by Brenda Miller
Every year, my father climbed to the roof in late fall to install his homemade star of David on the top of our house. It usually happened about the same time the neighbors strung their bright garlands of red and green, their blinking icicles melting in the southern California heat. He had built the star at his workbench in our garage, measuring and sawing the exact lengths of lumber needed to create this symbol, then carefully attached strands of blue lights to adorn each of the six points. He must have unfurled an extension cord, run it along the eaves, camouflaged it among the shingles. The light was supposed to look miraculous, the blue star proclaiming our Jewishness among the goys.
It wasn’t meant to be an affront, a confrontation, or maybe it was: since Hanukkah could happen as early as Thanksgiving, the star might appear a few weeks before we’d see Christmas trees bundled on top of station wagons, our star the only glow among darkened houses on the cul-de-sac, pulsing its blue message into the night. At the same time, my mother got out the electric menorah, screwed in each bulb on the appropriate night of Hanukkah, until all nine artificial candles glowed in our kitchen window. Sometimes she let us do it, and I remember the tingle in my fingertips as the bulb tightened, the moment before the glow hit my eyes and blinded me.
I understand now that my memory is incorrect; my mother tells me my father affixed the star to the posts on our front porch, which makes more sense. But still, years after he has died, I would like to imagine my father making that treacherous climb upward, gripping his unwieldy creation. I want to picture him staying a few moments longer than necessary, surveying the block, watching Christmas lights appear—gingerbread icing gilding identical rooflines. He liked to do these kinds of things by himself, a man with the proper tools and know-how, a man who could plan out exactly what needed to be done in any situation. I imagine him bathed in blue light, crouched above his family, checking the star one more time, shaking it firmly in place, before touching one foot and then another to the ladder that would lead him down to earth.
BRENDA MILLER is the author of five essay collections, most recently An Earlier Life (Ovenbird Books, 2016). She also co-authored Tell It Slant: Creating, Refining and Publishing Creative Nonfiction (Third Edition forthcoming 2019) and The Pen and The Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World. Her poetry has appeared in Tupelo Quarterly, Sweet, Bellevue Literary Review, and Psaltery & Lyre. Her work has received six Pushcart Prizes. She is a Professor of English at Western Washington University, and associate faculty at the Rainier Writing Workshop.
Photo: “Star of David” by Sam Howzit