On being Jewish and my favorite Christmas present

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So I’m not Jewish – but for about forty minutes this morning, while pouring over a fellow blogger’s three short stories – full of descriptive imagery that opened a world I’ve never known – I could have been. In writing, I tell my kids it isn’t enough just to give me a telling, I need to be in that moment and sense it for myself. To digest the tale, I’ve got to believe it and to believe it I have to see it, taste it, smell it as if I existed in the same moment with the writer. I appreciate the less travelled- the rare- the authentic and the narrative always adds to the quality of any experience to bring it to the palate of the reader. Here’s my ‘thank you’ note to one of my budding writers when ‘thanks’ doesn’t really do justice in detailing the whole experience.

During the holiday season, we are told it is more important to give than to receive. In this case, what I received enabled me to pay it forward to someone else. Thank you for my gift because it was my most treasured present this year.

It was December 20th, the last day of school before winter break, and ready to kick off the holiday in true vacation spirit, I decided to stop for pizza. Pizza joints are always bustling on Friday nights, and this Friday, right before the holidays, was no exception. The weather was atypical for impending winter, so we sat outside waiting for my husband to meet up with us to avoid the crowded restaurant. When he finally arrived, I waited in line to place our order, while encouraging my husband to save a table in the swamped restaurant. He found one in an alcove buried under already used pasta dishes and leftover pizza crusts on paper plates, but I saw him nudge the mess over with the back of his hand and sit down. At about the same time, a lady who’d just placed her order before me set up camp across from him. From behind, I heard them making small talk and laughing so I placed our order and took our number to the table. I figured this would be interesting, battle of the wills staking claim to the single empty table.

There, across from my husband, sat a complete stranger. We introduced ourselves and noted the congested restaurant; she explained that she was waiting on her carry out and was Italian herself and quite comfortable with sharing a table while she waited; we welcomed her to wait at our table as our food hadn’t yet arrived. She described some of her life experiences – she was an accountant, divorced, single parent of a grown daughter; she was an avid traveler and had been to 48 of 50 states. She’d been to countless countries and dined on various cuisines. She was an expert on Italian cooking and shared some of her family’s recipes and even lived in Italy for years during young adulthood. She was knowledgeable of the world, politics, and well read.

Our pizza was up and the waitress brought out a blistering hot silver tray with a bubbly cheese and dough pie, accompanied by a handful of napkins and utensils. We enjoyed the company of our guest so much that we insisted she join us for dinner since her carry out order, strangely enough, still hadn’t arrived. We ate dinner and talked throughout our meal – she served my son seconds on pizza and helped him arrange his chosen toppings on his slice with her fingers that were made oily from the task. Sometime later, her carry out order was brought to the table, but she was already in the midst of eating a vegetarian pizza so it would’ve been silly for her to take her order home to eat alone. My son complaining about eating vegetarian, she tipped open the top of her meatball pizza box and removed the meatballs from her untouched order to arrange them on his plate as he watched wide eyed with gratitude.

Afterward, we hugged her goodbye and wished her a happy holiday and the best for the coming new year. As we walked to our car in silence, my husband and I suddenly both commented to each other that she must be very lonely to be out on a Friday to pick up her dinner, anticipating to eat at home alone. A unique evening to have shared a meal with a complete stranger who many may have overlooked and not recognized how appreciative she would have been at being included in a family dinner. The holidays become too busy for all of us focusing on too much of the commercial, less important aspects of Christmas buying and cramming events into schedules long on tasks but short on moments. This beginning to my holiday was the true reason for the season and the pause as my reminder to focus on the spirit of the season.

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