Doorway to the Past| September 20, 2022
Bubbe’s house was my happy place
SO many people have skeletons in their closets. My Bubbe, though? She had memories in hers.
We lived in Silver Spring, Maryland, and I always treasured our trips to Bubbe’s house in Charleston, South Carolina. My family would pile into our blue minivan with our suitcases stuffed in the back and all the afterthought-items shoved into the crevices between the seats. The ten-plus hours were filled with Shlock Rock and Miami Boys Choir and more rounds of the license-plate game than I care to admit.
But it was all worth it for that moment when we would pull up to Bubbe’s house. Rolling down the windows, we would wave and cheer excitedly as our beautiful matriarch stood waiting in her driveway.
I would rush out of the car and jump into Bubbe’s arms for a hug that felt like she never wanted to let me go. Hand in hand, we’d walk into the house and sit around her kitchen table laden with all sorts of yummy treats. As the grownups talked, I’d head to Bubbe’s bedroom to drop off my bags. We were roommates, you see. Ever since I was a little girl, I had the privilege of sharing my Bubbe’s bedroom when we visited. This was our special time together, lying awake late into the night, whispering secrets and laughing at the silliest things. I always fell asleep smiling and feeling like the luckiest girl in the world.
Bubbe’s house was my happy place.
Eventually I’d hear the sounds of everyone making their way down the hallway toward the bedrooms. “Shoes off! I’ll get a pen!” Bubbe would sing.
It was time for my favorite tradition.
We’d gather in my mother’s childhood bedroom and everyone would huddle around the little closet with the door opened wide. On the inside of the door was a measuring chart. Bubbe would take her pen and trace a line from the top of our heads to the line on the chart, marking the door itself. Next to the line she would write our names and the date, so we could look back and see how much we’d grown since the previous visit. I always loved finding my markings on the door, starting with the first one near the bottom from when I was only nine months old.
As the years passed, the family grew and the markings multiplied. Once we even brought my childhood best friend with us on our road trip, and of course, she was measured and added to the fabled door.
As we grew taller and older, we welcomed the names of spouses and great-grandchildren, filling the wood frame with memories and milestones. Different handwritings captured the many individuals involved in this tradition; my father z”l, my mother, little kids proud to write their names, and overconfident teens scrawling theirs, each in their own way. For years, no matter what brought us to Charleston, our visits began with an updated measurement on that closet door.
At one point during my early 20s, as a budding educator new to the speaker circuit, I was invited to teach in Charleston for Shavuos. After arriving at Bubbe’s home and dropping my bags in her room, she shuffled me over to the closet door for an updated measurement. It was a rite of passage that was not impacted by age or stage. Several years later, after getting married and giving birth to my oldest, I traveled to Charleston to surprise Bubbe for her birthday and introduce her to her newest great-grandchild. She opened the door thinking that it was a package delivery, and was stunned and thrilled to see that it was us. Of course, my baby boy was added to the door as well.
When my Bubbe passed away three years ago, it was clear that we would be selling her beautiful home.
“Would you like anything from Bubbe’s house, Erin?” my mom asked as they sorted through her possessions.
“The closet door,” I replied.
“The what?” Mom asked quizzically, trying to understand if I was serious.
But how could we leave this treasure behind? Bubbe’s closet door is an heirloom; it tells the story of our family and links generations. The door needed to come with us.
Bubbe’s longtime handyman, Mr. Atwood Talley, was the consummate southern gentleman. He adored my Bubbe and was more than happy to oblige to our strange request. My mom monitored as Atwood removed each screw and hinge, gently leaning the door against the bedroom wall until the movers would arrive to wrap it up and place it on the moving truck to Silver Spring.
I used to imagine the guy who bought the house finally moving in and settling into his new home. At some point he must have hung his shirts in the closet and tried to close the door, only to discover that it was missing. Sorry, buddy! (Eventually I learned that my mother replaced the missing door before the new owner moved in. I’m glad she did, because otherwise how would he measure his grandkids?)
The closet door now lives in my mom’s house in Silver Spring. We don’t have anywhere to mount it because it’s a custom size that doesn’t fit a standard closet, so it sits in her basement, propped against the wall. Bubbe’s closet door receives fewer visitors than it deserves, but it always leads to great memories. Because the door’s power doesn’t hinge on where it’s located. It reminds me that sometimes it’s worth keeping the simplest things in our lives, just for good measure.
Erin Stiebel is a senior educator for Partners Detroit and the Director of NCSY GIVE. She has been inspiring audiences of all ages for over 15 years. Erin and her family live in Southfield, Michigan.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 929)
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