There is so much about which to write. The great loss sustained by America as Dr. Walter E. Williams died this week, the ongoing election drama, and COVID-19 among much else.
Instead, I am bringing back this piece from 2009. In the final analysis, while the fortunes of countries and individuals wax and wane, often with devastating consequences, some things remain constant.
From an early age, I was aware that a dresser drawer in my grandparents’ apartment housed a box with my name on it. Inside was a tablecloth, hand-embroidered with pictures and, in Hebrew, the words, “In honor of the Sabbath and Holidays.” Just as she had once done for my mother and aunt, my grandmother spent hours stitching this special cloth for me. I don’t know if she did the work when I was an infant, toddler or child. I do know that during those years when I was busy looking at a different drawer, the one which my grandparents stocked with Archie and Superman comic books, my grandmother was envisioning my being grown-up and setting a festive table for my family.
Though she was no longer alive by the time I got married, I brought my grandmother’s priceless wedding present into my marriage. In the years since, I reverently lay out the tablecloth for holidays and for special occasions such as when a newborn is spending his or her first Sabbath in the family. Each time I unfold the tablecloth from its original box, slightly battered from various moves, I am transported back to a time when my grandparents’ love enveloped me. I am a better wife, mother and Jew when the cloth is on the table, and its presence spurs me to act in ways worthy of my grandmother’s devotion.
Many years ago, in the hope of passing that chain of affection down to another generation, I embarked on a quest to hand craft a Sabbath tablecloth for my firstborn daughter, who was lovingly named after my grandmother. A slight glitch developed as our family grew and I realized that I only had limited time to work on the cloth, usually was when I was in the hospital for a day after childbirth or on vacation. Both those times were in short supply.
Of course, I wanted such a treasure for each successive daughter as well. I knew I was in trouble when around the time of my eldest daughter’s twelfth birthday I finished her gift and realized that if I took twelve years to embroider something for my other girls, my youngest would be an octogenarian by the time her gift was completed.
After boxing up the first tablecloth I immediately started on the next one and managed to have it done in time to serve as an engagement gift for my second daughter. But our six daughters are relatively close in age and I was in real trouble. Fortunately, as the children grew and needed less hands-on attention, I had more opportunities to grab time for needlework, even if it was only ten minutes before falling asleep.
Our third daughter requested a wall hanging depicting a panoramic view of Jerusalem rather than a tablecloth. I readily agreed, relieved at the smaller size though the intricacy and complexity of the work was greater. I didn’t make it in time for her engagement or wedding, but it graced the wall of her new home during her first year of marriage. Before I completed that needlework, daughter #4 threw us a curveball and got engaged. I hadn’t even begun to contemplate her gift! Last week, I finally finished her challah cover (the covering for the Sabbath bread), once again smaller than a tablecloth but incredibly detailed and elaborate. She and her husband should be able to open the package before their second wedding anniversary.
As I’m quite sure was true of my grandmother’s efforts, much more than time and effort have gone into these gifts. The hundreds of hours spent on each one, as well as on the bag I needle-pointed for our son’s bar mitzvah to hold the articles he uses in prayer, and on the gifts I have yet to begin for my youngest two girls, are meant as a way for me to encourage and care for my children when I can’t be with them in person. Each piece of handiwork speaks to my conviction that they will be true to their faith and families. Each stitch carries a prayer, each thread an overflowing pool of love.
Update: I wrote this a few years ago. Since that time, I have completed a tablecloth (as requested) for daughter #5, a challah cover for daughter #6, and a challah cover representing my first attempt at quilting for our #1 daughter-in-law. All made with love.
Don’t have time to hand-embroider a gift for Christmas or Chanukah?
How about a gift filled with hours of Biblical wisdom and practical advice?
America’s Real War added for free this week, with the purchase of any library pack.
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