the ushpizin

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
written in response to prompt given at monthly writers' group session:

"your doorbell rings. you answer.
you are very surprised to see who it is…."

Submitted: October 07, 2018

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Submitted: October 07, 2018

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Prompt:

"Your doorbell rings. You answer.

You are very surprised to see who it is…."

The Ushpizin *

Carol Catinari

Written on the 26th anniversary of her death….Heshvan, 5775

The doorbell rings. Who could it be? The Jehovah’s Witness lady has already come and gone. I tear myself away from my book, and open the door. I couldn’t have been more surprised. There on the front step is my mother.

The last time I saw her was in August 1988, three months before she died. I had no idea that she was leaving this world. I only knew that illness was taking its toll. We had planned a family trip to Florida, but she and my father had to bow out. Her teeth were crumbling and she needed dental care. Her knees hurt. Instead of our usual trips to Toys R Us, where she lovingly and brilliantly spoiled her grandchildren, she handed me money, and said, “Carol…take them shopping for me.” As I prepared to leave for the airport, she sat on a low hassock and looked up at me with her piercing turquoise eyes,” I love you.” I answered “I love you, too,” and bent to kiss her goodbye.

I immediately recognized my mother at the door. Frances Zimring Lipsius - but not the same woman whom I left behind that day in Atlanta. She was a younger, slimmer, and radiantly happier person. The Frances Zimring that cousin Art had described as his favorite of the Zimring bunch because she was so alive, full of fun and wit. The woman on my front porch was young Frances, with a smile on her face, a twinkle in her eye. She emanated a zest for life. The years of hardship and unhappiness had melted away.

Then, the second surprise:

“May I come in?” she announced as she bustled through the door. Her arms were full - bags of cards, score pads and under one arm, a folding bridge table. After all this time, she was returning – to play cards? In her day, she was an excellent card player.  She spent many an afternoon with her women cronies playing canasta, and she taught me to play, too. We also idled the summer days away with cribbage, casino and gin rummy.

“It’s time for bridge,” she announced. BRIDGE? The one game that I had never learned, that I had never let her teach me. The memories flooded back and I suddenly felt like a small child, huddled in bed, trying to close off the noise.

My parents were excellent bridge players. In those days, bridge was a primary source of entertainment. It cost no money, and required no special equipment. Cards were cheap, and friends who played bridge were many. Children could be parked in a back room until they fell asleep and the adults could play cards, schmooze, and of course nosh.

That was the upside. But for my family (and probably others), bridge had a dark side. A miscalculated move could bring out rancor that passed the threshold of civility from either of my parents. The tone they used with each other could cut ice. The terms with which they addressed one another lacked any form of endearment, and bordered on downright ugliness. Bidding and playing the hand was bad enough. The instant replay was no kinder. I couldn’t wait for the bridge game to be over so that quiet could return. When all were in bed, peace seemed to reign.

Is it any wonder that I refused to learn this game that so pointedly represented the bitterness that existed between my parents?

The third surprise:

My mother bustled into the house, set her bags down, and began to put up the card table. Following at her heels was my father, Sol Tobias Lipsius -- not the aging and ailing father who came to live with me for what became the last three years of his life. Not the white-haired, bent, very thin man who declined by the day and finally died here in California at the age of almost 92. Instead a virile, young mustached man in an Army Air Corps uniform was trailing my mother - a very handsome, strong, and energetic soldier at the beck and call of the woman he had recently married.

“Let’s get the game going,” he boomed. He was a man of confidence looking forward to the future. His Army service was soon to be over, he had his Georgia Tech chemical engineering degree tucked away, and the world was at his command. He had not yet faced the years of hard work, family troubles and a business that could have, but didn’t, put him on easy street. We three sat at the table and I marveled at how the years had been erased.

What strange timing. Not long ago I had decided - enough already – time to learn bridge! I took lessons (many times over), played with friends (like a deer in the headlights when my turn to play), and despite the slow learning curve of a person my age…persevered.

“We need a fourth,” I thought, and immediately, Sister Bobbi appeared in the chair reserved for my partner. “This should be interesting,” I mused. Bobbi, too, was learning bridge, but how would she respond to our surprise guests? She took it in stride, as if there was nothing unusual about our family sitting down for a game of bridge. In fact, it seemed totally normal.

We played for the next three hours. My sister and I were the neophytes, but Sol and Frances carefully coached us, and we were able to improve our play. The interchanges were marked with respect, dignity, and laughter. The delightful evening washed away any lingering harsh memories and replaced them with a glowing glimpse of what could have been.

After refreshments, my mother rose, and sighed. “It’s time to go, Sol…” He folded his cards and gathered the coats. I looked up at her and she returned the gaze with her piercing turquoise eyes, and whispered, “I love you…” to which I answered, “I love you too,” as she bent to kiss me goodbye.

Our unexpected guests departed. They had served their purpose, reminding me of the goodness and energy that were part of my parents. Time played its role also, and I am able to put aside their disappointments, wrong turns, and the bitterness between them. It is much better to remember their potential, their optimism, their intelligence, and their wit. They came into this world with these qualities, and from their visit, I see that this is indeed the core of their eternal souls.

* Ushpizin is an Aramaic word that means “guests.” Translated into English, the word loses some of its mystery and otherworldliness. Yet these “guests” are indeed quite mysterious (at least until we learn more about them) and otherworldly (at least until we make them part of ours). We use the Aramaic term because our source of information about these mystical guests is from the Zohar, the fundamental Kabbalistic work written in that mystical language.

Carol Catinari, Nov. 1, 2014

 

 


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