By Estelle Rosen Kersh, Power of Story Student03.02.17
Estelle Rosen Kersh is a familiar face here at the JBFC. She began, and continues, as an administrative volunteer in our Executive Offices at the Media Arts Lab, and for several semesters she has been volunteering with our education programs Minds in Motion and See Hear Feel Film.
Estelle is a returning JBFC student, taking our Power of Story writing courses for adults, where she successfully created and presented her Adult Bat Mitzvah Speech in 2013.
In the Power of Story: A Writer's Group course, Estelle is working on the stories of her interesting and adventurous life as a businesswoman, mother, and grandmother. These stories include her family history, so her grandchildren may one day read about those who came before them.
The Spirit Bracelet, by Estelle Rosen Kersh
The Crescent Moon Antique Shop sits between the pizza place and the Hispanic grocery store, and the window displays an array of gold, silver, vintage, and costume jewelry. I often visit with Milo, the proprietor and curator, and he keeps me informed about his latest acquisitions.
The shop is cluttered with antiques and collectibles from records to books, paintings, china, crystal, and silver, gold and diamond jewelry. My home is decorated with an original 70’s screen print; scrimshaw painting, an imported crystal lamp, and my drawers hold earrings, and scarves, purses and hats.
During one of my adventures in “junk shopping,” I was intrigued by a lovely dark metal bracelet with a tongue and clip lock and a row of round gemstones down the center. The sturdy and weighty bronze is trimmed at the edge with a raised row of lacy spheres, and where the two ends meet there is a “V” indentation that resembles the wings of two butterflies, joined at the clasp. Each of the honey golden center stones is set in its own circle of etched metal, and there are two rows of smaller stones set in prongs above and below the larger ones.
As I hold it in my hand and examine the details, I see the edge of the bracelet trimmed as though with pinking shears; tiny peaks along the edge of the two-inch wide band. I envision it being worn by a woman with artistic style, possibly having purchased it during her travels to an exotic country…
Toni’s visit to Cambodia, not in her original plans, was prompted by the invitation of her cousin who had been working there for USAID (United States Agency for International Development). Toni thought it could be a risky destination but it touched her wild heart, and now she was enthralled by her unusual surroundings.
As she stands before the full length mirror twisting her silky dark hair into a tight braid, she could feel the heavy air even at this early hour. She is slightly taller than average and her straight shoulders and proud posture reveal an elegant ambience. She chooses a sheer t-shirt and over it she slips a light silk sari, with small blue peony petals scattered against a baby blue background. When she loosely wraps it around her breasts and waist, she enjoys the sheer fabric a defense against the abominable heat.
As she decides on simple opaque blue studs for her ears, her eyes catch the sparkle of the morning sun on the golden stones of her bronze cuff bracelet in the tray.
She remembers the shop her friend Hannah introduced her to when they were in Sated, the popular artisan village in northern Israel. The place was a centuries-old stable with a high arch entrance just wide enough for a camel to enter, and walls and floor of stone and mortar. She recalls the owner with a dark beard and ear curls, wearing a long-sleeved white shirt and black vest, and the fringes of his blue and white shawl dangling below his waist.
In a gentle deep voice he introduced himself as Max, and as he opened a tarnished silver box, he spoke of finding its treasure of bangles and beads, in an abandoned cave along an old Bedouin trail in the Negev desert. He suspected the decorations were part of the costume of a passing tribe, worn for religious rituals and special occasions. Hannah and Toni listened closely as Max told of the legend of a young girl who had warned her people of a sudden sandstorm, and in their haste to flee, left behind the precious box.
Toni was enchanted by the story as she gazed into the box. A soft whisper of speckled sun from a small window settled on the bracelet and caught the luminous rays of light on its golden gemstones. As Toni reached to touch it she could feel a magnet of warmth drawing her fingers to its glow, and she picked it up as other pieces fell aside, and nestled it in her palm.
Now, while she poses in the mirror and admires her comely figure, she locks the bracelet on her hand, and feels the sensuous pleasure and satisfaction of the luxurious adornment. The dark color may seem heavy but it is delicate and flattering and fits perfectly at the end of her wrist.
The soft leather open sandals are cool and comfortable on her feet, and she carries a small multi-colored woven leather purse. Toni is pleased to be a guest at a USAID residence, only a few steps down the street from the Russian Market, here in Phnom Penh.
As she glides along in the market, bustling with natives and foreign tourists, she feasts upon the sight of tables bursting with tropical fruits, piled high in vibrant shades of red, orange, yellow, green, brown, pink and purple. In her thoughts, the sweet taste of the shiny orange persimmon, creates a gathering of saliva in her mouth, and naturally forces her hand to reach for this tempting fruit. As she removes her hand clutching the soft fruit, Toni feels her wrist is suddenly bare and realizes her bracelet is gone.
She stifles a scream, as her eyes search amongst the baskets before her. She takes a few frantic steps, gazes around, and, in between, the moving feet of the surrounding crowd. In her anxiety, her limited knowledge of Khmer has left her and she is flustered and feeling helpless. The bright sun and heat create a blend of blurred colors and crushing fragrance as her head spins, and she grasps a tent pole to steady herself.
Suddenly, she feels a warm body at her thigh, and glances down to see a small, dark-skinned child, holding the bracelet and offering it to her with both hands. She is captured by the wide-eyed and enraptured look of the child gazing at the bracelet in deep awe and admiration. Toni reaches down to retrieve the bracelet at the same time the child softly places it in her open hand.
She takes it and places the bracelet on the child and closes and locks it tight to fit snugly on the thick upper arm. Toni gently prods the child with a hand gesture suggesting the child go along. With wide open brown eyes, the child’s smile reflects a luminous glow. While delicate fingertips smooth the stones of the bracelet, and in the glare of the sunlight, the child melds away into the ever-mingling market.
In the warm glow of the sun Toni closes her eyes to imprint the child’s happiness in her memory. Her joy is enhanced as she feels empowered by the translucent spirit of the heroic young girl who saved her desert tribe. Toni’s heart sings as she floats along her way.
Later on, in conversation with Milo, he tells me the bracelet that caught my fancy is from the estate of a deceased veteran and his Vietnamese wife.
Innocent Resistance, by Estelle Rosen Kersh
The year was 1951.
Harry Truman was President. Lucy & Desi were sleeping in separate beds. Color television was introduced with the first baseball game between the Boston Braves and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Edward R. Murrow’s news program showed the first split TV screen with both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans appearing simultaneously. The war in Korea continued.
My brother Marty was drafted into the U. S. Army. His education at RCA Technical Institute gave him the opportunity to serve with the Army Signal Corps at SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe). He was stationed in Versailles, France.
Marty would call “collect” on Friday nights to speak to Carol, his gal since he was 15, and the rest of the family, Mom, Dad, and Me. We were all thankful he did not get sent to Korea.
But my Mom was sad and worried about her “sonny boy.”
After the call, Mom would stand at the sink with the water running, and while washing the dishes. I could see the tears running down her cheeks while she silently cried.
I missed my protector, my big brother, and at the same time I wanted him to know I was growing up. So when I told him on the phone that I had pierced my ears, he came back with, “What Sis, you pierced your ass? What’d you do that for?” That was my brother, always kidding his kid sister.
That year Nat King Cole sang Unforgettable and Johnnie Ray sang Cry. It was the debut year for Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, and Marlon Brando in Streetcar Named Desire. That same year Tupperware plastic storage containers were sold at house parties around the country.
I had just jumped out of bed, pulled off my pajamas, slipped my feet into and pulled up my one piece bathing suit. I was late, and I ran from our summer bungalow to meet the girls at the pool. It was our morning ritual to practice our Esther Williams-style diving and dance routine.
Perched on the edge of the deep end, I heard my Mom’s voice. “Sis, don’t you dare jump into the pool!” Her urgent and demanding tone prompted me to respond immediately.
As I walked to my Mom in a trance of wonderment, she reached out and gently smacked my cheek. “Congratulations,” she said, as she hugged me close to her. “You have become a woman. There were drops of blood on your bed sheet. Let’s go home and get you set up with all that you will need.”
I can still feel her firm warm hand as we walked briskly and proudly back to our summer bungalow. Along the way she knocked on the doors of my Aunts’, her sisters’, places. “Rosie, my daughter became a woman today. Do you have any sanitary napkins?”
There are tears in my eyes as I write this memory. She was so proud.
I was still in a trance-like state, not having absorbed it at all. She knocked again at Aunt Pearl’s. “Stellie is a big girl today. Do you have a sanitary belt we can borrow, ‘til I can get to the store?”
My Aunts joined us at our bungalow with the supplies. As their excited chatter filled the room, they were all hands on, cleaning me up, and changing the sheets, while my Mom hugged my body and slipped the belt contraption around my waist.
The screen door slammed again and again as the women in my family began to gather. My other Aunts; Ethel, Ann, my cousins Karen, Joni, Michelle, all came to share this very special occasion. It was a great celebration of coffee-pot clattering, and cake cutting and serving.
Here I stood, somewhat dazed and amazed, hesitant to take it all in. Then I heard the announcement over the P.A. system, our clarion of news. It was Mrs. Silbert, “We are proud to announce, our Stellie became a grown up girl today. We wish the best of luck and congratulations to her and the family.”
My Dad called from the city, “How’s my big girl? I love you and will bring you a gift tomorrow.”
He brought me a bouquet of flowers and a tiny crystal bottle of perfume.
The news was out! I could not go swimming in the pool for a whole week.
Then, the cramps started.
When I went to Aunt Pearl’s to get some aspirin, I was whiney and complaining as though the pain was a badge of honor signifying my achievement. “You’d better get used to it,” she said, “because it will be happening for the rest of your life.”
That’s when I first recognized for myself this was a significant change and a momentous time in my life. All the tales I had heard about and the school health program were real, and happening to me.
The bud had bloomed. I would be flourishing in the experience and promise of lush growth.
My shoulders lifted. My stature had been elevated. I could sit with the adults at the holiday table.
Now, I was both thrilled and excited to become part of a super group of women, and proud to proclaim:
“Yes, today, I am a woman!”