Attaching meaning to items in our homes elevates their worth
We often discuss the enjoyment we receive from the items in our home in aesthetic or functional descriptors, but that’s the easy work. It’s not about new pieces, or upcycling trendy pieces so they appear even more current; instead, it’s about upcycling memories, honoring tradition and family and their journeys in a tangible way.
Here, we hear the stories and the resultant emotions from three women in their meaningful home items.
Say Less, Show More
When I was in my early 20s and in shidduchim, my relationship with my father became filled with conflict, as I was headstrong about who I would date, and my father, a man of few words, equally so. The respect I had for him never wavered, but it was a tumultuous few years.
We were in Israel one Succos, and we were visiting my father’s favorite art gallery near Ben Yehuda. The whole family was looking around the gallery, suggesting one piece or another, and I saw a painting whose beauty spoke to me, specifically to where I was at that point in my life.
A painting of a field with emotive, saturated colors on the bottom that morphed into pastel butterflies, it was the most stunning piece of art I had ever seen. While it may sound kind of kitschy, it was so artistically done, with a multitude of shades and meaning. Was the top portion leaves, blades of grass, butterflies? The interpretation was all up to the viewer.
I called my father over and told him he needed this piece; this was the piece he was looking for. My father thought about it, looked at it for a few minutes, and said, “No, I don’t think it will go with the space.”
I was sad that I wouldn’t see it again, but recognized that he was right.
A few weeks later, we were back home. My father called me downstairs and said something had arrived for me. It was one of those surreal moments where I knew what was about to happen but didn’t actually know at all. I walked down the stairs and there, waiting in the hall, was that piece of art, my piece of art. My father had seen how much I loved it and bought it for me to put above my bed.
I was shocked. My father isn’t an overly sentimental kind of man, but he had seen how much that piece spoke to me, and bought it to surprise me with. I can’t tell you the number of hours I spent staring at that beautiful painting, letting my mood reflect art. I don’t think my father ever realized how much it meant to me and how much it helped me express how I was feeling.
Most of all, it opened my eyes to a side of my father I hadn’t noticed before. For all of his toughness and male dominance, he is actually quite the softie. Instead of making big proclamations and showing off all the wonderful things he does, he does it all the quietly. This quiet purchase drove home the way he does chesed and gives tzedakah — all without recognition. He connected with his own daughter in the same low-key and meaningful way. It’s one of the memories and moments I hold dearest in my heart.
It’s been a hundred years since my father’s father’s father set foot on these shores, the land promising peace and freedom and opportunity.
Life was simpler back then, at the turn of a century, when things seemed more progressive than they had ever been and the scent of innovation mixed with the sweat of desperation perfumed the air in a way that it was nearly tangible.
That’s when my family, impelled by persecution and empty pockets, started their new lives.
The typewriter was simple. It shone with paint and smelled of freshly welded metal. It was the latest model and the most avant-garde must-have on the market. My great-grandmother, Mary, begged for it, to help with the dry goods store they had just opened. She sat for hours learning to read and speak in ways she had never been given an opportunity to do before. It was there that she relished her first opportunity for freedom.
My grandfather, Norman, inherited the typewriter next. He kept it meticulously clean in the way he had been taught in the American army. The transition to becoming a Shabbos-observant Jew at the age of 57 was something he took seriously, and he sat and typed at the typewriter for hours, letters to rabbis about messages on their tapes, to Jewish publications about hope for those thinking it was too late to change, and to honored officials with whom he established long-term relationships over the written word.
The day I received the typewriter from my grandfather, he reached up to the highest shelf in his cabinet and lifted it with surprising strength for someone his age, though he was always surprising me in new ways.
I shifted under its weight as he explained the history behind the treasure, hoping that in a day where technology was overwhelming, a typewriter from my past could be significant.
I’ve placed it in view in my home and moved with it nearly 10 times in the last 10 years. My hope is to pass it on to my grandchild one day, though it may never be used again, so the message that it radiates passes on well past my expiration.
The message is simple and complex at the same time. The typewriter symbolizes the love for the written word, the ability to lose yourself in a slew of sentences and evoke emotion in others in ways you could never do face-to-face. It symbolizes the freedom to express an opinion and let the world know that you can. It symbolizes the hope that there will be children and grandchildren who recognize and echo the message and the knowledge that a monetary investment like our typewriter was hope for a brighter future.
And finally, it symbolizes the freedom to lean into the history of our nation, and the love of embodying it daily in meaningful, personal ways.
There is one hundred years of my family history in that typewriter.
It’s amazing how something physical can carry such emotional and sentimental weight along with it, so much so that it transports you back in time. When you first glance at my living room, you’ll notice a few gold and brown pieces that don’t really match our blue and brown warm aesthetic. Take the distressed wooden coffee table with the curved legs or the gold-framed mirror that hangs above it, which looks like it belongs in some archaic castle. Aesthetically, these pieces don’t belong — but to us they do.
When I set my piping hot tea down on the coffee table on Friday night, I’m brought back to years ago, when this table lived in my great-grandmother’s apartment. We called her Bubby Schroit. I’m instantly transported back two decades, and I can practically hear her offering me a tea biscuit, along with her famous orange juice/seltzer combination. I hear the laughter in the family room, and I’m almost expecting her to ask me to play a game of Rummikub. “It’s my Rummikub, it’s my rules,” she’d say. No one played a meaner game of Rummikub. And no one had a bigger heart.
I peer into the mirror and I see an eight-year-old Shaindy, showing Bubby how I look like such a princess in my Purim costume. She gives me a wet kiss on each cheek and calls for my father, in his most endearing nickname.
Bubby, we miss you every day. But every time I walk into my living room, it’s like you’re there.
The Descendant and Her Dishes
Growing up with Holocaust-survivor grandparents afforded me the ability to understand appreciation for even the smallest luxury.
After my grandparents passed away, my cousins and I were able to choose some special pieces of theirs to bring into our homes. I chose my grandmother’s dishes.
They aren’t simply dishes: they’re a way to show strength, express love and more. My grandmother, who worked in the kitchen in Auschwitz, would risk her life daily by smuggling potato peels to her friends in the barracks. She would grab raw potato skins when she wasn’t being watched and hide them in whatever clothing she could. She and her friends came to rely on these for their sustenance.
Over the years, watching my grandmother serve her children and grandchildren on these dishes, I could see the pure joy at having the opportunity to feed people freely and without fear. Such a simple act held so much meaning for her, and now holds such significance and appreciation in my life. I’m so grateful to be able to carry on my grandmother’s legacy and feed my family with joy. She fought fiercely and endured so much trauma to persevere through the most horrific time and rise up, raise a family, and work hard to put food on such beautiful dishes for her family and friends.
(Originally featured in Family Room, Issue 014)
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