Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
by Arlene L. Mandell
Whenever I move, I lose things. Some, like a Scrabble set or a heating pad, are easy to replace. Others are rooted to the location, like the tiny mountain ash I nurtured for nine years. I would stand at the kitchen window and watch the birds devour its orange berries each fall.
The loss I regret the most occurred somewhere between packing in a 1902 Victorian house in Englewood, New Jersey, and unpacking in a more modern home ten miles further up the Hudson River. My great grandmother's Jewish star disappeared from my rosewood jewelry box. I didn't notice it was missing for several months, but when I did, I had the strange notion it had fallen between the wide floorboards in that odd closet with the window. I could almost see the thin gold star on its delicate chain just beyond my reach. I hadn't worn it in many years because, well, because public relations executives didn't wear religious symbols.
The Englewood house, built before electricity was available, had a windowed closet that provided some light during daylight hours. The neighborhood, with its huge oaks and massive rhododendrons, was a lucrative venue for burglars. We were broken into twice in six weeks, losing televisions, sterling flatware, and any sense of feeling safe. Whenever we went away, even for a weekend, I hid my jewelry box under a pile of old sweaters. Once, a pair of silver earrings fell out as I tipped the box, and I noticed the spaces between the old oak floorboards. I had a premonition then and resolved to be more careful when moving the rosewood box.
My maternal family history is as slender as that star's golden chain. All I know of my great-grandmother is that she once owned a grocery store in a small Russian village near Minsk in what is now Belarus. I remember hearing how the Cossacks rode into the village on one of their regular pogroms and smashed her storefront windows. That was more than a hundred years ago; the story may not be true.
Our family had few treasures to pass down through the generations. Rose, my first cousin, had our great grandmother's samovar, which she turned into a lamp. Beatrice, her younger sister, had her Bible. And I had the Mogen David, the Jewish star, until it disappeared.
An opera singer I never met bought our Victorian house. I was told she cried when she saw the living room with its big bay window, the perfect place for her grand piano. Once I realized the star was missing, I thought of calling her, of asking if I could peer between the worn oak planks of the closet, but I never did. I imagine my star resting beneath the floorboards with lost coins, button hooks, and the dust of other lives.
My grandmother and her four daughters are all gone. Stories of hardships in the old country, of my grandmother's passage to America when she was thirteen, of samovars and thin gold stars passing from one generation to another, all these are dimming memories . . . some of what we lose as we move on.
Arlene L. Mandell has been a contributor to Tiny Lights since she moved to Santa Rosa seven years ago.
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