With Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, beginning next week, Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie pulled into town last night. I was working late and unable to meet their train from Florida at Penn Station but somehow my favorite octogenarians made it into a cab and up to my apartment.
Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie reached my apartment before I did last evening. Fortunately I had left my house keys with the doorman and they let themselves in. When I arrived home around 9, they were sitting in the guest room--which my wife and I are in the process of redecorating--in virtual darkness.
"Aunt Sylvie, Uncle Slappy. Why are you sitting in the dark?"
"There's just the overhead," Slappy said "you are missing some bulbs."
"Why didn't you turn on the lamp," I asked.
"What's there to see? Aunt Sylvie I've been looking at for 55 years."
I knew enough to change the subject.
"Have you eaten?" I asked, knowing that talk of food was always fertile ground.
"Sandwiches I packed for the ride," Sylvie said. "But Mr. Big Mouth finished his before we hit Georgia."
"It's a 24-hour trip by train," I reminded them. "You haven't eaten since yesterday?"
"Yesterday, schmesterday," rejoined Slappy with one of his trademark dismissals. "When you're my age, the days all run together."
"Let me get you some..."
Slappy cut me off.
"Mushroom barley would be nice. Not too hot so that it burns. And four saltines."
Slappy has, I knew, a weakness for mushroom barley and I had therefore gotten some at Park East, a kosher grocery on 2nd and 84th. I microwaved a bowl for he and Aunt Sylvie.
They shuffled their way into my eat-in kitchen and sat down. I brought the soup to them.
Slappy, as he's been doing for nearly nine decades blew on it.
"Not too hot, is it?" the old man asked.
"No, it's just the way you like it Uncle Slappy. And," I said bringing over a plate with a short stack of saltines, "your crackers."
"Low sodium?" he asked.
Uncle Slappy dipped his spoon in the mushroom barley like a surgeon making the first cut. He blew at the spoon, then tasted the soup.
"Ach, you microwaved," he asked.
"Yes, Slappy. I zapped it."
"It's not good hotting with a microwave." He ate slowly and deliberately two saltines. Then he got up, left the kitchen and went to sit alone in the dark.