Mother’s Silver Candlesticks

Mother’s Silver Candlesticks

From Chicken Soup for Every Mom's Soul

Mother’s Silver Candlesticks

My mother saw the candlesticks displayed on a shelf in the rear of a secondhand store in the tenement district of New York City. They were approximately ten inches tall and heavily tarnished, but a surreptitious rub revealed their possibility, and a glance at the base showed the magic word “sterling.” How did they get there? What poor soul had hocked them to survive? Mother ached to buy them, but we had come to exchange the shoes I was wearing for another pair to fit my growing feet. First things came first.

New York, where we settled upon entering the United States, and the area where we lived bore little resemblance to the Goldene Medina, the golden land that many immigrants had envisioned in their dreams. However, it was a land of opportunities, where all might achieve their aspirations if they worked hard toward their goals.

“We can swim, or we can sink,” declared Mutti, as I called my mother, “and I have always been a strong swimmer.”

And swim we did! Dad peddled caramelized almonds, which we made each evening and packed into cellophane bags, up and down Broadway. Mother went to school in the morning to learn to be a masseuse and did housework for various families several afternoons a week. I attended school at PS-51. My sister, Lotte, went to the Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis, where she worked in an exchange program to learn English. Nights, Dad worked as a night watchman, Mother sewed leather gloves for a manufacturing firm, and I strung beaded necklaces for the Woolworth store for one cent apiece.

The fifth-floor walk-up apartment we shared on 150th and Riverside Drive was hardly what my parents had been used to in their native country, Germany. It really wasn’t a walk-up—it had an elevator—but the man who ran it held out his hand for tips each time anyone wanted a ride. Who could afford donations? We walked upstairs.

The place consisted of a kitchen, bathroom, living room and one bedroom. My sister and I shared the double bed in the living room, until she went off to school. When we first viewed the apartment, my mom blanched at the filth of the place. But with determination and elbow grease we made it habitable.

During one of our nightly chats while working together, Mutti told me about the candlesticks.

“Let’s see if we can manage to buy them. I think they could look good once we clean and polish them.”

Together we schemed how to save enough money to purchase them for Daddy’s birthday. Thinking back, it was not the gift my father would have chosen to receive. He was more interested in the war, what of his property he could salvage, and how we would eat and pay the rent. But Mom was desperate to have something of beauty in our dingy flat.

The candlesticks cost three dollars. We conceived our plan in March and discussed money-saving strategies.

“I’ll see if I can talk our three elderly neighbors into letting me carry their trash down to the basement,” I offered. “Plus, I could make money stringing necklaces.”

“I’ll buy large eggs for Daddy, and we’ll eat the smaller and cheaper ones,” said Mom.

In addition, she purchased three-day-old bread, instead of day-old, saving seven cents a loaf. A friend told her that wrapping a damp cloth around the bread and heating it in the oven would make it taste fresh again. It worked!

We turned saving pennies into a game. At the end of April, we made a fifty-cent down payment on our treasure. By September 23, 1940, we proudly “paid them off,” and the proprietor even threw in some used candles.

We rubbed and polished the silver. Mother cut the used candles and scraped the outside until they looked almost like new ones. I will never forget the first Sabbath Eve when we lit the tapers. Tears ran down my mother’s face as she recited the blessings. Despite the hardships, we were grateful to be together and, most of all, to be safe and sound.

When I married and moved to Wyoming, my mother gave me the candlesticks as a wedding gift, so that I might always share in their beauty. “You helped to buy them. You know how much they mean to me. I want you to have them and to someday pass them on to your daughter,” she said.

The candlesticks now stand on top of the piano in my living room. We have used them at every memorable occasion of our family’s life, both happy and sad. One day, I will pass them on to my daughter, as they were passed along to me. The Sabbath candlesticks are, and always will be, much more than candlesticks. They are symbols of faith, courage and love.

Liesel Shineberg

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