An Original Story by Sylvia Rouss
I rushed up the steps to my grandmother’s house. As I opened the front door, I inhaled the familiar smell of lemon furniture polish mingled with baking cookies. “Bubbie, where are you?” I shouted.
“I’m in the kitchen, Shannie,” she responded.
I dashed into the kitchen where Bubbie was just placing a tray of freshly baked hamantashen on the counter.
“I got the part!” I announced.
“That’s wonderful, Shannie!” she exclaimed throwing her arms around me. She knew how much I wanted to be Queen Esther in my school Purim Play.
I feel lucky because my grandparents live in the house right across the street from my own. Since both my parents work, I always spend the afternoons with them until my older brother, Jordan, comes home from school. Today he was staying late for football practice and Zaydie had gone to watch him play.
I smiled at Bubbie. “Now, I need a costume. May I look for a piece of cloth in your sewing cabinet?” I asked.
“Of course,” she replied. “Take whatever you like and I’ll help you make your gown.”
“Thanks!” I said, kissing her cheek.
Bubbie was sitting at the dining table when I came back. She had poured a large glass of milk for me with a plateful of apricot hamantashen next to it. I held up the beautiful fabric I had found.
“It’s perfect!” Bubbie nodded approvingly. “Have a hamentash while they’re still warm.”
I gently placed the fabric on top of the dining table and sat down on a nearby chair. The wood on Bubbie’s dining table gleamed like new and I could see my reflection in its shiny surface. Unlike the table, the upholstery on the wooden dining chairs looked faded and worn. Although Bubbie’s house was sparkling clean, her dining chairs had many stains. As I sipped my milk, I noticed the tapestry material I selected for my gown was the same as that on Bubbie’s dining chairs but, unlike the chairs, it was bright and colorful.
“Bubbie, there’s enough fabric to make my costume and new seat covers for your chairs.” I suggested as I bit into a hamentash.
Bubbie shook her head. “Shannie, we can make a lovely gown for you but we will not recover the chairs.”
“Why?” I asked.
Bubbie’s eyes twinkled as she explained, “Although these chair cushions are faded and not as clean as they once were, they provide me with many cherished memories.”
I gave her a puzzled look. “What do you mean?”
“Shannie, look at the chairs and tell me what you see.”
“I see lots of stains, and some worn spots,” I replied.
“Now, let me tell you what I see,” Bubbie responded. “Those threadbare spots and stains remind me of many happy occasions.”
Bubbie pointed to a splatter of greasy stains on the chair next to her and remarked, “That’s from the Shabbat dinner when your mother told Jordan that he would soon be a big brother. Jordan abruptly jumped up and ran from the table yelling, ‘I don’t want to be a FIG brother!’ ”
“Zaydie and I couldn’t help laughing as your father tried to convince him that he was going to be a BIG brother not a FIG brother. It wasn’t until Jordan had calmed down that we noticed he had knocked over his bowl of chicken soup. I washed the tablecloth but some of the soup had splashed onto Jordan’s chair and there it remains to this day.”
I closed my eyes and tried to capture Bubbie’s memory in my mind. I hadn’t even been born yet, but I giggled at the vision that was clearer than any photograph.
“Look,” she continued, “That’s from the Passover Seder when you were two years old. When Jordan offered to let you taste the maror and haroset. You refused, but you eagerly grabbed a large chocolate matzah. Because you’d watched Zaydie break the matzah in half and hide the afikommen, you decided to break your chocolate matzah in half. Everyone was reading the Haggadah so no one noticed where you hid your ‘afikommen’ until you got up out of your chair. The seat cushion was covered with melted chocolate and broken pieces of matzah.”
I grinned at Bubbie, “I can’t remember that far back. Did I get upset?”
“No,” Bubbie chuckled. “You picked up the broken pieces and popped them in your mouth.”
“Your mother wasn’t too pleased but I laughed and told her, ‘Whenever I see those stains, I will remember this sweet little imp, covered in chocolate from head to toe.’ ”
I looked at Bubbie’s beaming face and said, “I can’t believe I didn’t mind being so messy.”
I noticed some reddish stains on several of the chairs and Bubbie reminded me of a time when I was four years old.
“You were outside watching your father as he showed your brother how to pass a football. ‘Grip it firmly and toss it like this,’ he said demonstrating for your brother.”
“I took you indoors to help make latkes for our Hanukkah celebration. You began grabbing potatoes and tossing them to me the way your father had tossed the football. Zaydie and your mother laughed as I caught each pass.”
“Later, as we sat at the table finishing the last of the latkes, your dad said, ‘Shannie, please pass the jelly donuts.’ ”
“You gripped a jelly donut and tossed it across the table like a football. Splat! Jelly flew everywhere. Your mom had some on her forehead. There was jelly dripping from your dad’s chin. I noticed jelly on Jordan’s nose and some in Zaydie’s hair. I remember using a napkin to wipe away the jelly on my eyelid. We all began laughing.”
I looked with wonder at my grandmother as she finished the story. “I remember that day! I was the only one not wearing jelly. Okay Bubbie, now it’s my turn to share a cherished memory,” I said, gazing at the large armchair at the head of the table. The once plump seat cushion was flat from years of use and its textured fabric now had a dull stained sheen. I tried to see beyond the chair and let my mind wander to the time when I was six years old.
“I remember on the day before Rosh Hashanah, Zaydie and I bought apples and I helped you make your delicious apple cake. The next day, after our Rosh Hashanah meal, I sat on Zaydie’s lap in his big armchair at the head of the table. I was watching you slice the cake and my mouth watered when I saw the chunks of apples and gooey honey. You had just filled all the plates when Jordan reached over and grabbed the biggest slice for himself. I was upset because he took the one I wanted! ‘That’s not fair!’ I tearfully cried.”
“Zaydie looked at me thoughtfully and asked, ‘If you had chosen first, which piece would you have taken, Shannie?’ ”
“ ‘I would have been polite and taken that smaller piece,’ ” I said indignantly, pointing at one of the remaining plates.”
“ ‘Tada!’ Zaydie sang handing me the plate. ‘Here is the piece you would have chosen.’ ”
“I frowned at Zaydie’s reasoning and then, I giggled, ‘That’s funny!’ I forgot my anger because Zaydie always makes me laugh. We shared the cake and weren’t even aware that some of the honey and apple filling dripped onto his chair.” Thinking about that time made me smile. Bubbie smiled back at me.
Suddenly, I began to notice other stains and realized that each one held a story for my grandmother. No wonder she didn’t want to recover her chairs. Woven together, those stories created a tapestry of memories that was clearer and brighter than the original fabric.
I licked a smudge of apricot filling from my finger as I finished the last hamentash on my plate. “Yum, they were delicious, Bubbie!”
“I’m glad you enjoyed them!” she replied. “Now let’s get started on that costume.”
Eagerly, I reached across the table for the richly colored fabric and knocked over my glass. “Oh! No!” I cried when I noticed milk splash onto the seat of a nearby chair.
“Don’t worry, Shannie,” Bubbie laughed. “You’ve just given me another chair-ished memory.”