My 5-year-old took a spoon to school. A soup spoon, to be precise. He found it on my bookshelf, alongside the tchotchkes and memorabilia you’d expect—animal figurines, some redwood driftwood, artsy dreidels and menorahs.
Joe had a kindergarten assignment to bring “something meaningful to his family” to school that day. We, his parents, were to accompany him and explain its significance, while showing family photos and discussing our family tree.
The spoon has a pretty design. It’s not very thick, by today’s standards, perhaps. But it had a longer journey than almost anything else in my house.
My bubbe—my maternal grandmother—gave it to me when she sold her house. It had come from her original house, back in Europe, in what was once Czechoslovakia.
After Auschwitz, she did what many survivors did: went home. Only now, four years later, some other family was living there. While they did not give her the house back, they had been polite enough to pack a box of those things they guessed were of personal significance to the family, should they ever return.
My bubbe was lucky to find even that level of consideration. Others in her situation found the house-usurping families using the menorahs as simple candelabras, and their father’s tallit (prayer shawl) as a tablecloth. My bubbe’s father’s tallit was in the box.
But she had to sell it for food. She cried when she told me that, some 60 years later. She still felt guilty about having sold it.
“Don’t you think he would have wanted you to, though?” I asked. “I mean, if he was looking down at you from Heaven, don’t you think he was glad to be able to still provide for you, even after he was gone?” She allowed that this was likely the case, and even smiled a bit at the thought.
While she was in the house waiting for them to retrieve the box, she swiped a spoon from the dining room table and shoved it in her coat pocket. It wasn’t stealing—it was her spoon, after all. If anything, she was reclaiming it. I imagine she would have shoved the whole house into her pocket if she could have.
The spoon travelled with her to America. She held onto it as she and my late Zaide were resettled in Cleveland, and then moved from house to larger house to accommodate her burgeoning family—my mother is one of four sisters.
And then she moved it again, into her smaller house, once her daughters had their own houses and families and spoons. Once she sold that house, she gave me the spoon.
Now, at 93, she lives with my parents in Cleveland. I just got an e-mail from them with a photo; they are on vacation with her in Florida, at an art show. She is using a walker now, but still going out to see the world, still smiling.
The students in Joe’s class were curious about the spoon, wondering how such a mundane item might be so important to us. I gave them a brief synopsis of its story. They all wanted to see and hold it.
I just interviewed a man who, with his brother, bought the flag that flew on the Exodus and donated it to the US Holocaust Museum. We spoke about how some objects are so significant, they can move anyone with their stories.
Now, the spoon is home again, in its usual spot on the bookshelf. It was only meant to hold soup.
Instead, it holds a spoonful of history. My family’s.