7:30 BELLS: Winter Bell, author Lauren Wohl

Lauren L. Wohl's luminous guest post, like her picture book THE EIGHTH MENORAH, resonates between the past and the present.

One of the great joys of Chanukah is the way it connects me with my grandmother. She was the family cook, turning out masterpieces in a tiny Brooklyn apartment kitchen that was always just a little too hot. (That oven was always on!)

For Chanukah, it was potato latkes. Always big baking potatoes – russets or Idahos. Peeled; soaked in cold water until it was their turn to be grated; then grated hastily by hand – so the potatoes would not turn color. Not too fine, not too coarse.

As the grated potatoes mounted in her yellow-ware bowl, Grandma would make room for more by spilling the extra liquid through her fingers into the sink.

I do the latke-making now, imitating every step. Lining up the ingredients and tools on the table, all in the proper order -- right down to her old yellow bowl As I cook, every sense takes me back to that old kitchen: the feel of the potatoes in my hand as I rub them across the grater; the smell of the grated onions as they blend in with the potatoes; the look of the batter when it is just right – not too lumpy, not too smooth; the sizzle the batter makes when I pour big spoonfuls into the hot oil. 

But it’s when I drain the excess liquid through my fingers that my grandmother is really with me. For my hands are replicas of hers, with arthritis turning the third finger in an altogether wrong direction and the fourth finger bent out of shape and out of alignment with the others. As I watch the water pouring slowly from the bowl, I can’t help but feel her hands on top of mine, guiding every step.

For that moment, she is right next to me, encouraging me in Yiddish. I don’t understand much Yiddish, but it sounds like music. I am lifted by the sound, by the connection.

And I am hungry.

Now comes the tasting: crispy, hot, melty. Some of us insist on applesauce, others sour cream, and a couple of purists, just a latke, no dressings please. “Just like grandma’s” my cousin says. There is no higher praise.

It is a powerful – and empowering -- connection: as long as she is guiding my fingers, I know I won’t make a mistake. The latkes I make will be as good, as tasty and crispy -- and as thick with history and story -- as hers.

Lauren L. Wohl is the author of THE EIGHTH MENORAH, a picture book for Chanukah that celebrates the relationship between a child and his grandmother. 

Wohl has worked in children’s book publishing throughout her adult life, for a variety of publishers, from start-ups to venerable houses. She is now a consultant, continuing work with publishers, but also involved with a literary agency and mentoring in a MFA program. She lives in New England and in South Florida with her husband – a bookseller. And she’s always writing something…

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month. Join me on December 23 for a guest post with author Holly Schindler.