The gadget in the photograph is fifty years old if it’s a day, a wonderful hand-me-down dust pan given to us by an elderly cousin, now of blessed memory. Hy cobbled it together from a left over broom handle and a cut away oil can. Hy and his wife Dora were leaving their family home on Avenue P in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, and moving to an apartment in Brighton Beach. It was a time of transition, the culling and keeping that we all do throughout our lives, sometimes wrenching, sometimes liberating.
I wasn’t sure how useful it would be; the can’s sharp edges dictated it be reserved for outside use. But I wasn’t about to turn down this offering, no matter how humble, from one of the dearest men I’d ever met. For going on thirty-plus years now, Hy’s ingenious dust pan continues to serve us well as we shepherd wayward leaves to the curb, its knife sharp edge niftily capturing the smallest bits of flotsam and jetsam from the garage floor.
Every time I use it, I think of this sweet, sweet man, a Holocaust survivor who lost his entire family to Hitler. After the war he remarried, finding in Dora a woman whose story of loss, horror and triumph over the unspeakable echoed his own. Dora’s daughter became his, and in their autumn years they were surprised with a child of their own, our cousin Gary. Holding the paint-chipped broom handle that Hy craftily bolted to a cutaway can, I am reminded of thrift and self-reliance. Most of all, I am reminded of the ability of the human spirit to prevail. Sweeping away dust and grit, I am thankful for having known these two, who answered Hitler by seeking love and joy amidst memories of devastation and pain, and finding utility in what others would have readily tossed aside.