Of Passovers Past and Family Gone
My family was never religious, but we were eaters, and Passover was a great excuse to gather around the table and stuff ourselves as full as the traditional derma. I remember the Passover table, decked out with food I probably haven't eaten in about 20 years -- gefilte fish, carrot-studded matzo ball soup, roast turkey, cranberry sauce, and lots of pickles.
My grandmother made everything from scratch -- except the gefilte fish. As a child, she was traumatized by a cod. When she was a little girl, her mother had brought home a live cod to kill and make into gefilte fish. The cod was swimming in the bathtub until the deed had to be done. The thing is, no one in the family could bear to hurt the poor fish, so it wound up in the bathtub for days until they put it in a bucket and let it free in a pond in Prospect Park.
My grandfather was in charge of the Haggadah and the hiding of the matzo. I was his only grandchild, so I had to muster up all the excitement I could to give my grandfather his dollar's worth (which was what I received as a prize for finding said flatbread). The Haggadah, the story of Passover, can take hours to read in a more orthodox household. My grandfather could run through that sucker in about five minutes flat. Then it was time to eat. But more important, time to be together.
My grandfather was diagnosed with dementia and passed away at age 89 in 2001. My grandmother died a few years later, at 93. My parents and I rarely gather around the dinner table, much less make a full-blown Seder. Maybe the family is too small now; maybe there are no children to entertain with stories and hidden treasures. Maybe, simply, no one cooks the way my grandmother did.
Tonight, as I celebrate the Seder in my new home with my husband, I will remember not only the tale of the Jews' exodus from Eqypt, but also my grandparents and the precious memories they gave me. Happy Passover.