By Ann Green
It’s funny how memories pop into your mind at unexpected moments. While contemplating some stale bread recently, I decided to tear it into little pieces and throw them into the yard for the birds. As I was preparing this dinner for my backyard buddies, I realized that I was copying what my mother used to do, feeding the birds in our yard in Quincy when I was growing up. Shortly after that morning a cup of Starbucks reminded me of how she would bring home freshly ground coffee from the now defunct A&P and open the bag so I could inhale the magnificent aroma. (Maybe that’s why I’m such a caffeine fiend.) My mother’s been gone almost three years. These small moments are at once painful and pleasant.
Jewish holidays are the best when it comes to evoking memories. There’s something for every sense, especially the ones involving food. The first annual bite into a matzah ball, latke or hamentashen brings me back to the first time I made latkes (oy, what a mess!), the day I found the best recipe for chicken soup, the Harry Potter Shabbat I cooked featuring kosher shepherd’s pie and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Jelly Beans.
For me, memories really start popping when I dig out The Box. I keep large plastic boxes for each holiday, where I store decorations, books, games and every project, painting, drawing, or sculpture my kids made when they were students at an area day school. No matter how many times I’ve schlepped the boxes out of storage, the treasures within never fail to surprise.
For the recent conjunction of Chanukah and Thanksgiving, or Thanksgivukkah, I dug out the Chanukah box. It was piled with dreidels, real as well as decorative, made from various materials including one from clay, of course, as well as menorahs of all shapes and sizes. I found hanging decorations made from felt, poems written as a family project, a paper crown with the Hebrew letter mem for Maccabee and homemade Chanukah cards. There was also a Chanukah version of Mad Libs, a game the family was very fond of, especially on long trips in the car. Memories of nursery school, elementary and middle school years rushed forward.
Of our five menorahs the most special for me is the white one with blue trim in a sort of Moorish design. It felt important to remind the family that this was a wedding gift from very close friends, so I did. Leon and I were married during Chanukah 1984.
The turkey-centric half of the holiday reminded me of the Thanksgivings of my childhood, when my family celebrated with our aunt, uncle and cousins in New Bedford. Every year someone took a photo of the kids — me, my three brothers and our two cousins. Looking at the series of photos, I can watch us grow up, while I shudder at the clothes and haircuts. I think about how much I miss my aunt and uncle, and that’s okay.
Guests often bring a fresh perspective to our holiday paraphernalia and our family photos. Sometimes we fail to notice photos we’ve put up around the house because they’ve almost become part of the background. This year friends asked about the family photo of my husband, his brother and his parents, taken more than 50 years ago in their native Poland. They commented on how handsome my husband’s father was and how much my husband looks like him. Once again I feel the loss of never having met him; he died when my husband was 11. My daughter enjoyed showing photos of her grandmother, now 89, proudly noting how beautiful she looks in the family photo and others we have of her.
In his novel Everything Is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer wrote, “Jews have six senses. Touch, taste, sight, smell, hearing…memory.” I look forward to Tu B’Shvat, then Purim and Passover and on and on. More occasions to revisit the people and the times we cherish.
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