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A Farewell Gift

Was I emotionally ready to move on, to actually remove my husband’s books and papers that hadn’t been touched in years?


It began with a casual remark.

“I don’t know what to do,” I complained to my best friend. “I write at my desk, just a few feet away from the refrigerator, or, even worse, in the kitchen, so I can see the flowers on the deck. Every time I need to think about something, I make a trip to the fridge for inspiration. Every chapter of my book is another pound on the scale!”

“You know, you do have other floors in your house. You could work somewhere else,” she answered.

Hmm, why didn’t that occur to me? I live in a house in Brooklyn, New York which, according to my real estate tax form, was built in 1898. Needless to say, the pipes and wiring have been significantly modernized, and the house itself looks quite up-to-date.

The attic has two rooms, one that served as my late husband’s office, and the other as a bedroom for various offspring as they craved more privacy from their siblings. My son, Saadya ztz”l, was the last occupant of this bedroom, and it looks pretty much the same as it did the day he moved into an apartment of his own almost four years ago.

I have to admit that the memories had made me reluctant to visit the attic, and it had basically turned into a huge storage area: luggage, semi-working fans, space heaters, boxes of new items that might have to be returned in this millennium, questionable clothing items whose ultimate fate has yet to be determined, and clothing that’s waiting to be picked up by some tzedakah organization I have yet to call littered the floor, all fulfilling the principal of physics which states that “Possessions rise to fill vacant spaces.”

I ventured up the two flights of stairs, fighting the urge to follow the axiom, “If it isn’t bothering you, don’t bother it” and just turn around. I noticed the sloped ceilings and framed windows that give the rooms a quaint charm. For a moment, I fantasized about a possible cozy writer’s garret. It brought up images of Louisa May Alcott and the March family’s daughter, Jo, who sat in her attic garret with a bowl of apples and penned her family’s story; she was a childhood heroine of mine.

I sighed and considered my options. Was I emotionally ready to move on, to actually remove my husband’s books and papers that hadn’t been touched in years? What about the desk? The desk my husband had spent infinite hours at, seeing a refuge where he could work without being interrupted by little people? One of its drawers was jammed and unusable, the other had receipts and statements from stores and banks that had long ceased to exist.

Next to it, the computer desk where my kids watched endless hours of Jewish musicals had long since been abandoned to more up-to-date formats for viewing. The keyboard tray hung from one hinge, and the once elegant desk chair threatened to expel you if you didn’t sit directly in the center of the no-longer-swiveling seat.

“Be mature, don’t let emotions rule!” I ordered myself. I decided to at least consider clearing the floor of the many random items, and then see what the room would look like if it lost its storeroom ambiance.

I started with the luggage, which thanks to COVID-19, wouldn’t be used in the foreseeable future. There is ample crawl space for storage in the attic, a result of the sloped ceilings that give the room great charm, even if it means placing furniture is rather challenging.

I opened the little door to access the crawl space under the roof that usually holds the luggage between trips. As I did so, I was surprised to see a white backpack on the floor of the crawl space. “Hmm, I wonder how it made its way here,” I thought.

I picked it up.

It wasn’t empty.

Unzipping it, I saw a brown paper bag with the top folded down. Strange. Two empty ice cream containers were very deliberately and successfully hidden inside.

Through my tears and laughter, I deduced the probable series of events that resulted in this unexpected discovery… The last time Saadya ztz”l was home was on Purim almost twelve months earlier, just ten days before he came down with the COVID-19 that would take his life. He’d probably stopped at the local store for a snack to keep him going until the Purim seudah. He often made a detour on his way home from shul for a quick stop at the local 24-hour store to pick up a not-too-healthy snack.

My response to this habit wasn’t particularly positive, as he considered a portion to be the container, whatever the size! The nutrition facts per his serving size was the American Heart Association’s idea of a week’s saturated fat consumption. I tended to be strong and vocal in my objections to this particular snack, saying, “Saadi, if you’re hungry, eat a fruit or a salad.”

Once again, he’d outsmarted me!

I sat on the floor and wondered what to do with the containers. No doubt the bacteria level was fairly high, though I assure you he’d practiced “good to the last drop” and the containers were pretty clean. Should I keep them? Bronze them, as people used to do with those first baby shoes?

I did what all the home organizers I’ve read suggest, and I took a picture and then put the containers into an outdoor trash can so I wouldn’t retrieve them and wash them out. (Though now I wonder why I didn’t.) I turned the picture into a full-size photo and went to the store to buy a frame.

It sits on a shelf in my “new” office, which is, in fact, where the ice cream was, no doubt, consumed.

Thank you, Saadi, for being your wonderful self and leaving this surprise in the crawl space! You made me laugh and cry at the same time, just as you always did. You made me see the joy in life, even in its darkest moments! Are you chuckling your special, joyful chuckle? Are you saying, “Hey, Mom, it’s gonna be okay!”

Yes, Saadya, I believe you. It’s gonna be okay.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 750)

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