SHELTERING IN PLACE: coffee mugs & a level

I broke a coffee mug the other morning. It slid through my fingers and made a clean break, only a few ceramic pieces on the kitchen floor. Of course I yelled, the children amidst e-learning did not look up, inured to cursing as I shattered yet another drinking vessel while distracted. The tally? One china teacup, one everyday teacup, a wine glass, and then this coffee mug – and it wasn’t even the already-chipped mug – damn!

There are still two good mugs left – a college friend gave us a set for our wedding, painted by his favorite potter in the Old City. The marriage a thing of the past, but the mugs firmly link my time zones, history of a laughing friendship in Israel three decades ago to the potential of shared morning coffee in some unnamed time ahead. Those vessels carry integrity and confidence somehow, cradling the morning half-caff-half-decaff blend that energizes long days of uncertainty as the world sits home and I endeavor to make meaning. The broken mug a false stand-in with no history, but it served a purpose, sharp-edged pieces giving pause.

A night prior, I hung a picture at midnight. With two levels, picture hooks and a hammer in hand, triumphant when the bubble was perfectly centered, Mom guided me. Over the years she hung enough frames in my countless abodes, holding Grandpa Arthur’s prized hammer which emerged from her suitcase without fail, and returned home no matter what. Grandpa Morris was there too, lining up measured dots to make a perfect straight line with stern precision as he labeled my camp trunk 45 years ago with string, chalk and a white paint pen.

Another day I polished. Silver and brass mezuzot ‘til they shined. I repeated Mom’s words told me how many days over how many years before Passover as I took out the good silver flatware or the Kiddush cups: use polish sparingly, watch the soft cloth blacken, wash with soap and water. Keep at it — no black spots. That magic still contagious, seen in the mesmerized eyes of the boy who sat 90 minutes on the kitchen floor, applying his new lessons, returning copper candelabra to Passover-worthy luster.

Made crepes. I channeled Grandma Ruth’s blintz-making, but with a leftovers-for-filling twist. My ruffled-edged crepes were woefully uneven against the backdrop of Grandma’s perfectly wrapped and folded blintzes, works of art smuggled into our freezer as Dad chastised his mother that we had enough food to eat.

And folded hospital corners. For Dad there was only military precision. He brought Naval experience and an officer’s authority to camp cabins, dorm rooms, apartments and houses, setting me up with an understanding of what was necessary and right, and leaving me a perfectly made bed. This vs. stuck-at-home children wondered why hospital corners really matter. (On the top bunk I wondered too.)

Tonight, though, another pause, a stop really. I stared at the firefly lights in mason jars, tiny sparkles by the window seat and beyond into the backyard trees and night sky. I looked around. My shelter? It’s in place. It’s cracked, uneven and ill-folded, ill-tempered and not so mindful at times. But the picture is straight, the metal glistens, the lights sparkle, and I remember who helped.