Unobserved, I watch my younger sister place the last of numerous items in a large box. Leah wraps a wooden dreidel in paper, places it in its temporary home, and closes the lid. She looks around at the bare walls. Stripped of shelves and photographs, the floral wallpaper looks faded and worn. Nicks and scratches cover the hardwood floors like scars. Surrounded by boxes, my sister looks as fragile as the glass menorah she has wrapped in tissue.
Slowly I walk the length of the hallway to my own room. What is left in this room reflects the interests of a slightly older girl, a teenager filled with the anticipation of a cross-country move to a new life, a world where she will become a young woman. Boxes, labeled in bold black ink, contain memories from childhood, letters from grandparents, books, my own Judaica.
The phone rings at the other end of the house. The moving van pulls up. There is silence. My parents, my sister, my brothers all stand in the living room next to the boxes containing our household goods. We will venture westward, leaving behind our home, relatives, friends, realizing that life will never again be quite the same.
Box after box is carried through the doorway, carried down the steps, up a ramp, and packed into the trailer of the moving van.
When the last carton has been carried up the ramp, we watch as the metal door is closed. We lock the door to our house for the last time. With suitcases loaded into our old station wagon, we start off amidst farewells from our neighbors and the driver’s parting words.
After twenty years of commercial trucking, our driver has never had an accident. Our earthly goods, entrusted to his safe keeping, will follow us on our journey across the country to southern California.
The hazy road leads the way. Rain pours down and slows our travels near Albuquerque. We stop each night then travel on.
Finally we arrive. My uncle meets us at the apartment where we will live for the first few months in San Diego. He tells us that we need to call the moving company.
An accident has occurred. Although the driver is in fair condition, our moving van went over a cliff in New Mexico. The circumstances of our belongings are unknown.
During the week that follows, we wait with uncertainty. The van, traveling near Albuquerque, lost control in the same storm that slowed our travels. The force of the impact tore open the roof. The contents were exposed to days of rain while another truck was brought in to complete the trip.
We imagine the worst. Our only belongings are the few items of clothing that we brought with us in the car. We wait, trying to remember all that we may have lost, recalling more possessions each day. We realize that the only real concern involves the family photographs, our grandparent’s letters, and Leah’s dreidel.
It is the longest week we have ever known. We are drawn together by the situation and realize that the memories we share are more precious than anything that the boxes contained.
By the end of the week we can smile, finding comfort in each other’s company, understanding that we still have each other.
Finally our van arrives. We wait as our boxes are carried from a different truck. The insurance inventory begins as the first box is opened. Dishes, glasses are unpacked. Not a single piece is broken.
The account is complete. Miraculously we have lost very few items. The driver is recuperating at home. Despite a few marred surfaces, our belongings and family are intact.
Forty years have elapsed since this cross-country move. In that time my sister, brothers, and I have married and raised our own families. I hold an aged photo of my family, taken during our first year in San Diego, of my sister lighting her menorah.
This year as we prepare for Hanukkah, my husband and I find ourselves again surrounded by many unopened cartons, having recently made Aliyah. With every move there has been the packing and unpacking of boxes. There has been the anticipation and the uncertainty. We have learned, however, that while we continue to carry what is cherished with us, the safest keeping is in our hearts.