A Ghost Story; Dybbuks Love Lemon Pie, Too
On Halloween, I always remember the Widow Bluestein. She had the comforting personality of a warm bowl of chicken soup. True, she wasn’t beautiful, but her rolled cabbage was. And her butternut squash and sweet potato casserole could have served as the model for a Marc Chagall stained glass window. So said the Sisterhood ladies. When the widow approached the kitchen, meat and vegetables and spices obediently flew together, it seemed, into whatever delectable creation she desired. The “Kitchen Magician” they called her.
Her devoted husband, Eli, had died a few years back. He lived a good life, said the Sisterhood ladies; a full life of hundreds of Tsimmuses and rolled cabbage dinners. “What’s to be sad about?” they chorused.
Now, suddenly from the ranks of the congregation, a new potential partner tiptoed into Thelma Bluestein’s life. Morris Kolodkin, manager of the convenience store in the synagogue neighborhood.
Three nights a week he came to dine. In his pin-striped, blue serge suit and blue floral tie, he soon became a permanent match to the widow’s royal-blue dining room wallpaper. As usual, there were cynics who claimed that the personal charms of the Widow Bluestein ran a weak second to her stewed chicken, homemade Gefilte fish, and chopped liver. “And Eli Bluestein’s insurance money,” darkly added those who knew Morris Kolodkin best.
But whatever the cloudy origins of Morris Kolodkin’s devotion, one Sunday afternoon in April it resulted in a wedding with the Widow Bluestein. It was a small and simple ceremony with only a few close friends at the synagogue.
That first night, tension and anticipation coexisted in the blue wallpapered dining room as the newlyweds sat down to their first meal together. The new husband suddenly choked and sputtered after a single mouthful of the home-cooked wedding feast. The ex-widow rose from her chair in alarm - napkin at the ready.
“It’s incredibly salty,” stammered the victim.
“But I use no salt,” protested the defamed cook.
“No salt? Half of Lot’s wife is in this one rolled cabbage.”
And so it was, admitted the tailor’s wife as she sampled hers. Hmmm, how did the salt get in the pot, she wondered. And then she noticed the salt shaker out on the kitchen counter. She was certain she had replaced it in the spice rack.
The next night was worse. Her fabled stewed chicken, whose oniony scent had charmed Eli Bluestein and then captured Morris Kolodkin, was inedible. This time peppercorns were the culprit. She watched in wide-eyed horror as her tablemate turned red with his first bite - then pale before he adjourned to the kitchen for a large slice of therapeutic Challah.
“I NEVER use peppercorns,” she loudly protested.
The third night of failure and frustration featured leaden matzoballs, flavored with spoiled chicken schmaltz that hid in the bottom of the soup bowl. After repeated regurgitations, Morris Kolodkin fled to a cheap hotel room.
The ex-widow sensed the supernatural. She ran to the rabbi first thing the next morning. “Rabbi, do we believe in ghosts? Is such a thing in our books? It must be a dybbuk - a ghost. I know it’s a dybbuk. And I know who it is. It’s Eli Bluestein.” She ran from the Rabbi’s study before he could reply.
That night, at midnight, she baked a lemon meringue pie - Eli’s favorite. The widow Bluestein left it on the drainboard with a note that said, “Eli, he’s gone; you can quit the kid stuff with the spices. I’m all yours”.
The Kitchen Magician was all alone. Her new married life had not lasted three full days. The Sisterhood ladies clucked over her plight. “So lonely she must be. And she never comes to the synagogue socials.”
But when she did come, she was as bubbly and cheerful as one of her fresh-baked apple pies, still warm from the oven.
And when the synagogue ladies paid a house call on the “lonely widow” the house was as fragrant as the kitchen of a 4-star restaurant. Proudly, she lifted pot tops to display her handiwork.
“Such large portions, Thelma,” exclaimed her visitors.
“Yeah, it’s like she’s cooking for two.”
The Widow Bluestein smiled and added a touch of cumin to her curried rice and chicken.