| The Gatekeeper's Daughter |

The Gatekeeper’s Daughter: Chapter 25

Doda Zelda snores.Babyte Zenia used to snore. Hers was a gentle, rhythmic sound that droned in the background, but Doda Zelda snorts, splutters, and heaves. Her open mouth hangs inertly over her chest, bringing her velvet turban low down over her forehead, and her hands lie loosely on her lap, clinging to her book of Psalms. All looks well and peaceful, until she erupts, like a rusty tractor springing to life. Then she falls back to sleep and all is peaceful again.

Any other time, Daina would have found it amusing, but now it grates on her nerves. She stares at the pitcher and every pore of her being squirms in frustration as she tries to make sense of its presence.

She had asked Zeesy what the pitcher was for.

“Shemen. You know… shemen!” But Daina didn’t know. Zeesy had gone to the kitchen and returned with a dark green bottle of olive oil. That’s when the understanding had dawned. It was an oil pitcher. Not a piece of a tea set. Not a milk jug. Not even a little miniature watering can. It’s for oil. There were so many more questions Daina had wanted to ask, but Zeesy had to run and get some groceries from the makolet, and Daina stayed in case Doda Zelda woke up.

Daina swivels the pitcher slowly, enjoying its shiny sparkle: the tiny tips of its petals, the tapering spout and curvy handle. She runs a finger over its base. Thick and flat, it has the matte, scratched look of an unvarnished finish. And there, near the edge, is a miniscule leaping flame, distinctly engraved next to the 925 attesting to the silver’s purity and other old-fashioned insignias. Fascinating.

They had learned about silversmith hallmarks in history. Someone has engraved his personal sign on this creation. And someone in our family; sometime, somewhere, used just such a pitcher to light his Chanukah candles. Was he tall? Small? Bearded? Clean-shaven? Did he wear round, thick spectacles, or lean on a cane? Was she a large, turbaned woman who polished the pitcher? Did they look like an odd Jewish couple preserved in an album, or did they look just like Leah and Leibel?

In Daina’s mind, shimmery figures dance around the menorah.

Doda Zelda emits a thick, honking snore and heaves with a sudden cough. Swiftly, Daina slips the pitcher’s tiny prong back into its sheath. But when she looks at the aunt, her eyes are firmly shut again.

Daina wonders what is taking Zeesy so long. Bored, she scans the lower bookshelves, where books are propped up in a row. A dark brown spine stands out. It doesn’t look like a prayer book. After sending another furtive glance at Doda Zelda, she bends over and gives it a tug. As she pulls, the book almost falls to pieces. It is an old — a very old — photo album. Daina clutches the album gingerly, afraid to disturb the cracked, crackly sheets of plastic protecting the photographs from the ravages of time. She lifts the pages to her face, the faded patches of orange glue still abrasive to her thumb, and smells the slight whiff of turpentine. It mingles with a pervasive scent of dusty cabinets, and the musty, wintry days of yesteryear.

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 629)

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