She was old. She didn’t have to look in the mirror to know that. All she had to do was get up in the morning and feel it in her bones, that dull ache that wasn’t connected to an injury.
She didn’t know how much time she had left. She wasn’t sick, but anything could happen. She had a friend who fell and broke her hip, went to the hospital, and never came out.
She missed her husband. He was gone over ten years now, but it was nice that her daughter lived nearby. She’d finally moved down to Florida, having remarried. She came by every day, and on the rare day she didn’t, she called. “Ma?” she’d go, extra loud because she knew she never turned on her hearing aids, “you good?” And she’d say, “I’m good.”
Her daughter would take her shopping, or back to her house, where she’d have lunch with her daughter and son-in-law. She’d sit while the grandkids came by, sometimes with their kids, there’d be noise, the kids, the TV.
She thought about the past a lot, the apartment in Brooklyn where she raised her family, her husband so young, and then even further back. She remembered coming over with her parents and her brothers, in the big ship. She didn’t remember Warsaw, but knew she had a Polish name, which got changed as soon as they landed in New York.
One day, thinking about the old days, then the older days, it occurred to her: she didn’t want to leave her things for her daughter to sort out, and didn’t want fights among the grandchildren over something that might have sentimental value to more than one of them.
So she wrote to her grandchildren, asking if there was something from their childhood, from her apartment, they wanted. If she had it, she’d send it to them. She first heard from her oldest granddaughter, who asked about the cookie jar, a stout porcelain woman, her hands crossed over her waist. The top half of the woman was the lid, and her stoutness was always filled with cookies. When the families came for Passover, the kids went right to the cookie jar. But then she heard from her second oldest granddaughter, who also wanted the porcelain woman. What to do?
These girls were very close when young, best friends in fact. It gave her joy to see them grow up that way. But their lives were different. The oldest’s parents, her son and his wife, struggled into the middle class, living in a tiny house in Brooklyn. They didn’t have much, but they had a love she admired. They were happily – almost blissfully – married, and his wife seemed to heal him of his horrible experiences in the War. The other’s parents had no such foundation, they chose the corporate world, big jobs, big house, big car. And then they divorced, something rarely done in the 1960s. She saw it coming years before, but what could she say? Her son had to make his own choices.
And after this, the girls drifted apart, and their tight connection eroded. Now both wanted the cookie jar, both making claims on this relic from happier times. She decided, this could be how she brought peace and maybe closeness to them again. In fact, she thought, I’ll be like Solomon! Yes! Queen Solomon of the porcelain lady!
So she sent the top half to one, the bottom half to the other. She wrote a short note to each, saying she hoped her granddaughters would talk and decide which one would give their half to the other, give it a good home, and always fill it with cookies. The next time her daughter came by she told her, “These have to go to New York.” Her daughter didn’t ask any questions, but took the two halves, now boxed, and the notes, and sent them off.
She had no idea if this would work. Or if it was a terrible idea. She didn’t want to cause even deeper rifts. But Solomon was wise, so why couldn’t she be too?
She hoped they wouldn’t hate her. She hoped for peace.
Then she heard from her grandsons, and her other granddaughter, and over a period of six months gave away just about anything that wasn’t silverware, pots, pans, dishes, towels. Her apartment now was bare of anything but the furniture, the TV, and her necessities.
The only thing left, that none of the kids asked for, probably because they didn’t remember or because they thought it was too good to ask her, was her hand-blown stemware that her mother brought from the old country: tiny glasses for liqueur, larger wine glasses with tiny pinecones in their design, smaller ones for sipping brandy. She’d loved putting them out on special occasions, and didn’t care if the kids used them. Her husband always told her that she was making a mistake because the kids would break them, and she’d be left with nothing.
But the kids never broke a one.
Her eldest grandson was getting married, and she was flying to New York for the wedding, with her daughter and husband. She knew it would be the last affair she’d attend. This boy was always special to her. He played with the others at Passover, never fought with his siblings, but he always stood alone, even when he was with the group. She saw this.
She used to worry about him, because he was what used to be called ‘sensitive.’ She knew it was more than that. But she hoped he would one day fit in, somewhere, and now he’d found the love of his life, and she couldn’t wait to witness their nuptials.
He had what his parents had, and she wanted to reward this.
She decided to wrap each of the hand-blown glasses in newspaper, put them in a box, and have her daughter mail them to him in Colorado. She wouldn’t tell him, so when he and his new bride returned from their honeymoon, it would be there. She hoped he’d have as much pride putting them out on his seder table as she did for so many years.
She wished she could see her grandson’s face when he opened it. He’d have no idea what was inside. She could see his reaction, all the emotion, when he saw them. It would be her way of saying, you were always special to me. This is my gift to you, my wish for a happy loving life.
May you never be alone again.
She reached for the first glass, undid the newspaper. This would take days. But that was okay. This would make a beautiful wedding present.
Burt Rashbaum’s publications are Of the Carousel (The Poet’s Press, 2019), and Blue Pedals (Editura Pim, 2015, Bucharest). His fiction has appeared in Meet Cute Press, Caesura, Typeslash Review, Collateral, and American Writers Review: The End or the Beginning (San Fedele Press, 2022). Born and bred in Brooklyn, he makes his home in Colorado.