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  • Writer's pictureShani Majer

Salt Shaker and Sadness

Updated: Jul 16, 2020

I turned it over in my hand. It wasn’t Baccarat, Lalique or Mikasa. It was only remarkable in its cheapness. I could tell that if I did add salt to it, the flimsy silver lining would quickly tarnish and erode.

I quickly recovered, smiled and leaned down to give my father and mother a thank you kiss, moving so quickly between them that my brother’s photo of the moment is a blur.

This year we held our Chanukah party on the first Sunday of the holiday. It was a typical Majer family event with too much food, noise and mess. The high vaulted ceilings echoed with the chatting, bickering, and laughing of my parents, siblings, nieces, nephews and included the next generation. We cooed and ahhed over a three-week-old great-niece and watched as a six-month old “tushy bopped” across the floor.

We ate latkes, played games as the younger grandchildren and great-grandchildren ran around wreaking havoc. Another crew of tweens hunched over an iPad watching/playing together.

It was an especially nice evening since my father had been in and out of the hospital and nursing homes the previous month. It was his first “night out”.

My father sat near the head of the table, quietly taking in the scene around him. He explained to the new grandson-in-law the merits of sour cream vs. apple sauce on home-made latkes. (Apple sauce, obviously.) While we played a game, he directed the team closest to him on the proper construction of a tower from angel hair pasta and scotch tape. They won.

As we munched on home-made donuts and licked the confectionery sugar off our fingers, we gathered around the dining room tables for the highlight of the evening. There was a process to the gift-giving ritual. Starting with the youngest, my mother handed each gift to my father, who handed it to the recipient or her/his parent, who then unwrapped it, said thank yous, and took the obligatory photo.

I walked away from my parents with the salt shaker still nestled in the light blue and silver wrapping. It was five inches tall and octagonal in shape tapering to the base. And one of the oddest gifts I’ve ever received.

On the way home that night, as I slowed for the Holiday Light Show at the PNC Bank Center, I wondered about the gift. Was there a special meaning that I missed? Salt is sal, which is salary. Was the suggestion I should get a job? I dismissed that. My parents were ridiculously proud of my entrepreneurial spirit. Had I mentioned I needed housewares? Certainly not salt shakers. I had two sitting very nicely in my kitchen cabinet. Was it a purchase for someone else, reassigned to me last minute? I sniffed the leftover ziti in the back seat, turned up the volume on the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and made a note to ask my father the next time I spoke to him.

Alas, dear Reader, you know how this ends.

My father passed away three days later after a brief Emergency Room visit. He was 79.

We look for goodness in tragedy, kindness in hardship. The world turned over some weeks later and as the Covid-19 illness ravaged our world, my family had time to appreciate the fortune we had experienced. We were able to honor my father with a funeral service, eulogies, and a graveside ceremony. My mother, siblings and I sat together in mourning and hundreds of well-wishers conveyed their condolences. We shared stories, passed around photos as we cried, laughed, and cried some more. I ate more carrot muffins that week than I ever did and well-meaning family and friends pushed plates of tuna wraps and oatmeal cookies my way.

And now, on the second shelf of the middle cabinet in my kitchen, behind the Red Cross table salt, but in front of the Morton’s, is an unused salt shaker, resplendent in its plainness, beautiful in its meaning.

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