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The Star of David
“Adam, I want you to have something.” At that moment, he lowered his shaky hand into his overstuffed pockets. He fumbled around in there as if was trying to get something that was just out of his reach; it was so close, but he just couldn’t seem to grasp it. The old man tilted his head upward, to see whether his grandson seemed fed up with the old man’s struggle. Instead of projecting scorn, the face the old man saw wore a smile. The old man had seen smiles from many faces in his time, but this smile was different. It was a quick and subtle smile, not unlike those seen in the preceding days of the boy’s trip. Every few weeks, the precocious eight-year old would travel to his Grandparents’ house to go camping in the backyard or go on a treasure hunt. Although the boy didn’t know it, with each adventure he would embark upon, would come a valuable life lesson. Today, the old man hoped, would be the one that stuck out most in the boy’s mind. For the old man knew his grandson’s future would be greatly influenced by what was to happen on this day. The old man continued to riffle through his pocket. He thought it was in there, although his memory had already started to fade, so he then looked around the house, trying to mentally retrace his steps. His eyes circled the room, but his mind could not find what he was looking for. The beat of his heart began to speed up and then slow down. He heard a faint noise.
“Gran…” where was that coming from? “Grandp...” There it was again, only this time it was louder. “GRANDPA,” the little boy’s voice rang out, reverberating through the house. “Are you okay?” A look of concern came over the boy’s chubby face.
The old man didn’t know what to do, so he simply replied, “I’m fine.” He put on a fake smile and ‘tussled’ the boy’s curly blonde hair. It was the same as he once had.
“I set up a treasure hunt so difficult, even I couldn’t find where I had put the treasure,” he told the boy. The vibrant smile came back to the boy’s face. He was young. He never imagined that the old man would lie to him; nor did he notice the declining health of the old man who had taught him seemingly everything about everything.
“Wait here,” he was commanded. So he did; swaying forward and back, rolling from heels to his toes, being as patiently as any eight-year old could be. He was more excited than he’d ever been. This was even better than the time he had seen his mom wrap up the brand new Playstation he was going to receive in a few short weeks for his birthday. For a boy his age, few things could be better than a Playstation, but he was different. His classmates in school were all three years older than him, and he was still the brightest in his class. As a student he was every teacher’s dream; an avid listener, always paying attention and exceeding the already heightened expectations he already had. At home he was hard working, always willing to help his mom, never acting up. Occasionally he would even cook dinner and do the laundry. These actions are unheard of for a boy his age, but he was different. So it comes as no surprise that his mom regularly called him her “Little Man of the House.”
He was actually the only man of the house. His father had left when the boy was only two years old, because he could no longer carry the burden of a family, so he left that up to his infant son. Since the other boys at school were so much older, the boy didn’t have many friends. So at the age of eight, he was virtually friendless and fatherless. That is why his grandfather was such an important part of the boy’s life, and why gifts from this man who had raised him were so near and dear to him. The boy was gifted, so he knew that the things he was given were not expensive, but they were valuable to him; they had meaning. When the old man walked back through the white doorway toward him, the boy’s face lit up. He realized something special was about to come his way. His grandfather reached into his pocket again. This time he found what he was looking for. It was a necklace.
His grandfather pointed to the necklace in his hand. “This symbol is Chai,” the old man explained. “It is Hebrew for ‘life,’ and on the back is an inscription. It says...”
“Shalom,” the boy chimed in, for he had seen that word before…in Sunday school.
“That’s right boy, Shalom, it means…”
”Hello and goodbye,” chirped the boy, head tilted in his triumph.
“Yes, but it also means ‘peace.’ Promise you will remember that.”
“Promise,” and with a reverent look on his face, the boy uttered “Chai and Shalom; ‘life,’ ‘hello,’ ‘goodbye’ and ‘peace’.”
“Be proud of where you came from, because without the memories of your past, you will have no future.” With that the old man extended his clenched fist, unraveling his arthritic fingers as steadily as he could. Resting in his shaky palm was the necklace he had worn when he was a boy. His father had given it to him when he was about Adam’s age. He closed his eyes, and though his mind was deceiving him, the old man remembered that moment like it was yesterday. It was the last time he saw his father alive, it was both the best and worst of his life. When his eyes crept back open, the old man saw his father, the same way he looked on the day he “passed the torch.” The strong man looked at the young boy and then back to his son. He smiled and nodded as if in approval and then disappeared. Overcome by the significance of the moment, the old man began to weep.
“I’m so proud of you!”
Extending his tiny hand, the boy reached out for the necklace, leaving his grandfather’s hand cold and empty. The old man closed his hand as he grasped the nothingness. They both stood there facing one another before proceeding into a warm embrace, similar to one between a father and a son. But these two were not father and son. They were closer than that; for when the boy took the necklace that intertwined their lives in a never-ending bond.
“Someday this boy is going to make us proud,” the man thought to himself.
He looked down with great joy to find the boy studiously fiddling around with the necklace.
“Dinnertime,” chirped his grandmother. “Go wash up and get ready.” With this declaration, their ‘moment’ was over. It was dinner time and he was sitting at the table covered with food. There was the brisket covered in warm gravy. The matzo ball soup was bubbling in the bowl, and the raisin kugel smelled as if the cinnamon had just been added. But the boy did not notice. For the duration of dinner, the boy had not touched anything on his plate. He had even, unintentionally, ignored his grandparents’ attempts at idle conversation. All he did was examine the necklace he held in his hand; looking at the same spot around three times before flipping it and re-examining another spot.
The boy continued to flip his necklace; twirling the charm while the cool metal chain lay clasped around his neck. He looked around the tiny dining room. There was one door, two windows and an unnecessary number of chairs. As he continued to pierce the metal charm with his eyes, he comes to a realization. “The answer is B!” he shouts in his mind, hoping the old man couldn’t hear his thoughts. Gently he lowers his pencil point to the paper and outlined the bubble before filling it in.
“Time’s up,” grumbled the bespectacled bald man in the front of the room.
As the boy approached him with his test paper, he couldn’t help himself; he was only eleven. So he just smiled and said “You look like the ‘Monopoly Guy,’” before he set his test paper down and walked out of the room. Suddenly, he stopped outside the doorway. “Pass go, collect 200 dollars,” he whispered to himself and then continued on his way.
Strolling down the hallway, he saw his freedom. It was just beyond the doors marked with a bright orange sign that read ‘EXIT.” As he reached for the large double doors, a light beam came through the sliver of a window in each door causing his necklace to glow.
“Three years down, one to go,” he gleefully sighed, officially signifying the beginning of summer. That summer was no different than the past few; the boy worked at ‘Mom and Pops,’ the local café, on weekdays and visited his grandparents on weekends.
The boy was fifteen now, and with each passing year he became more aware of his grandfather’s failing health, although the old man would try his best not to let it show. That summer was pretty much the same as always, but it was when he returned to school for his senior year that things would change drastically. There was a new headmaster now and he was going to ‘run the show’ differently. Although he could not dispose of the boy, he would do all in his power to make his life a living hell. No longer would a Jewish boy be tolerated at the prestigious Catholic School.
They didn’t look at him the same way. They couldn’t. They were afraid to! The few friends he had made were avoiding him at all costs and teachers began to work him harder. Normalcy was gone. The only constant in his life was his grandfather. The old man’s memory continued to fade, but every time they met, the old man told him ‘never to forget his roots.’
His grandfather would say “Do not…”
“...take that necklace off,” scolded the headmaster. “It’s bad enough they let you in here, and now you’re making things difficult. We have rules and regulations here and you’re not going to get special treatment.”
The boy glared at him and. He wanted to call the headmaster every bad word he had ever heard, but he was above that. His grandfather told him never to say those words, and all his life the boy abided by that. Graduation was in one month, he just had to survive for thirty more days.
The day was finally here. The culmination of everything the boy had ever worked for. The graduates lined up in twos like animals boarding the Ark, and slowly filed into their seats. Finally it would be over. The boy felt a hand on his shoulder. It was the headmaster. The strong hand pulled him out of the auditorium and into the parking lot. Surrounding the lot was a fence made of barbed wire. How could a simple wire fence separate something so horrible from something so beautiful? There was a bright blue lake, flower beds and the sounds of wildlife. For the past four years, he had been isolated from all that. “You’re not going up on stage with that thing!” the headmaster proclaimed.
The boy had no intention of taking off the necklace, and kept staring past the headmaster at the land beyond the fence that was his freedom. After around thirty seconds of awkwardness, the boy’s name was called…it was his time.
“You’re up.” In a brief moment of humility, the headmaster gave the boy a smile and a nod, signaling him to go inside and get his diploma. As the boy turned the deceptive dictator made his move. He reached out with his hand, grabbed hold of the chain and snatched it from the boy’s neck. Before the boy could do anything the headmaster turned, wound up and delivered a heave. The necklace floated through the air like a bird, and flew toward the land that lay beyond the fence. The boy stared in terrified disbelief as the necklace came back down to earth. He reached out as if to grab it, although he knew he could not bring it back on this side of the fence. The necklace plummeted to the ground and hit the dirt. The dirt was soft and freshly packed. Rain was falling, but it was neither hard nor threatening. In fact, it seemed somehow peaceful and calming. The boy reached around his neck, but nothing was there.
“Hey Grandpa, just came to say hello. I graduated last month and already received letters of acceptance from Harvard, Stanford and Cornell. I’m thinking I want to go to Cornell, because it’s closer to home. I know you went there and Mom said that’s where Dad went too. Why break tradition?”
“Mom’s doing great. She’s really proud of me. I hope you are too. You taught me everything. I wouldn’t be where I am today without you. I want to say thank you, and I’m sorry. I know how much that necklace meant to you; when I wore it I felt safe. Maybe I’ll find one like it and pass it down to my son. That’d be great, huh? But it wouldn’t be the same. Well, I think I’ve talked enough, goodbye Grandpa.” The boy looked down at the marble tombstone and read the inscription:
“David Jacob Golden; 1932-2009”, and under that was a Jewish star followed by a quote that read, “Remember your Past.”
“Rest in peace Grandpa”, and the boy walked away into the rain. He reached around his neck. Nothing was there. He wished he still had his necklace.