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Always Open On Sundays

Remember when stores were closed on Sundays? When, if you found yourself in need of a gift, your only hope was at a gas station. Or to make something.

This past Sunday I volunteered at a Hanukkah brunch for Holocaust survivors. Sponsored by SelfHelp NextGen, an organization dedicated to helping survivors maintain their independence and dignity, my assignment was to chat with guests. In a brightly lit room in Gramercy Park, 80-and 90 year old men and women sat at a dozen tables, enjoying latkes and applesauce. I scanned the room for a table in need of a “young” person.

“Hi,” I said, sitting down amid four survivors. As we chatted about grandchildren, past careers and which buses they took that morning, their faces lit up. Conversation flowed as easily as the coffee. Live music filled the room, but only a handful danced, strutting their stuff as only octogenarians can.

Suddenly another volunteer appeared at my side. “If you dance, it will encourage others too,” she said. I looked across the table at my new friends. “Anyone care to dance?”

The two men passed. “Glaucoma,” they said. One woman touched her hip, but the other woman beamed. She held my hand as we danced, for comfort or maybe balance, I don’t know. I didn’t care. Despite being 88, she had the posture of a woman who knew how to carry herself, holding her head high and winking at me each time she pirouetted under my raised arm. Smiling back, I fought off tears. She was the mirror image of my late paternal grandmother.

Two hours later, the brunch over, I found myself back outside, blending in with the din of the city, and took out my cell phone.

“Hi Papa,” I said, and told him about the brunch. Only silence came back. Then a whimper. “Papa?”

“Today I’m a little depressed,” he said, his voice strained. “It happens.”

Then it was my turn to sniffle.

“I’m sorry I made you cry,” Papa said, his voice now peppier. “But it’s good to cry. It makes your heart lighter. I feel better now. Thanks for calling sveetheart.”

Today, many presents are bought on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but the most cherished gifts – a phone call, a dance, a hand being held – are still the ones that can be found any day of the week.

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