I love holiday traditions. Which is why Passover holds a special place in my heart. It’s become “my” holiday – the one I host each year and the one which seems to grow with every season as new step-sons, my mom from Florida, my mother-in law from New York, sisters and sister-in-laws, dogs, niece and nephews, second marriages and their children (with dates!) crowd the table. The more the merrier makes it all incredibly rich and rewarding and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The preparation seems to wake up both the soul of the house as well as my own soul.
Rummaging through the cabinets I pull out my matching silver platters, a vintage crystal cut glass candy bowl, a silver swan gravy boat. These items are virtually useless to me but for once or twice a year. These are old wedding gifts from Marriage Number One and as I polish away the grime, and wipe off the dust I start to daydream. Thank God no one gifted us the vacuum cleaner we registered for – which was all I wanted back then! Now, I smile at the squeaky shine on the silver.
I set the table for 20 with my plates of matching china. My mother-in-law gave me this dinner service and I call to thank her. She will be at my table this year and it means so much to me. “Barbara,” I say, “I can’t believe I have 20 matching plates – how did you know? It’s so amazing how you gave me that exact amount.” She fumbles for a moment trying to recall “Which plates?” We are close — like mother and daughter. We talk several times a week and bemoan that we don’t get to see each other as much. I know she will remember which plates – I go on – I don’t have enough of the soup bowls – I need six more—can you bring me six more when you come for Seder on Friday? “Of course, of course, oh yes Felice, I can’t wait to see them on the table. I will bring them. I would like to come a little early.” Perfect!
Barbara and I lost Alan –her son, my first husband and the father of my boys — seven years ago. Alan loved to lead the Seder. Now it is my older son, Jake, who leads using his Dad’s highlighted and note-ridden Haggadah. I love that Jake absorbed the humor and playful irreverence of his dad and that he runs the Seder in much the same way. I place Alan’s book at Jake’s seat and feel a warm smile rush through my limbs. The prayer books were given to me by my own father 24 years ago when we held our first Seder in this very same home.
The holiday is unleashing a rapid flow of sweet memories. I greet my deceased father with a light touch on the books as I set them down one by one on the chairs. I count the guests to make sure I haven’t forgotten anyone. This year my younger boy, Cal, will be driving with his www.Timefliesmusic.com tour bus from Lincoln, Nebraska to Columbia Missouri filling the souls of his fans with his magical music—I wouldn’t be surprised if he tears into a little Seder Rap out there in Missouri.
My sweet husband, Bill, brings me into the present moment. He strains the chicken soup and whips up the egg whites for the spinach soufflé. Bill loves tradition and has found his place in our family. He has already prepared his thought provoking words and will open our Seder with a question that will drive the conversation beyond our old soup stained texts.
Bill picked up Jonathan Safran Foer’s New American Hagaddah at the Harvard Coop and we’ve been talking about it all weekend. Foer’s statement in the Sunday’s New York Times Op-Ed really resonates with us — “There is no more significant lesson than the one that is never learned but always studied — borrowed from one generation and lent to the next: How to seek oneself.” This topic is what we reflect on this holiday – this is what Bill and I talk about as we create our new life together.
So as the family wanders in for this amazing tradition, the past fades, the present prevails, and the new stories are laid down for our kids to carry forward.