Tin Pots and My Best Friend
Doug Eisman (Guest Post)
I count steps. 14 steps up from the ground floor to the top of the first landing. I was met by a partially opened brown painted door.
what happened next felt both magical and forever welcoming. I entered Esther's kitchen. Esther was my friend Solomon's pint sized mother. their entire apartment was steeped with a scent of rich, exotic welcoming vapors. there was a dented tin pot atop the worn stove. the pot was simmering, filled with apricots, cardamom plums, cinnamon and allspice soon to be poured over and a chicken then roasted for about an hour. I was told to come into the kitchen and wait. Solomon was napping in abuela's room. Esther appeared to be surgically attached to the oven’s front knobs.
the dark kitchen was illuminated with the low flames floating in a clear bowl of water. the water was covered with a thin layer of olive oil. the floating flames created elongated shadows as they shimmered and shimmered creating an ethereal light show filling dark spaces. Esther shouted, "Solomon, wake up your friend is here." this was where my 15 year old friend thrived. his family lived above a noisy laundromat on new lots avenue in brooklyn. their home was a 20 minute walk from my home however if measured in heartbeats, it was 30 thousand heartbeats away between blood brothers. that evening Esther invited me to join the family's shabbat dinner even though she never trusted ashkenazi jews. the Yousha family migrated from turkey to spain and then on to brooklyn when Esther was just married following her 15th birthday. just as my brooklyn was my mesothelioma, turkey defined their love of their mother country. they were ruled by their history. they were ruled by their hearts.
what I learned from my friend sol was how to embrace and appreciate "the beautiful." sol was a master of sound. he played guitar,oud,kalimba . his smooth voice was capable of instantaneously harmonizing with all of those instruments. he harmonized with the sound of the winds and the thundering rumbles of angry clouds.
in my families kitchen there also sat a dented tin pot on a worn stove. our friday night dinner was boiling in that pot. it was bubbling with boiled chicken (it's blue veins pressing against its skin.) overcooked carrots and celery. served with over cooked boiled potatoes and cold borscht.
there wasn't any music nor a bowl of amber honey. there weren't any exotic flavors on that table, there were elongated ominous shadows casting both suffering and heartache. we dined beneath an angry cloud. all of the excitement associated with interesting unfamiliar adventures and moments were left at the doorpost. we lived our familiar. we lived what we knew. my mother was married to her second abusive husband. I felt relieved when she orchestrated a simple smile. it was the same smile she wore when she closed her eyes and sang along with "lady day" or recounted the evenings that her grandmother brushed her long dark hair when my mother was a schoolgirl. there were never any kisses or laughter in our house.
I gravitated to the Yousha experience. he had an uncle who owned a car wash facility on nostrand ave. his uncle hired us to wipe down and dry the cars as they exited. he had uncle rabbi avi who moved his family to Mexico City . that only lasted one year. sol was always on the go. taught me to not care about stupid things, he taught me his favorite curse words in Turkish, Spanish, Hebrew I already knew the curse words we shared in English. he fell in love with an older woman and enjoyed describing those experiences, he lead youth groups to Israel and tutored Hebrew, guitar and gave voice lessons.
my son once asked me how I learned to be such a loving father while my parents never expressed any love. I replied, "I raised you for what I yearned for."
thirty years passed without any interactions with sol. his nephew contacted me to tell me about sol's sloan kettering treatments. I went to visit sol. his wife told me he was being brought down from a liver biopsy procedure and was very disorientated and unfocused. once sol was situated in his bed, I stood beside him. we grasped hands. he asked about my family and reminded me of the teenager's pact we made to probably die together. he said " hey, forget the pact and live for all things beautiful.
sol went home to die. when I received the news. I blinked as if to reboot reality and change the channel. what I did experience was what it sounds like when when oceans stand still and trees refrain from breathing.