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Full Circle: The Night Before Hannukah
On the night of lights, I became Dasher

The snow was the color of oatmeal now, dripping and drooling from the last of the sun. Men who owned rubbers walked surely in the slush, their hat brims down, their cold eyes up. It was the season, the season of constant music, the season to be jolly. The season when dads worked late, and moms kissed Santa.

In my house, it was a festive night, the night before Hanukkah. This year, the year I skipped from 5-A to 5-B, I had it all planned out. No more cheap cheroots for my father, no more chintzy eau de toilette for my mom. This year, Hanukkah was going to be different.

All year, I had been stashing money in my sock drawer, right next to my eight pair of yellowed wool anklet sweat socks. A quarter here, fifty cents there. I had a good savings plan back then. I didn’t buy lunch.

This year, I was saving, saving to buy a really nice sweater for my mother and a wallet, a real leather wallet for my dad.  My parents never spent money on themselves. Instead, they invested in luxury items, like food and sweat socks.

I went straight home from school that day. No stop at the candy store for a jawbreaker. I had work to do. I ran to my room and quickly closed my door. I rummaged in my sock drawer and dumped all the coins out on the bed. Eight seventy-five, nine, nine and a quarter. Oh, no, I thought I had way more than ten. This wasn’t enough. Why didn’t I plan better? Why did I buy so many wax lips?

It was 3:30 now. I had to find a job, and I had to find it quick. Faced with failure, I picked the perfect profession. I worked for the Penn Fruit. Well, not so much for the Penn Fruit as at the Penn Fruit. I stood in the parking lot and waited for women with too many bags. And I helped them­­ – the  old, the infirmed, the Shirley Weinermans. Some gave me a dime, the richer gave a quarter. By 4:30, I had done it. I was over the top. $12.45. Jackpot.

I ran, as fast as my P.F. Flyers would take me, to the shopping center. Ladies first. So, I went to Famous Maid. I was the only male, the only child in there. But I was on a mission. The saleswoman had a beehive. A structural wonder, the beehive. If rocket scientists could have built missiles as strong and certain as hairdressers built beehives, we would have beaten the damn Russians to the moon.

“This one is 100 percent wool,” the lady said.

“No, she itches from wool,” I said.

“Then here’s what you want,” she said, holding out the most beautiful pink pullover I’d ever seen. “It’s pure silk.”

Silk? Silk was for our rich cousins from Cherry Hill who lived in houses with foyers. But I counted out my quarters. When I got to $6.75, she stopped me. My mother was going to love this.

By the time I ran across the parking lot to Howard Clothes, I was out of breath. It was five of five.

“Wallet, I said, “I want a leather wallet.”

“Split grain or full?” the man in the Santa tie asked.

“Are they both leather?”

“Of course,” he said, looking at his watch.

“Look mister,” I said, pulling 17 quarters and one used Kleenex out of my pocket, “this is all the money I have.”

“I can give you the split grain for that,” he said, as he slapped it in a box. “And who’s the gentleman who will receive this?”

“I’m not giving it to a gentleman,” I said, “I’m giving it to my father.”

It had become the best Hanukkah ever. My mother loved the sweater. Couldn’t stop raving. And my father was as floored as my father ever got. “Not bad,” he said, rubbing the leather between his fingers and thumb. “Feels like full grain.” I just smiled.

December 2011
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