By Hannah Berman

 

For Rosh Hashanah I slept at the home of one of my daughters. The following week, I slept at my friend Claire’s house. That was the night of Kol Nidrei. I’ve been doing that since the year I lost Hubby. Before that time, he and I would walk to and from shul together, but once I was alone, I no longer considered that an option. Claire lives directly across the street from the shul that she and I have been davening at for close to 50 years. And on Yom Kippur, walking any distance holds no appeal for me. A few days later my sleeping accommodations changed once again. This time it was for the first days of Sukkot, and my plan was to hunker down in the home of another daughter.

As my back pain doesn’t allow me to spend much time in an upright position, standing for more than a few minutes is not something I choose to do. The only assistance I am able to give is to volunteer to do something that can be done while sitting at the kitchen table. And so I peeled, sliced, or chopped whatever vegetables were handed to me. Somebody would wash the veggies at the kitchen sink and I did the rest. All of my grandchildren love to cook and they are good at it. So, together with my daughter, several of them were in the kitchen and in various stages of food preparation. It was during that time that I learned that there was a new family member hanging out. Or perhaps she was not a relative but a friend. In truth, I am not certain because I never met her face to face.

For the better part of an hour, my grandchildren and my daughter would call out her name. “Alexa, the broccoli will be done in 20 minutes,” shouted one of my grandsons. “Alexa, the potatoes need 30 minutes,” shouted another. My granddaughter, who had made the challah earlier in the day, shouted, “Alexa, the challah will be finished warming in five minutes.”

Silently, as I sat at the kitchen table tearing freshly washed lettuce and slicing other vegetables into a large bowl for salad, I looked around the room. But nowhere did I see anyone other than the aforementioned family members. It seemed to me that everyone was conversing with a phantom, but I found that hard to believe as my daughter and her children are not prone to hallucinations. Maybe this Alexa person was sitting somewhere out of my line of vision. Whoever she was and wherever she was, she remained silent. I didn’t hear her actually respond to anyone who addressed her.

I began to feel uneasy about the situation but pride kept me from questioning the kids. I didn’t ask who Alexa was or why I was unable to see her, though I was anxious to know just who they were talking to. Out of the corner of my eye, I kept watch on every person in the room. Unless my eyesight was failing, and failing fast, there was no sign of another female anywhere. I decided to change my tactic.

Instead of looking for this Alexa person, I kept my eyes focused on my daughter and her sous chefs. In total, there were five of them and they were as busy as beavers. After watching them for a few minutes I noticed that whenever one of them spoke aloud to Alexa, he or she would walk over to the same area, bend forward to the countertop, and raise his or her voice. From my vantage point, it looked like they were actually talking to that countertop. And while technology is not my strong suit, it eventually occurred to me that this odd scene had something to do with one of those modern day “thingies” that are so alien to my lifestyle.

I kept in mind that on a regular basis some newfangled instrument appears on the scene and becomes part-and-parcel of the lives of my grandchildren. And now, apparently, even my daughter is on board, since she, too, was talking to this Alexa person. Clearly, the only one in the dark was me. But I categorically refused to ask the obvious question: “Who in the world is this Alexa character and where is she?”

Long after I was finished with the salad preparation, I remained seated and continued to keep watch on the goings-on. Instead of asking for another job that I might help out with, I kept my eyes trained on the area of the counter that everyone approached before addressing Alexa. It took a few minutes, but eventually I spotted what appeared to be a small black “something or other.” It wasn’t actually a box so I don’t know what to call it. It was a square, or perhaps a rectangular object that seemed to me to have no purpose in the kitchen. It wasn’t a knife, a slicer, a peeler, or a chopper. Yet there it sat, and it was clearly the focus of everyone’s attention. It was the size and shape of a small cassette. I wasn’t certain if it was a Dictaphone or a tape recorder. Then again, maybe a Dictaphone and a tape recorder are one and the same. That, too, escapes me.

The mystery was solved when I finally realized that all of them were bending over and talking into that little black instrument. There was nobody in that kitchen other than me, my daughter, and a few of my grandchildren. And the little black “thingy” that was lying on the countertop was there to remind them when to turn off the oven or the cooktop, which held whatever each of them was responsible for cooking.

While I was delighted to have solved the mystery of Alexa, what thrilled me most of all was the fact that I never asked anybody for an explanation. I didn’t inquire as to who Alexa was or where she was. My eyesight isn’t as good as it once was but, thank G-d, it hasn’t totally failed. And, technology aside, my mind remains as sharp as ever. It finally dawned on me that Alexa was not a live human being. As it pertains to my knowledge of technology, that’s just the way it is.

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-295-4435.

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