Zaid’s Unopened Hannukah Present

It was December 19, 2012. I’m horrible with dates but I remember this one. My grandparents, Bubbie and Zaid,(1)In Yiddish Bubbie means grandmother and Zaid means grandfather. had come over. They came over about once a week. We had these good Jewish grandparent/grandkid fights around how much food they should bring. They wanted to bring 2 chickens a week, some pastrami, some latkas, a quart of matzo ball soup, and then maybe something for us to eat that night when they came over. We had to explain that the fridge was already full from last week’s delivery so maybe they could just bring one chicken that week.

I was excited to give Zaid his Hanukah present. I’d gotten him a limited edition “subscription box” box from a company called Quarterly. We were getting a box curated by John Maeda. Maeda is my favorite digital artist/designer who has a wonderful way of looking at the world. When he was the President of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) he said, “America is a weird country. It’s like I was a waitress somewhere, and now I’m in a movie—a futuristic astronaut cast in a new kind of Wild West picture. [At RISD] I get to make, like, a Space Western.”(2)Maeda’s box was part of a RISD initiative called STEAM. STEAM = STEM + Arts & Humanities.

I got two boxes, one for me and one for Zaid. We both enjoyed design. Zaid never graduated college but enjoyed taking art classes when he was young. He was also an engineer. So design was a good mix of the two.

When I ordered them, I wasn’t sure if he would like the boxes (or if I would). I do know that he would have appreciated the gift. When I was in my twenties, I had an artist friend make a card with a big red sportscar. Zaid loved red sportscars. Inside, for his birthday a decade before, I wrote that “While I can’t afford to buy you a real car for your 73rd birthday, please accept this card for being the world’s best grandfather.” It was cheesy but isn’t that what all grandfathers want?

My 73rd Birthday Card for Zaid

I opened my Maeda box and I found three small jars of Indian spices, some pixie sticks, and a sesame seed grinder. Maeda explained that these were all different powders from around the world. It was pretty awesome and I knew Zaid would be excited by it.

After dinner, on his way home, he called me to tell me that he’d forgotten to take the package. I told him not to worry and that I’d be seeing them soon—right when we got back from our vacation from Florida.

The next day we left for our family vacation to Miami. They would have come, but Bubbie was afraid to fly and they were getting too old to drive down. We were on the plane when my father got a call. We never got calls on the airplane. My stomach dropped. Zaid was dead. He had a heart attack at the bagel store. Even though there was a fireman at the store giving him CPR, there was nothing that could be done.

We immediately came home, had a funeral and a shiva,(3)Shiva is the Jewish mourning period. and then continued on with our lives. But there was still this unopened UPS package. I wasn’t sure what to do with it. So I left it in the box.

At the time, I left a number of things in boxes when I didn’t know what to do with them. I remember one time I bought my brother-in-law a GAP sweater for his birthday. He was coming to visit soon so I left it in the UPS box.

When he came to visit, Abigail said, “Where’s that sweater you bought Josh.” I looked by the door where I’d left Josh’s box. Nothing was there. Also, all of the other boxes—the boxes that I’d brought down to recycling—were gone too. We never did find Josh’s sweater.

So I needed to do something else. I couldn’t just keep Zaid’s gift in the shipping box forever, waiting to be discarded. So I opened it up and found a happy medium. The different components—the indian spices and the pixie sticks—were tied together with tissue paper. So even though they weren’t in a cardboard box, they were still wrapped.(4)JJ Abrams has a TED Talk about the magic of unopened “Mystery Boxes.”

The box of John Maeda gifts. The opened pieces are from my box (I think). I’m still not 100% positive what’s in the wrapped parcels and I like it like that.

After Zaid died, we went to pack up his things. I learned that the things that I thought were important weren’t necessarily what everyone else thought was important. There were some beautifully written, simple greeting cards that Bubbie and Zaid wrote to each other that I’m sure were thrown out. As I was looking around, I found the little racecar card that I gave him for his 73rd birthday pinned to his mirror. I took it and saved it.

Just like the red sportscard card, I keep Zaid’s unwrapped John Maeda gifts, on a shelf in my bedroom. The same way that card reminded Zaid of my love for him, these unwrapped gifts remind me of his love for me.


1 In Yiddish Bubbie means grandmother and Zaid means grandfather.
2 Maeda’s box was part of a RISD initiative called STEAM. STEAM = STEM + Arts & Humanities.
3 Shiva is the Jewish mourning period.
4 JJ Abrams has a TED Talk about the magic of unopened “Mystery Boxes.”