Beneath my nostrils at this moment: a plastic canister of gingerbread-scented gel beads. I’m inhaling, Christmas style.
Brenda sent it to me in response to my two dozen Facebook updates on a Jewish Girl’s Xmas. Each December I lust for peppermint bark, clove-studded pomanders dangling from pine branches, Noble firs, rainbow lights. It is heavy-duty schtick. Every year, I mean every word.
Tonight I’m sniffing these gingery pearls like nobody’s business. Amber caviar from a bigass fish. They’re probably carcinogenic.
This breathing reminds me of Vipassana meditation. A Judeo-Buddhist buddy of mine does this on a cushion in his very warm bedroom. It’s awareness of air passing above your top lip, past philtrum, up your nose. As the website says, “If you observe your breathing closely, then you will find that whenever the air enters inside our body through nostril, it produces a little soothing coolness in the nostrils.”
I want soothing coolness. I want it something huge and fierce. I’d pay for it.
I want to go back to the Christmas Cottage at Lord & Taylor, Miracle Mile, Manhasset. The place where assimilated zaydehs took their little Jewish grandchildren to meet Santa. I know I wasn’t the only Jewish kid. Nixon was in office, the wrap dress was new, cars were big and heavy. We still lived in Queens.
My grandparents and aunt and uncle drove me to see Christmas lights. I sat between my grandmother and aunt, aloft on what I called the Monkey Seat. No seat belt, no booster, no need. A solid Caddy, swooping. Roslyn, Port Washington, Garden City. Gentile towns. Past single-family homes with double ovens baking goyishe cookies. I wanted those cookies. Tinned fruitcake. I was 18 when I first ate fruitcake. I loved the glossy fruit bits. They reminded me of the loose rubies and emeralds my grandfather sorted at the kitchen table, the work he brought home.
This was a long time ago.
I used to write poems no one understood. I read too much John Ashbery for a young girl. Fifteen years after those Christmas light tours, I showed my aunt a poem about her mother, my great-grandmother. It mentioned, with great opaqueness, the concept of die goldene medinah, in Yiddish, the golden country. I was 19, my great-grandma was dead a year. I was home from college. “This one, I understand,” my aunt said to me.
She died yesterday, and while we hadn’t spoken in many years, she was important to me. So many stories. Armand Hammer, for whom she worked in the 1940s, gave her activated charcoal for a stomachache. I think of her, Lord & Taylor, Penn Fifth Avenue, baked goods. On high holidays we’d get cookies and corn rye from Stork’s. “Yom Kippur has the best bread,” she’d say.
The Stork’s boxes smelled of dark minty chocolate. Why does my nostalgia come in gingerbread, which, in situ, I’ve never, truly, really smelled?