Final Hanukkah card stirs memories

It is the middle of Hanukkah, and in memory of a dear friend who passed away earlier this year (and if you didn’t know her, I feel sorry for you), I’m going to share some of her words. I saved the card she sent me last year at this time, because we both suspected this would be her last one…
Natalie Lewis started out by writing “I read your column ‘The Simplicity of Hanukkah’s Past.’ So — when did Hanukkah change from Boubby’s day of pennies?” She was already well into her 90s then, and began her own story of the holiday’s memories for me:
“What do I remember about my childhood Hanukkah? We did not have a menorah; we lit the candles — they were orange — on a tin lid from a coffee can. My mother made latkes. My grandmother gave me some coins — gelt — and I said ‘Oh! I can put these in the Blue Box.’ That was a big deal for me.” (Again: I hope you know what a Blue Box was — and still is. If you don’t, ask any member of Hadassah, which was Natalie’s most favorite organization.)
Then she continued: “I grew up, married, had a family and my mother-in-law gave us a menorah, which I still use. My young friends began talking about ‘a gift each night,’ and we fell for it. My mother and dad started sending gelt for the kids, my aunts sent gelt, so there was always more than enough for the eight nights. As the kids grew older, I started ‘Christmas Clubs’ at the bank. This was easy, and on Hanukkah, everyone received a big check. Then the banks discontinued the clubs, so I had a new challenge.
“Now I make sure I have Hanukkah cards and stamps — oh, this is a big deal. The adults get gift cards. I write checks for the grandchildren and call it gelt. Could I do it over again — why not a special story, or doing a mitzvah? But we cannot turn the clock back, can we? When the children were little, I dressed them in their red PJs and my husband set up the movie camera — that was such a big deal, with all the cords and bulbs — and then we sent the movies to my parents, and my mother said she cried when she saw them lighting the candles. So maybe we did something right after all…who knows?
“There have been many stories told about Hanukkah in the past,” Natalie continued. “Someone wrote about an uncle coming with a handful of quarters, and all the children would stand in line to get theirs, and as the family grew, he needed more quarters. And Margaret Smith (who also passed away last year — and if you didn’t know her either, I feel sorry for you again) told me she gave the children dollar bills for each candle — one for the first candle and two for the second, until they got eight dollars for the last candle.
“But the candle lighting is the best. Watch the small children’s eyes and faces as they catch the candles burning — and the old grandma who watches the candles and says ‘Look how beautiful they burn’ …
“I got a good box this year,” she said. And she ended with “So, let us see what next Hanukkah will bring.”
Well, of course we know. The holiday has come back, as it always does, every year, but it couldn’t bring Natalie back with it. However, I will never forget her and her menorah, which I helped her pack as she prepared to move from Dallas. I will have that memory always, and will save this card, her last words to me on Hanukkah, to read them over again as I light my own candles every year that I have left for me to do so. In that way, I will honor her while giving a special Hanukkah gift to myself.

Leave a Reply