I hadn’t seen my friend Marlene in a long time, and it had been even longer since I’d seen her daughter, Erica. We finally made a date.
We decided to meet at Marlene’s house for lunch, more comfortable and intimate than a restaurant. I wanted to pick up kosher sandwiches, but the discussion about who preferred what became so complicated that I offered to bring all the components, and we’d make our own combinations. Starting with turkey breast and rolls, we could customize to our hearts’ content.
Just to be sure we didn’t lack anything essential, I called Marlene from the store.
“Tomatoes, lettuce, coleslaw?” I asked.
“I have everything here,” Marlene assured me.
“Pickles, olives, onions, peppers?” I asked again.
“No problem. Just get the food and drive here already.”
The table was set, and, sure enough, Marlene had prepared a gorgeous plate of cut-up vegetables that would fulfill the desires of the most demanding sandwich eaters. I hadn’t thought about condiments.
“Do you have mustard?” I asked respectfully. Some of us like mustard; is that a crime?
“Mustard? I don’t think so,” Erica got up to explore but could find only a packet of Chinese mustard.
I tasted a tiny sample and immediately grabbed water. “That’s OK,” I coughed. “Forget the mustard. Who needs mustard?”
“We do have mayonnaise,” Marlene offered. She put a jar of mayo on the table.
We resumed eating and had a lot of fun catching up with each other’s lives. Just before we cleared the table and got ready for Marlene’s famous dessert of baked apples, she brought a beautiful Kiddish cup to the table.
I’d heard about that family heirloom before. It had been put away for ages and was so tarnished that, no matter what she tried, she couldn’t remove the dark oxidation that had totally dulled the silver.
To clear room for the dessert and to properly display the cup, Marlene slid the mayonnaise in my direction. I know Marlene, and she’s not one to beat around the bush, so I assumed that I was expected to react to the juxtaposition of cup and jar.
I went to the counter, tore off a couple of pieces of paper toweling, then sat down to polish the cup with the mayonnaise.
“What’re you doing?’ Marlene asked. That’s when I realized that the cup-jar combo was unintentional.
But was it a coincidence? Of course not. I was meant to polish with the mayo, which was brought out only because I’d asked for mustard. I rubbed away.
I wouldn’t describe the experience as exciting, but I have to say that on a scale of 1 to 10, it was hovering near 8. And let me just say Marlene was very happy she had invited me to lunch. By the time I took a break to eat dessert, the Kiddish cup was much improved, but it would take still more polishing.
It was time to turn the project over, and Marlene was ready to assume responsibility. We knew that eventually the cup would shine like new.
I was feeling rather proud of myself when I noticed that Erica had a look on her face that my grandchildren get when they solve hard math problems. She went upstairs and came back down with a tube of toothpaste.
“You’re not the only Heloise around here,” she said with a laugh. “The mayo reminded me of something.” She squeezed toothpaste onto paper towels and began to polish.
Marlene and I watched the tarnish disappear.
“I’m glad she’s using the toothpaste I bought for a dollar,” she mused.
We chatted a bit longer, then I got ready to leave. As they walked me to the door, the three of us glanced back at the kitchen table where a centerpiece of mayonnaise jar, toothpaste tube, crumpled paper towels and heirloom silver Kiddish cup were grouped, Dali-like. The surrealists understood these things.
We Jews have our own explanation for serendipity: beshert.