Norma Tucker, TRS member and guest blogger from time to time, was one of four authors awarded for a Halloween themed writing contest at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Md. Read her piece below and you’ll quickly see why we thought it fitting to share with you. Mazel Tov Norma on your award and thanks for sharing with us your gift!
What’s in Your Cupboard?
By Norma S. Tucker
I’d never before been visited by the supernatural beings our Jewish writers tell about – dybbuks, ibburs, and golems. We, Jews, don’t celebrate Day of the Dead or Halloween, or at least not their religious underpinnings. We are told of a mystical world of spirits and spiritual happenings that can occur anytime, no fixed date. The appearance of these spirits hearkens back to Old Testament events and later to explanations of certain phenomena by our medieval sages. It continued on into Hassidic and Kabbalah traditions and became more mainstream in stories told by renowned twentieth century Jewish writers.
I’m not sure exactly when my spirit visit began – maybe on the day after I returned home from my summer sojourn in New Mexico. I was unpacking when the phone rang shortly after noon that day. The ring sounded different. I can’t say louder or longer. I can only describe it as unsettling and compelling. I hesitated before I picked up the receiver.
Edward, my sister Sara’s son, was the caller. “I’m at Sinai Hospital. Sara’s been in an accident. She’s pretty much beat up.”
Sara was on her morning walk when a car struck her as she was crossing the street, in front of her home, with the green light. The impact lifted her into the air, tossed her over the hood, and back down before she landed in the street on her left side.
After her hospital discharge the next day, I traveled to and from our respective homes. Back and forth, over eighty miles round trip, from Bethesda to Baltimore and back again. I followed Sara’s directions about rearranging and changing water in the vases of flowers sent by well wishers. I gathered and placed sundries she needed close to her bedside and shopped for newly become necessities such as slipper-socks. At my home, clothes dangled over the sides of the unpacked duffel bags and on chairs where I dropped them, mail covered the dining room table still unsorted, toiletries on the bathroom floor.
One evening, after Sara’s appointments with specialists had been scheduled and medical equipment delivered, Sara said, “You don’t have to be here every day. Go home. Get some rest. We’re managing. Take a few days off.”
The night was stormy when I left – one of those ferocious seasonal East coast weather events. Darker than late summer, eerie – more like late October, like Halloween or Devils Night, with swirling winds stirring up the earth and its atmosphere. I arrived home tense from navigating through the unrelenting rain and wind. As I turned the key, it never occurred to me that my home had been occupied and its order disturbed during my absence.
I was thirsty and turned on the cold water in the kitchen. One thing about living in a vintage high rise, the cold water is never really cold and the hot never really hot. While the water ran to reach its optimum coldness, I opened the cupboard where I kept my French jelly jar glasses. I gasped.
“What’s going on here?”
“Who did this?”
The glasses were turned upside down. I always placed my glasses mouth-up.
My mother had always placed her glasses upside-down, mouth to the shelf. I checked the cups, in another cupboard, the cup one – all stacked correctly, mouth up, my way. I stood, fixed upon the glasses, for another minute or so and did the obvious. Turned the glasses, all sixteen, mouth facing up.
I bowed my head at the counter in front of the open cupboard and glasses. Amidst all the other disarray and the disaster, this simple disruption loomed before me. I questioned myself.
Maybe you don’t remember putting the glasses upside down.
Impossible. Sixteen glasses. You would remember that.
Who did this?
The thought occurred to me – a dybbuk did this.
Dybbuks, lost wandering souls, feared and evil, up to no good – they take over and possess the human soul. Often an intervention ceremony, an exorcism, is required before release. In contrast, the ibbur soul joins the soul of another to do good, to shed light, to support, and to correct. Ibburs don’t hang around beyond the correction. Possession by a golem, an amorphous mass, denotes what is deemed, a religious experience.
I went to bed after the turning and questioning myself – dybbuk on my mind. But it couldn’t be a dybbuk. I didn’t feel possessed by some evil force clinging to me. Yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling of a supernatural happening. There had to be another kind of possession. Of course, an ibbur – my mother – upside down glasses! Who else would do that? Who else but me would know it for a sign?
My Mother, in her flesh and blood form, the ultimate corrector, she waited in the dark of my kitchen cupboard. How did she get there? She never learned to drive. Maybe, Selma, her friend who drove her to Hadassah and B’nai B’rith Women meetings, brought her. Wings? I couldn’t quite picture that. How long had she been waiting for me? Did she arrive with the compelling ring of the phone when Edward called? Was she hanging around all those days and nights? Not likely, knowing her, she would have had my unpacking done, mail sorted and the bathroom spotless. Was she hurrying along the rain and wind swept highway to get there before me? To help me.
If I were a writer of mystical Jewish lore, I would quote her thus.
“Begin with the glasses, get them right side up. The rest will follow. Now I’m leaving to help your sister. Don’t worry how I’ll get there.”