It’s Only Stuff // Making amends for what you can— and can’t —change By Devorie Kreiman

By Rivky Lefkowitz

It’s one of those memories that still make me cringe. It was January 1984. I was 16 years old, one of five counselors who had traveled out of New York to run a weeklong day camp for Jewish kids who were on their winter break from public school. 

We stayed in the elegant home of a local rabbi and rebbetzin who were away for the week. On our second day in their house, one of the counselors pointed upward and gasped; a brownish stain the size of a small bear marred the white paint of the kitchen ceiling. We raced up the stairs to the bathroom directly above the kitchen. The bathroom floor was dry, and we couldn’t find the source of the leak. 

I still remember the throb of panic. We’d all showered in that bathroom. It had to be our fault! What to do? 

Here’s what we didn’t do. We didn’t contact our hosts to tell them there was a huge water stain on their kitchen ceiling. We didn’t call our parents or the camp director to ask for advice.

We huddled in that kitchen and agreed that the best way to make it better would be to hide it. The head counselor, who was all of 17, drove to a hardware store and bought five cans of white spray paint. As I’m writing this now, nearly 40 years later, I’m wondering if we really could have been so (umm, searching for a gentle word here)…clueless. We took off our shoes and stood on our hosts’ kitchen chairs and spray-painted the ceiling. Not just the ceiling. Unfortunately, we also hit the tops of some of the polished wood cabinets. 

The water stain disappeared. We went back to preparing camp activities. For the rest of the week, we didn’t use that bathroom.

On our last day in the house, our hostess returned. As soon as she walked into the kitchen, she noticed the woodwork and shrieked. “What? What is that?”

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