I celebrated Chanukah before Elena. I even celebrated before Maggie. I remember working evenings at the WAVE and packing my menorah and candles in my bag along with my headphones.
Gato Barbieri’s “Caliente” would start “Cleveland after Dark” as always. Thirty seconds in I’d pot the music down and open the show. I’d talk about music coming to town, events in the news, thoughts on the season and wrap things up in time for the music to swell and the saxophone to come back in. Then, with the microphone off, I’d turn down the studio monitors and light the candles and sing the blessings.
I didn’t always use a menorah. Some years I’d drink down a Diet Coke and stick the candles to the top after dripping a little of the melting wax. Kim was the one who pushed me to start using a real menorah. She still rolls her eyes at the menorah I didn’t buy. I saw a beautiful glass one in Philadelphia that burned oil instead of candles. She told me to buy it and I didn’t. It seemed extravagant at the time. She knew it wasn’t.
In fact, even though Kim doesn’t celebrate Chanukah with me, she supports my efforts. She’s noted in a talkback to the Christmas tree story that just as I buy her Christmas tree, she or her mother are the ones who buy the candles each year.
A few months after we brought Maggie back from China we celebrated her first Chanukah. We lit candles each night and my parents gave her way too many presents.
A year later on Maggie’s second Chanukah she had a nine month old sister to share with. Maggie was old enough to light the candles with my help. One of the gifts was a box from Harry and David filled with eight smaller boxes. Each night we would light the candles and Maggie would open the little box for the night. One night it was an apple another night it was chocolate. There was a dreidel, colored candy, and a pear. Each night something different.
One year later, Elena was still too young to help with the candles, but she could open some of the little boxes. Maggie had to share Chanukah with her sister.
We moved into our current house just before Maggie turned five. For our first Chanukah in the new house we had an established routine for sharing the duties so that both girls were involved each night. One girl would choose the candles we would use that night and the other one would light them with my help. The girl who chose the candles would also open the Harry and David box for the night.
Each year we would start with Maggie lighting the candles on the first night. She would wait to light them while Elena looked at the new box of candles filled with so many choices of colors.
“Come ON Elena,” Maggie would whine impatiently.
“I’m thinking,” Elena would say, milking her role.
“It doesn’t matter,” Maggie would growl.
“Do I want the blue one?” Elena would ponder.
“Just pick two stupid candles,” Maggie would snap.
“O.K.,” Elena would say, realizing she’d stretched things out as long as she could. “I am choosing a yellow one and a blue one.”
“Finally,” Maggie would sigh.
One year my parents got each of the girls their own Harry and David box. It was too much. We didn’t need two apples or two dreidels. Maggie liked some kinds of the candy and Elena liked other kinds. One box worked out fine. They had to share and it helped balance the candle lighting duties. The next year we returned to one box and order was restored.
This year there was no box of boxes.
This year Maggie chose the candles each night.
This year Maggie lit the candles each night.
It’s not that Maggie isn’t enough. Had we never had Elena, Maggie would have certainly been enough. We would have celebrated each year with Maggie choosing the candles and then lighting them. Nothing would have felt out of place.
But we did have Elena. And each girl was the yin to the other’s yang. One put the candles in the menorah and the other lit them. Of all the things we lost in Elena, this is such a small thing. Like the menorah itself, however, it seems symbolic of something bigger.
Elena always selected the candles for the first night.
Maggie always lit the candles on the first night.
You can’t light a candle that’s not there.