! Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!

Monday, December 14, 2009

I Remember Mama

As a child, It’s difficult to appreciate the hard work that our parents go through to make the holidays special, magical and wondrous. Today, as an adult, I can look back fondly and revel in the efforts that my parents endured- between work, keeping the house running and still finding time to make Hanukkah memories that linger.

My father was a jeweler and far too busy (especially during holidays) keeping food on the table and a roof over our heads to be burdened with magic, so the brunt of the “Festival of Lights” fell on my mom. She too, worked at my dad’s store during the busy times and was woefully overworked during the season, but undaunted in her task to create special times that my sister and I still discuss to this day.

We both complained bitterly that we were given “short shrift” during the holiday’s, since we were not blind to the Christmas trees, stockings and the heaping piles of gifts that our non-Jewish friends appeared to reap from the mystical Santa that never slid down our chimney, therefore my mother had to be more than creative in an effort to appease us.

Because Hanukkah is celebrated over a period of eight nights, we were told the story of Judah and the Macabees. We lit the Menorah faithfully and had the requisite potato latkes and chocolate coins, known as “gelt”. We made our gift wishes known and my mother would make a game out of each night, with notes strewn throughout the house, teasing us with clues as to the whereabouts of each hidden (single) gift every night. To make it more exciting, the gifts grew in size and desirability as the nights wore on. Clothing was always first on the list, I suspect because mom knew it was a let down. This way, the final night was anticipated greatly, with the fervent wish that we would get something we actually, truly, desperately desired!

One year, it was the coveted bicycle for each of us that unbeknownst to us, our parents- exhausted from working all day and long into the night, had to assemble.

Another year it was stilts. Ahhh- the stilts! My sister and I wanted them so desperately, we almost forgot the feeling of being cheated out of Santa when they appeared before us, with the warning that they were never to be used inside the house. Yeah, right. As soon as the parents were out of sight, we were very busy mastering the art of stilt walking up and down that grand staircase in our Victorian home (it’s a Hanukkah miracle that we didn’t kill ourselves) and walked to school every day on those stilts for months!

For quite a while, my entire life revolved around LEGO and my mother kept me well stocked through the holidays as each new piece came out on the market. I missed having “special time” with mom during the season and had little understanding of why the parents weren’t around enough, so I started writing notes to mom about my daily activities at school and play. I would write my thoughts down and then enclose them in a LEGO house, or barn, or school, or even a Temple (as I recall) constructed laboriously and with great detail, adding window boxes, lights, chimney’s and the like.

Every morning, without fail, I would awake to an entirely new LEGO structure that was built (By mom, of course) late into the night with a reply to my note, laden with what their day was like and responding to my carefully elucidated details of my fascinating third grade life. It wasn’t until many years later that my mom explained how grueling it was to take apart my LEGO house, read my missive, write a response- and then rebuild a new structure of her own design, replete with turrets, smokestacks and outdoor lighting from her own LEGO imagination.

This simple (or so I thought) tradition made Hanukkah magical for me. I had no clue how tired my parents were, nor how hard they had worked to make it all seem so effortless for my sister and I- but looking back now? Wow.

I even wrote the people at LEGO all about it once and I’m sure they were enchanted, but did not feel it necessary to bestow every piece of LEGO ever created upon me, as a peace offering of Hanukkah magic. That was my mom’s job and she still manages to make magic for me every day, one way or another.

If the LEGO people are’s not too late. That little boy is still alive with wonder deep inside the grown up man and I remember mama (and her Herculean efforts) with appreciation, a sense of Hanukkah magic and love- above all else- love. Thanks, Mom.


Laszlo said...

This is beautiful. Got misty for sure. Keep this as the forethought in your memory,

noodles said...

Lovely memories Jonathan.

Lynne said...

What wonderful memories :) Thank you for sharing with us.

Lucia said...

Awwww, how beautiful. Yes, isn't it amazing how much the parents did for us? Your mom is awesome, though, and this story didn't surprise me a bit, knowing her. In my (non-Jewish) household, no matter how my sister and I ransacked the place, we never discovered ONE IOTA of gifts, wrapping paper and ribbons - or even a Christmas tree! - until Christmas morning. I can still remember coming out of our bedroom in the fuzzy gray dawn light and discovering the huge, fully-lit and bedecked tree standing guard over the cornucopia of prezzies that seemed to have appeared overnight by elfin magic. To this day, the memory catches in my throat. Our parents loved us - and did so much more than we ever give them credit for. Thanks for this post, Jonny. It made my day.

Cherise said...

Your story brought back such wonderful memories of my own childhood holidays spent around the menorah and our "Chanukah Bush" all white with blue trim. I remeber my mother's friend, Shelly, making the latkes in her kitchen. She showed me how to use the grater and naturally, i scraped my knuckle on it. "That is the secret ingredient" Shelly shared. "One drop of blood and a little bit of love". I hope and trust that my children will look back on me as their Miracle Mom during the holidays and celebrations of their childhood.
Thanks for the story and the smile that it brought.