Where Is It Written?
a Henry Harrelson’s Custom Fit Boots tale
by Andrea Lena DiMaggio
for Melanie, who makes me think!
Beverwyck Road, Lake Hiawatha, New Jersey…
It had already been a long day for Ben Goldberg, the fits and starts in his delivery schedule notwithstanding. Things seemed to conspire against him all week. His father was in the hospital and their only recently repaired relationship was threatened by Adam’s emergency bypass surgery.
How many times he heard his father’s angry words, wondering indeed where it was written that life was left with harsh demands over what never had been. Where was it written that dreams fulfilled could never, ever be? At thirty-two, he had long abandoned hope.
Ben’s mother Abigail had at first seemed to withdraw in understandable worry, but her most recent words with Ben indicated a hope for her younger child that went beyond the reconciliation between father and son.
“We just want to see you happy, bubelah.” She used a long-abandoned endearment usually reserved for Ben’s sister Rachel.
Ben drove slowly. The GPS in the delivery van went wonky just after he left the hub, and he wasn’t at all familiar with the layout of the village. And the weather didn’t help at all as it had started to rain.
Years before his grandmother had regaled Ben and Rachel with tales of growing up in Lake Hiawatha, but many of the landmarks of Bubbe Yudi’s youth had been supplanted by several stores and businesses up and down the street, leaving him lost.
“Harrisons… No… Harrelson’s” He voiced his thoughts as he squinted at the signs on each storefront.
“Halal Market… I guess things have changed.” He mused.
Lake Hiawatha at one time was populated with a pastiche of various Anglos, Italians and a fair-sized mixture of Cohens, Sterns, Steins and such. Now the village was entirely multi-national but no less welcoming and warm. He remembered briefly dating Mindi Patel in high school, and his best friend at Ramapo College was Muslim.
Still, decades of his grandmother’s youth had faded into the past as things changed over the years. He recalled her relating how she and her brother Aaron walked to Temple only a few blocks from the family home, which now left Ben feeling guilty and even a bit sad.
He could hardly remember the last time he had gone to a service; at one time a point of contention among several with his father. He sighed at the irony, since as they say, at least regarding his other issues, ‘the more things change, the more they remain the same?’
The thought became even more ironic and even invasive as he noticed one of the only boutiques along the street. In the large front window stood a mannequin sporting a very attractive Mauve dress; ankle-length and gauzy. He sighed.
“Oh…” He breathed out the word and kept silent at the expletive too often spoken out loud in frustration. Just then he realized the shop he was looking for was next to the boutique in the middle of the same small strip mall across from the Post Office.
Ben pulled into the small parking lot. A few moments later he stood under the awning that spanned the five-unit building, gazing intently at the doorway to the shop. The sign on the door featured a printed clock with movable arms and the words, back at The ‘clock’ read 10and it was already half past. He covered his brow with his hands, peering into the store.
“May I help you?” A voice came from behind, startling Ben. Not the condescending ‘may I,’ but an earnest request for permission. He turned to find an elderly gentleman standing there. Ben looked at the man and noticed his welcoming smile.
“Oh, Sorry… I have a delivery.”
Ben held out the large shoebox-sized package along with the delivery tablet and stylus. The old man nodded but eased past Ben and unlocked the door. Stepping inside, he walked over to the counter as he took the stylus and signed, while pointing to a similar-sized box, albeit without packaging. The man’s sudden appearance was distracting enough that Ben failed to notice that despite walking across the street in what had now become a downpour, the old man wasn’t at all wet from the rain.
“Sorry for the wait… the power went out, so I grabbed a large coffee from the Quik Chek.” The man held up the container, almost apologizing for not having one for Ben.
“Here,” the man smiled and pointed at the counter again.
“I have something for you as well.” The old man tapped Ben on the shoulder He had been looking around at the displays of boots almost like a kid in a toy store. He turned and shook his head slightly in apology.
“I’m sorry, sir. I’m can’t do a pickup. This…” Ben pointed to the tablet.
“This has been acting up all morning. I don’t know why, but It’ll scan for a delivery and nothing else.”
“Oh, this isn’t a pickup. This is for you.” He laughed softly as he pointed at the box, which wasn’t sealed. Ben went to speak but the old man just smiled as he held up his hand.
“Seriously. This is for you, Ben.” The old man opened the box, revealing a silk, scarf-like garment, soft and in a color something between purple and lilac. Reaching past the garment into the box, he pointed to a pair of ankle-length medium heeled boots. Ben tried without success to stifle a gasp. Had he not been distracted by the contents of the box he might have wondered just how the old man knew his name.
“I think this color suits you,” the man said as the growing crimson on Ben’s face threatened to approximate the color of the boots, which were purple suede. Ben shook his head as the man handed him the garment from the box.
“So soft, yes?” It wasn’t just a scarf, but a mitpachat. Ben had only seen one once before. He hardly ever had used the term of endearment for his mother’s mother, but it seemed too important not to speak the words,
“Bubbe Yudi… she had a covering just like this,” Ben said almost to himself. Ben and his family were more reformed, but Bubbe Yudi and Zeydeh Leon had been Orthodox. The mitpachat looked more than just familiar. If he hadn’t known better, he would have thought it actually was hers. But then again the morning was already bordering on mystical.
“I think I know someone who might help… sort of accessorize the accessories?” His voice was almost lyrical as he softly laughed again. Ben stared at the mitpachat in his hands… hands that had not changed but nevertheless seemed so much softer than he could remember. And that in turn on any other day, as the old movie quote said, might have seemed odd. Just then, the brief moment of quiet was interrupted by the bell attached to the front door, announcing another arrival. The sound almost seemed a response to the old man’s words.
“Excuse me, Mr. Henry?” Ben turned to find that the voice came from an attractive thirty-ish woman about the same height as him, making her about 5’7 or so. She wore pale grey slacks and a mint green blouse covered by a hip-length charcoal cable-knit cardigan. And she wore a light grey silk mitpachat.
“Yes, sweetie?” The old man smiled at his use of the endearment, which in turn evoked a broad grin from the girl.
“I saw your lights come back on. We still don’t have power, and I need to charge my cell phone.”
“For you, Miriam? Anything,” he said sweetly as he took her phone and plugged it into the charger on a credenza behind the counter. Ben looked back and forth between the old man and the woman, who now seemed uncomfortably familiar. His feeling was quickly borne out as she turned to him and tilted her head in question.
“Ben?” Her gaze darted between Ben’s face and the mitpachat in his hands.
“Bennie?” He eyes seemed to grow larger as her expression changed from question to realization.
“I…”Ben stammered. As he went to back up, he bumped into the counter, sending the open box off and onto the floor, spilling its contents. Miriam glanced at the boots, now laid out on the floor at Ben’s feet in display. She smiled and her gaze fell down to her own feet, which sported nearly identical boots save for the charcoal color instead of the purple ones on the floor.
He raised his gaze somewhat and stared at the mitpachat adorning her head. Hadn’t she gotten married a short while back? He noted the ring on her left hand, which made him feel sad and then immediately guilty for feeling sad. She saw his eyes focus on her hand.
“David was killed in a car crash last year,” she said softly.
“I…Some days I still feel married,” she added, pointing to the head covering.
“Oh….” Ben’s face grew darker and hot. She smiled even more broadly until she noticed Ben’s eyes had filled with tears. She stepped closer…Miriam Radner, his sister Rachel’s best friend growing up.
“Oh, myddl,” Miriam touched Ben’s cheek. He winced and tried to step back, but the counter barred his way. He shook his head.
“No, Bennie….please, no.” She pulled him close, staring into his eyes.
“I remember all the good times we had when we were little. Rachel liked to dress up. Almost like Madonna, you remember? Me? I was going to be the next Meryl Streep. But Naomi? She wanted to be a wife.”
“No…please? Miriam, don’t… please?” Ben shook his head once again. Ben had fallen in love with Miriam when he was seven and she was six. One day frozen in time for two little girls standing before the red-headed six-year-old ‘Rabbi’ Rachel under a tarp on four poles in Miriam’s back yard, with Zaydeh Teddy Bear and Bubbe Hello Kitty as witnesses. And stomping on a Dixie Cup covered with Rachel’s handkerchief…
“Shhhh…. Listen, okay?” He had no strength to disagree or even nod in agreement. Shame can do that.
“I was three years past dropping out at Rutgers and my Bubbe asked me what I wanted to do. I cried. I always wanted to open a boutique. She asked me why I didn’t go back to school for business. I said I was already past twenty-five, and if I went to school it would take four or five years, and I’d be twenty-nine or thirty when I got out.” She looked away for a moment, hoping if what she would say next would help. And as if the old man could read her mind, he spoke with a heretofore entirely unheard accent,
“I bet she said, ‘Liv Mydll? How old will you be four or five years from now if you don’t go to school?’” It was now Miriam’s turn to wonder as the old man continued. Henry Harrelson speaking Yiddish?
“What did she say next?” The old man’s eyes seemed to twinkle, prompting Miriam to eagerly reply,
“You see, mein grandtochter? It’s never too late.” She smiled even as happy tears streamed from her own eyes. Hopeful tears. Loving tears.
“Bennie?” Miriam reached into her pocket and pulled out a business card. Noting his delivery uniform, she continued.
“I know you probably have to get going, but call me later when you get time. You still live in the area?” Ben nodded without a word.
“Maybe we can get together for lunch next weekend? At The Spa?” She looked out the front window through the rain to the small luncheonette across the street. The old man nodded in agreement, leaving the two of them in a hopeful quorum in favor of Ben, so to speak. Miriam grabbed Ben’s hands in hers and spoke in a near whisper.
“I’d really like to get reacquainted with you, okay?” Ben still had no strength to protest, but had gained a measure of strength to agree. He nodded almost sheepishly as Miriam pulled him…or rather her…into one last hug.
“It’s never too late…Naomi. She kissed Ben quickly on the cheek and stepped back a bit. Her cell phone beeped and the old man handed it to her. She glanced at the new text.
“Oh, Leah says the power’s back. Gotta run…. That Mauve number in the front window won’t sell itself.” She laughed and walked out, still leaving Ben feeling awkward if at least a bit more peaceful than at her arrival. He turned to face the old man, who nodded.
“Oh, I forgot to put this in the box,” he said, thrusting and envelope into Ben’s hands.
“I think this will help?” Ben opened the envelope, revealing several gift certificates. Two from Kohls, one from Target, and one for a makeover at a boutique in Fairfield. Ben managed to smile even as he walked slowly to the front door. The clouds had already begun to lift in a way; both the rain clouds and the sad, confused fog he had been under. His smile broadened slightly, matching the old man’s grin. He put the mitpachat and the boots back in the box, tucking it under his left arm as he took one step toward the door. He paused before turning back one last time.
“Thh…thanks,” he managed. And with that, he walked out.
The old man watched as Ben stood outside the shop, but he seemed more focused at the boutique next door. A few moments later Ben got into the delivery van and drove off. As the van pulled out of sight, the old man grinned knowingly and laughed softly to himself.
Mitpachat – a ceremonial head covering worn by some Orthodox Jewish wives.
Mydll - girl
Liv Mydll – my (beloved) girl
Grandtochter – granddaughter
Bubbe –Nana (my grandmother)
Zaydeh – grandfather
Mazel Tov – Good luck to you!
Where is it Written?
From the motion picture Yentl
Music by Michel Legrand
Words by Alan and Marilyn Bergman
As sung by Barbra Streisand
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