The topic this week is CHILDHOOD MEMORY.
We were supposed to begin at sundown, but Dad didn’t get home from work until eight. “Mrs. Bollag is going to be mad,” I stated when he walked through the door.
It took him a second to remember what tonight was. “Tell you what,” he said, “let’s pretend we live in California. It’s five o’clock there. We’re right on time.”
Dad was a genius.
He stabilized the decorated coffee filter turned makeshift Yarmulke on his head and read the blessing Mrs. Bollag sent home as best he could: Baruch ata Adonai, Elohenu melech ha-olam asher kideshanu be-mitzvotav, ve-tzivanu le-hadlik ner shel Hanukah.
Sarah giggled but I ignored her and lit the shamash. Mrs. Bollag had been clear on the seriousness of this occasion. “Now you’re supposed to drink the red wine,” I told my father. He delivered a devious smile and slugged the glass back in one gulp, prompting Mom to laugh. I glared at each member of my blasphemous family until they were silenced, then used the shamash to light the first candle.
That night I lay in bed, eavesdropping. It was my usual routine after tuck-in. I followed my parents’ movements—flushing toilets, clanking ice cubes, the slow glub glub as they refilled drinks—until they reconvened on the living room couch, near the wall that shared its opposite side with the bedroom my sister and I were supposed to be sleeping in. My patience always paid off. They talked without spelling a single word. I’d close my eyes as they spoke, picturing their gestures and expressions, pretending I was out there too, a grown-up with a fancy drink and clever joke.
“Not that it matters, but I thought you were going to break it to Abby we aren’t Jewish,” Dad started.
“I did. I do. All the time. So does her teacher. Here they are doing us a favor and Abby is demanding glitter to decorate coffee filters so you’ll have a Yarmulke. It’s just hard to explain to a five year old who doesn’t go to church at all why she’s at a Jewish preschool.”
“Tomorrow I’ll teach her two new words: convenient and affordable.” They laughed.
I considered marching out there to set them straight. I knew those words: Convenient was where the nuns lived and affordable was what everyone called me and Sarah when we wore matching outfits. But if I made a stink, they’d surely move their evening drink to a more secure location, and I didn’t want to miss a single word.