Chanukah/Hanukkah Memories

    December 2009            
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My Brother's Brownie Camera

By Susan Harrison

In an old shoebox (my photo album) is a black and white 3 x 3 photo framed by a crisp, shiny white border.

In the picture, my grandmother, Bubby, is standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes. Bubby is wearing a black and white checked dress, or so I assume, being that it's a black and white photo. She's wearing a white frilly apron, spotted with food – gravy, kishke (stuffed derma, a Jewish delicacy), potato pancakes (latkes) and wine. Those foods and their tastes, waft through my mouth as I view the familiar photo. In one hand Bubby holds a dish under the running water, in her other hand is a sponge. Bubby's head is turned away from the sink, looking over her shoulder, smiling toward the kitchen table. In Bubby's eyes, the camera has caught the reflection of our menorah, lit and shining with six candles – it is the fifth night of Chanukah.

My father sits at the head of the kitchen table. Like Archie Bunker, this is my father's chair. Whether he's there or not, Dad is the only one permitted in his chair. My dad, a handsome buff man, is wearing a soft, (I've cuddle against it) 'Downy' smelling, white t-shirt. His bulging biceps sneak out beyond his short sleeves. A fork is poised midway to Dad's mouth, his cheeks puffed full with the delicious latkes that Bubby and my mother have just prepared.

Next to my dad, sits a scrappy 10 year old, curly blonde haired girl (me) – wearing a starched white blouse with Peter Pan collar. I'm laughing. My mother's hand is resting comfortably on my forearm. This week my mom is a platinum blonde, perfectly coifed and sprayed in bouffant style. Last week, she was a red head, her hair twisted in a tight French knot. Mom, a stunning woman often mistaken for Lana Turner, loves to experiment with her hair.

Zaidie, my grandfather who rarely speaks, is sitting across from me smiling for the camera. Zaidie smiles only for cameras and his grandchildren. He loves us deeply and thinks we are God's gift to the world.

Next to me sits Bagels, our beagle – he is the love of my young life. Bagels is wearing a sombrero and smiling at the camera (yes dogs do smile). Bagels changes his appearance as frequently as does my mother. Last week, Bagels came to dinner wearing sunglasses, a scarf and red nail polish (Bagels is very patient with me). Bagels prefers chairs, but he'll sit on the floor, if necessary, that is if there isn't an available seat. Bagels is always present at our meals. I'm a terrible eater, so I'm thrilled when Bagels sits next to me. I sneak food that I don't want to eat to Bagels. Bagels is like a 'Seat-Filler' at the Academy Awards. He jumps up into a chair to fill a void, when anyone leaves their seat, and sits proudly among us waiting for his next bite, of which there are many. He's as much a part of our family as Eddy Haskell is to The Beave and Wally's family. Bagels is the only member of the family allowed in my dad's chair.

My brother, not seen, is taking the picture with his new Brownie Camera. He loves being the historian in our family. My brother loves catching us 'in action' as he calls it. He rarely sits anymore; he's always running around snapping pictures of us. My brother is warm and funny, a great story teller. The tales of his school escapades are spellbinding and sometimes downright hysterical, "So, we turned Shakespeare into a baseball game. Hamlet was on first base and…."

This black and white photo is the picture of my perfect childhood, a Leave It to Beaver family. Love and laughter fill the air and wonderful mouth watering food fills our bellies. It's a simple life with simple pleasures. We all know our roles. Dad is the head of the household, the bread winner. Mom is the happy homemaker, the domestic-goddess and caretaker of her kids. Our warm, loving Grandparents visit us often. There are two children, who know when to speak and how to behave. We are a brother and a sister who adore each other. It's the summer of 1958.

In the spring of 1959 my loving brother turned 13 – a teenager. The happy, perfect black and white picture fades, its shiny border crumbles. The "I'll never talk to you again" silly fight that The Beave and Wally have, invades my happy home. The Beave and Wally resolve their fight by the end of the thirty-minute sitcom. In my house it lasts a lifetime. My brother, a teenager, suddenly prefers his room to joining us in the kitchen. Now, he really is not in the picture.

Jump ahead 50 years, Hanukkah 2008—

Inside of a computer (my photo album) is a digital picture, in color now.

Sitting at the kitchen table in his white t-shirt, smelling of 'Downy', is my 91 year old amazingly young looking, buff father (Dad still works out). His cheeks are puffed full with food, his fork still poised halfway to his mouth. Next to him, sits a smallish plump white haired 86 year old woman, my mother (would Lana Turner look like this at 86?). On the table are plates filled with delectable food, steam rises from the freshly roasted chicken and green beans, and golden brown crisp potato-pancakes, which my mother has just prepared and served. The taste is as sweet as it was 50 years ago, maybe better. Across from my mother and father, sits a 60 year old woman (me!) still a curly haired blonde (thank you Miss Clairol). My hand is outstretched, lighting our Menorah – it is the fifth night of Hanukkah.

My mother, my father and I are still part of that Leave It to Beaver family. Bubby and Zaidie (and Bagels) have passed on. My brother, preferring since his teenage years not to join us, sits in his own house – not in the picture. This Hanukkah, we are joined by my own children, their significant others, and my granddaughter (my first grandchild!). My husband, the family historian, is taking the picture.


from the December 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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