we'll be locked out a half-day."
Delia crammed her roll into her coat pocket. It was bigger than her fist. She knew her mother had slipped in an extra slice of cheese.
Out on the street Delia kept close to her mother as the crowd jostled them along. Peddlers’ carts rumbled across their path constantly. You had to be quick not to get your toes nipped by a passing wheel. The carts were laden with just about everything she could name in English. “Ladies gloves, boys' caps, knit socks, bowler hats,” she chanted quietly, trying to make little rhymes, so she could remember the words better. “Tin pots, copper pans, scented soap and petticoats.” The teacher had told her that soon she would be able to speak as well as an American. “Ink wells, pen nibs, lead pencils.” What rhymed with pencils? The bookseller trundled by. She stared, transfixed with wonder and longing. His cart was piled high with every story you might ever want to read...
Like many Americans I am the descendant of immigrants. I have always been fascinated by their stories. I hope you enjoy reading about Delia and her adventures growing up on the Lower East Side. If you want to learn more about the historical background, please take a look at the About and Resources sections. If you want to learn more about my other books for children and young adults visit my website.
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