Jean D. Carlton
Ruth Rosenfeld stepped out of the elevator on the lower level of her apartment building pulling an empty luggage cart behind her. She needed to find something and she needed to find it today. She’d looked in every conceivable place in her small apartment. She’d not gone to bed until after eleven o’clock. The box simply was not there. In the morning, she called her son as early as she dared.
“Jason, I can’t find that box.” she said, a tremor in her voice. “The one with all the holiday things and mementos. I packed it myself. Where could it have gone?” She didn’t dare mention her fear that it may have mistakenly been put in the pile of things dropped off at Goodwill.
”Mom, relax. It’s in your storage closet on the lower level, toward the front. I told you that last week.”
“Oh, thank you, sweetheart. I guess I forgot. I’ll go down now and check.”
“Don’t fool around with those heavy boxes, Mom. I’ll come by later. What is it you’re looking for? Mom?”
But she’d already hung up. She was not about to wait for Jason. When she had something on her mind, she needed to take care of it. That’s just how she was. And today was the first day of Hanukkah, after all. Did he not remember that?
The elevator doors closed behind Ruth as she touched the pocket in her sweater to be sure she had the key. She made her way down the long hallway of storage closets, reading the numbers above each door. Here it is. #408.
After a brief struggle with the padlock she pulled the door open. Boxes and more boxes. There it was, marked in bold black letters, “SAVE/MEMENTOS”. It was in front, as Jason had said, but it happened to be on the very top of the stack. Standing on her tiptoes she found she could just reach the bottom edge.
How am I going to get that down?
She came up with a plan. She positioned the cart up close to the stack and started wiggling the box toward her from side to side. As it reached the edge, it began to slide down - sideways. Ruth had all she could do to keep it from a hard landing. Down it slid, she with it, until she and the box were both on the concrete floor. I’m fine
, she assured herself, chuckling at the picture she would make if anyone came along.
As long as I’m down here, maybe I’ll just rest a bit
, she thought, slightly winded from the exertion. Downsizing from the two-story, five bedroom house where she’d lived for forty-six years had been hard on Ruth. Not long after Saul died the comments began. “Such a big place for you now Ruth, isn’t it?” said her mahjong friends. “What a lot of work it must be,” piped in her next door neighbor, Helen, when she caught her surveying the over-run garden one morning.
“You should sell, Mom,” said daughter Jill on the phone one day. “I bet you’d love it in one of those senior places that have amenities like meals and craft rooms and regular transportation to grocery stores and other shopping.”
“No,” she replied quickly. “I’m not ready for that, thank you very much.”
They didn’t know it, but she heard what they weren’t saying. They were concerned about her. The girls having each moved to opposite coasts, only Jason lived nearby and his job involved a lot of travel. They said she was getting forgetful. Well, isn’t everybody that gets to be my age?
They didn’t understand how hard it was to adjust to so many changes. How could they? But she knew they were right, at least about the house. It was meant for a family, a nice family like she and Saul had. Their children had filled the rooms with laughter, tears, noise; commotion of all sorts.
Things happened fast after she accepted the idea. Jason took her around to several places. Nothing was quite right until the last of the possibilities on his list. “These end units are in demand, Mom,” he told her. “And the top floor. The penthouse,” he’d teased. “Better grab it.” Always the salesman
, she thought, just like his father
The children had heard the story about their first apartment many times. Newly married, she and Saul thought being on the ground floor was a plus until they discovered that the tenants above them must be dancers…or elephants. How they had laughed. They’d become good friends with that couple, though. What was their name again? Marlene and …Bob? No. Rob. Well, anyway. That was a long time ago.
So, she’d taken the condo on the top floor, corner unit, and moved in. Three months ago already. Sometimes she was confused when she woke up in the morning, but then she would remember where she was and wish Saul could see it. She had to admit that the new appliances and updated carpet were lovely. A small balcony off the living room on the sunny side over-looked a small park with a pond. She’d kept her old recliner but let Jason talk her into a new television, one of those thin, modern ones. And no stomping overhead. In fact, she told Helen she probably should have done it sooner.
Ruth shifted. Have I dozed?
She struggled to her feet and brushed off the seat of her slacks. I better get busy
. She crouched down and angled the edge of the box onto the platform of the cart and pushed it into place. She secured it with the stretchy cords, closed the door of the storage closet and clicked the lock into place, pulling it twice to be sure it was secure.
Ding. The elevator doors opened. “Hello,” she said, smiling at the young lady who reached out to help her with the cart. “Thank you, dear, but I can do it.” She studied the panel of numbers. 408. Or was it 804? Ah, there are only four floors. Problem solved.
Ruth pulled the cart into her apartment and wheeled it next to the kitchen table, her heart suddenly pounding in her ears. Opening the box would be opening a floodgate of memories. Of her dear Saul who she thought of, and missed, every single day. Of her mother and father and her growing up years. Traditions long held. And that Saul! Where was he anyway?
Then she remembered. Saul was gone.
She started water for tea, then took a knife from the drawer and sliced the tape across the top of the box, folding the flaps back. Oh, here’s dreidel that so delighted the children!
She could almost hear the sound of it spinning on the wooden table, the joyous shrieks of the children. How she wished they could all be with her today; the girls and their husbands. The grandchildren. Jason and his fiancée. Such busy lives. She understood. Still, she longed to see their faces, hold them close, especially today.
She picked her way through the box, setting things on the table. A stack of greeting cards in a rubber band, the tiny box for her engagement ring, a clay ashtray made by one of the children in school. “Where is it?” she whispered in a rising panic. “It has to be here.” Suddenly, she spied a corner of the familiar burgundy cloth, soft and worn thin with age. The very one her mother, and probably her grandmother, had used to wrap the menorah after Hanukkah each year.
She rubbed the cloth over the silver branches, polishing them to a warm glow, then placed the menorah on her small table. She opened a new box of white candles and paused, frowning. Something was missing. Returning to the box, not sure what she was looking for, she spotted a familiar tube wrapped in white tissue paper. She unwrapped it with care, smoothing the wrinkled paper and setting it aside to use again. Here, rolled on the tube to prevent creases, was the runner of royal blue silk shot through with silver threads; the Star of David embroidered in each corner. Her hands trembled now as she placed the cloth on the table and smoothed the fringed edges. She carefully placed the menorah in the exact middle. As a young girl, Mother had always given her that job.
“Perfect.” she said. And it was. It was beautiful. But something was still missing. It was not something she could find and take out of a box and polish. She missed her family. She was alone. A tear slid down her cheek. Then another. Tears for fond memories, tears of gratitude, tears of grief. She let them fall, tasting the salt on her lips. She reached for the hankie tucked into her sleeve and bowed her head, “Blessed are You. . .”
A sharp knock on the door startled her. Then another. “Who can that be?” she murmured as she stood slowly, letting momentary dizziness pass. “Coming. I’m coming.” She peered through the little peephole. “Saul. Saul!” she fairly shouted, smiling as she swung the door wide open.
There he was, holding a fancy box with a glittering bow on top. She held out her arms, “You!” she chided. “You shouldn’t have. I wondered where you were. Come. I have the tea on.”
Jason put his arm around his mother’s shoulders, holding her close as she led him into the kitchen. “Mom. It’s me. Happy Hanukkah.”