Today in minyan, a light beam from the windows struck me and my prayerbook. My mind drifted back to another light. A long time ago. To our shtetl shul in Toledo — Sharei Zedeck, where the older women all sat upstairs, the men downstairs, and the more modern (younger) women on the main floor at the back (my mother and her sisters).
When we came to shul, we always went upstairs first to say hello to our grandmother and to be introduced to all her friends. I especially remember Baba who was married to the man who died at my parents’ wedding. She was incredibly beautiful, and very small, with leathery, wrinkled, dark skin, and a large beauty mark above the right side of her lip.
Usually my cousins and I would stay in shul for as long as we could stand, and then run around, down in the basement or outside if the weather was accommodating. We’d sometimes go to Red’s, a snack shop about a block away, and order cherry cokes or chocolate phosphates while our parents were inside the synagogue praying.
There was an older woman inside the shul, always in the aisle next to the windows, close to the front of the shul on the main floor where all the men sat. She had long gray hair, to my eyes wild and unkempt, especially compared to my grandmother’s carefully arranged hairdo with woven plaits and bun. Her hair seemed even more wild because the light from the window, which probably helped her see better, glowed behind her making her hair like a huge and snaky halo. This woman was dressed in clothes which were loose and baggy, comfortable–not attempting any kind of fashionability unlike my grandmother. She didn’t wear a bra or a belt or any make-up.
My cousin and I were fascinated with this woman. We used to call her the Cyclops (a name I think my father had suggested) because she used a rather large magnifying lens in order to read her prayerbook and when she would look up, she would often forget to put the lens down thereby exaggerating the size of one eye or another. With this huge eye across her forehead, my cousin and I would run from the main floor and into the basement, making sure to not let out our screams until we were downstairs and out of hearing range from the rest of the community.
With the sun hitting the back of my head, I remember how gray my hair is, and how unkempt my tail especially coming in after riding to the synagogue with the windows of the car open. I remember running out of the house this morning forgetting to put my earrings in and also realizing I hadn’t changed my clothes from the ones I was wearing while cleaning the house earlier. In my comfortable and baggy clothing, I continue to hide my critical need for a magnifying lens behind my stylish readers with a power of +250.
A smile brushes my lips as I begin to realize — I have become the Cyclops.