By Debbonnaire Kovacs, posted Sept. 16, 2015
[From Prov. 31:10-31; Pani is a loose transliteration of the Hebrew word translated “ruby.”]
It is dark when I rise, lighting the small lamp from the coals of last night’s fire. I shield the flame from my husband’s sleeping body, though I know he will be up soon, too. I dress quickly and go to the water jars in the back yard to wash. I want to go through the bundles my servants brought last night from the traders who are finally back in town, and be sure it is all good quality. If it’s not, they’ll be hearing from me today, before they leave again, and we will make a better trade.
The loose braids of flax fibers shimmer in the light of my tiny flame. Excellent! Smooth, tangle-free, and well hackled. This will be easy to spin. And the wool, oh, yes! The fleeces from the north are always finer. Lovely crimp! Can’t wait to get my hands and my spindles into this, though of course the girls will have more time for it than I do.
I can hear Joanna stirring now. “Joanna! Come and help me get this grain into the storage rooms. Shh, don’t wake the master. Yes, I know, but give him a few more minutes, anyway. This smells fresh, and I don’t see any insects, do you? Look at those spices! I can always trust Eli to bring me the best goods. I’ll instruct Samuel to give him a bonus today.”
While Joanna and Shoshana begin grinding for breakfast bread, I’ll go over the contracts again for that field I want to buy. I plan to add a vineyard to our holdings. Lemuel will be so pleased when he sees how we prosper. We’ve discussed it into the night for a while now, but he doesn’t know yet that I got such a good price. Old Simon has no sons to leave his fields to.
My husband is up now, getting ready for his work in the city. I am proud of the time he is beginning to spend with the elders in the gate. They are talking of making him a judge! He knows he can trust our young men to keep the livestock and fields as he would have them kept, even with a new vineyard to plant. I wonder if I can get some vine cuttings from winemaster Joel? His are the best.
As we eat, I surprise my husband with my news, and the light in his eyes makes my heart flutter. You’d think we were newlyweds, still! As old as I am, I can still blush. He wants me to go with him to see the fields before he visits his business partners.
Side by side, we admire our new field. It’s weedy now, but the harvest is nearly over, and then I can set the young men to scything. By planting time, the field will be ready. I can see two places where the wall needs to be mended, as well.
I decide to go with him into the city. I have some linen cloth and tunics to deliver to Leah before she gets ready to open her market booth tomorrow. I smile as I think what good quality my new flax will make for next year.
When I leave Leah’s, having made a bargain that pleases us both, I take my remaining sacks down a side alley. I prefer not to be seen on this particular errand. People make so much of it, and it’s nothing. Here they are, the poor widows, some old, some with children, all nearly destitute. Their faces are pitifully grateful as I pass out the new robes. I’ll be able to hire a few more, too, to do some extra wool carding and spinning for me. Or even mending. That’s an idea…
I give a bag of food to the old woman who is more or less in charge here, and she presses my hands.
“Don’t thank me, thank Yahweh,” I tell her. “It all belongs to Him, and it behooves us to share.”
As I turn away to go home, I know she would do the same for me, if our roles were reversed.
Home again, I gather my daughters and maids around me. One of my married girls has come, too, with her babies (who will probably prevent her being very productive today.) We all laugh as they tumble around us. As we work, we share stories, little stories of home (in which I sometimes try to hide some helpful advice), and larger stories of the matriarchs and patriarchs. We laugh and sing and get a good amount done. I have kept the best hank of flax for myself, and have draped it around my distaff just as I like it, and begun to spin fine linen thread. I want to make new tunics for everyone by winter. The younger girls are picking and carding wool, and some of it will go into the smelly indigo pot out in the back shed where little ones can’t get near it. But I also got some wonderful dye stuffs in this trade load. The others exclaim over the bright crimsons and even a little expensive Tyrian purple.
Before we know it, evening has come again, Miriam has taken her little ones home, and Joanna and Shoshana have created a wonderful meal. When Lemuel comes in, he seems excited. I wonder if he has some news for me?
He waits until we are gathered around the table. Then, before everyone, he takes my face in his hands. “You came up in the discussion in the gateway today, my beloved.”
My face feels warm. “I did? Why?”
Lemuel smiles. “They knew how much you paid for Old Simon’s field. Yes, Pani, you got a good price for us, but you could have paid much less. Jonah told me how you had made sure he would have enough for his declining years. And Elijah had seen the new clothes on the poor women in Lye Alley. You are beautiful, my wife, but your spirit is more beautiful still. They call you blessed in the gates of this city. Many women have done excellently, Pani, but you excel them all!”
My heart and my eyes are too full to eat. I only do my duty as a wife. I wish I could make him—and all men—understand: when a wife is so respected, so beloved, it’s not duty, it’s privilege.
Truly I am blessed among women.