A High Holidays stew
A sudden powerful gust of wind whipping through an open window slammed the door shut…. (photo from wikiHow)
It was one of those hot and humid fall days in Montreal and my sister-in-law “Sadie” decided to make a stew. After all of her baking and cooking for the upcoming High Holidays, she put a pot of simple stew for today’s dinner on the stove to simmer while my brother, “Seymour,” and I made ourselves comfortable in the den. Sadie promptly joined us to watch Coronation Street, as she and Seymour did every day. As a visitor from Winnipeg, I was quite content to go along with their routine. Engrossed in the program, we didn’t notice a change in the weather until a sudden powerful gust of wind whipping through an open window slammed the door shut between the den and the kitchen aaaand … waaaait for it … the doorknob hit the hardwood floor with an earsplitting bang!
We stared in stunned silence at the door and the floor – then at each other in disbelief. Seymour’s expression looked more steamed than the stew in the pot. His face fumed frustration, turning a range of shades from pink to red to purple.
“That doorknob has been giving us trouble for weeks!” he shouted. “I’ve told the concierge of our apartment building umpteen times but he still hasn’t gotten around to repairing it.” Anger spewed forth like an explosion of fireworks.
Well, Sadie saw no problem.
“Just pick it up and screw it in,” she told him in a matter-of-fact manner.
Though he didn’t say anything, his eyes shot daggers in her direction. Then he turned his attention to the doorknob. Over and over, he tried. He twisted and turned it every which way, trying to thread one half with the other. But it wouldn’t work.
“What’s the big deal?” she asked.
“The big deal,” he oozed with sarcasm, “is there’s nothing for it to grab onto. It won’t screw in.”
Now I began to stew a little. We searched for something that could be used as a tool and the best we could find was a coloured pencil but it proved to be uncooperative. After numerous failed attempts, we had to face facts. We were locked in! And there was no phone in the den.
Worry grew to panic. A quick glance between Sadie and me communicated silently with the realization that, not only would the stew continue to simmer on the stove unattended, but Seymour was diabetic and would need to take his insulin shot soon. He was too focused on the doorknob to consider the ramifications of the situation and no one was going to tell him. He would become hotter than the combined temperature of the room and the stew in the pot.
Never mind that he was wearing nothing more than a pair of Fruit of the Loom boxer shorts, which had to be held up manually. The elastic waistband had stretched beyond usefulness. Seymour began to pace around the tiny room, circumventing the furniture, one hand on his shorts, with the two of us following behind like caged animals. The vision of a sitcom popped into my head, and it would have been laughable had the situation not been a reality at the time.
More than an hour passed and we were orbiting the room once again, hoping for a solution. The suffocating humidity was unbearable and Seymour was sweating profusely. This triggered the panic button for Sadie and me and we did what any trapped humans would do. We banged and kicked furiously on the wall of the adjacent apartment and screamed at the top of our lungs.
“Why is it that neighbours complain about the sound of footsteps in slippers but are deaf to purposeful, raucous noise?” I wondered out loud. I could see beads of sweat begin to gather on Sadie’s brow and I knew it was more than just the temperature.
More time slipped by. We turned our attention to the only alternative – the window. The apartment was two storeys up at the rear of the building, which offered an emergency exit on the main floor. Pedestrian traffic was rare.
“I can jump out the window,” offered 68-year-old osteoporotic Sadie in desperation. “There’s a soft cushion of grass below. I may break a few bones but it won’t kill me.”
“Are you crazy?” we shouted.
For a brief moment, I considered flinging my own osteoporotic self out the two-storey window but a quick reality check from my cohorts reminded me my situation was no different.
“Maybe our little group should start the Day of Atonement today because this is ‘the day’ we really need it?” offered Sadie.
Suddenly, from our window view, we saw a man appear at the emergency door. A frantic Seymour leaned out the window and shouted, “Help! Help!” That was our cue to raise the volume and we chimed in chorus to increase the decibels – to no avail.
“Maybe he doesn’t understand English,” suggested Sadie (as if our frantic cries needed interpretation).
“Well, what language would you like to try?” quipped Seymour.
“I don’t know. Try French.”
So, the three of us bellowed like bulls, “Aider! Aider!”
The man looked up. Great! We had his attention. Then, just as suddenly, he disappeared through the emergency door without any acknowledgement to us. Now we were all in a stew. We were doomed.
Fifteen long, tortuous minutes passed before the sound of a key jiggling in the apartment door jolted our attention. Then the wife of the concierge removed the den’s door hinges, releasing us from our prison. With joy and relief, Seymour, still holding up his shorts with one hand, body soaking sweat as if he had just come out of the shower, embraced her with a one-armed hug and planted the wettest kiss on this angel of mercy.
In the calm aftermath, Seymour took his insulin and we all sat down to relish our evening meal. We never did find out who the stranger at the emergency exit was that day so we could thank him. A visitor, we were told, just passing through.
And the stew? Well, it was just right – tender and moist. Bon appetit! And shana tova.
Libby Simon, MSW, worked in child welfare services prior to joining the Child Guidance Clinic in Winnipeg as a school social worker and parent educator for 20 years. Also a freelance writer, her writing has appeared in Canada, the United States, and internationally, in such outlets as Canadian Living, CBC, Winnipeg Free Press, PsychCentral and Cardus, a Canadian research and educational public policy think tank.