When I was a kid, movie theaters, gas stations, and supermarkets gave away free dishes. You could also get free dishes in detergent boxes. More often than not, the dishes were glass, what we called Depression glass. The glass was thick, heavy, and not very pretty to look at, but free obviates a lot of sins. Mostly, the dishes were either pale pink, pale blue, or pale green.
Why do I tell you this? We had two full sets of service for a small country in both blue and green. We used them for Passover. The green was for dairy food, and the blue was for meat. Had there been a red set, the red would have been for meat, but there was no red.
Stored in the basement in huge oak barrels, all of our Passover stuff had to be hauled upstairs, taken out, washed, and put on the newly cleaned and relined shelves in the cabinets.
General McArthur would come to our house to oversee the logistics of this effort. Wait, that is not true. It was our mother who supervised. And like Pharaoh of Egypt, she stood over us with a whip. Oh wait, that is not true either. Okay, she stood over us giving us the stink eye, the evil eye, and you’ll be cursed to a life of degradation if you don’t do this right eye. Powerful incentive!
D Day was a snap compared to getting ready for Pesach. Because there were so many of us, each of us had our assigned tasks. My younger brothers were no dopes. No matter how much money I offered them (fifty cents, a dollar, a dollar two fifty), they would not take my jobs and do them. Rats!
Growing up in a home where Yiddish was often heard, we used a mixture of English and Yiddish words in our conversations. Our grandmother was a master of making English words sound like Yiddish words. On top of that, simple cooked foods had Yiddish names. It was years before I found out that all those exotic sounding Yiddish foods were really quite common foods with English names. Go know that gedempte fleisch was just plain old, ordinary pot roast!
If your family was like mine, there were at least two tables: the adults’ table, and the children’s table. Life at the children’s table was lots of fun, but we all craved admittance to the adults’ table. Once we achieved such lofty status, we found out that the kiddy table was much more fun. We could kick each other under the table, take food off of someone else’s plate, play “show” (never mind, either you know or you don’t), and commit acts of assorted mayhem.
The one thing that could kill your seder was the presence of your nerdy cousin who got all A’s on his report card. Your mother would spend far too many moments showcasing your deficits compared to that cousin’s wonderful achievements that made his mother so proud and who would get a full scholarship to a private university and not have to go to a public college, and who would probably grow up to be a doctor. In your heart of hearts you knew you hated that cousin and always would.
There was always at least one person at the table who would comment loudly and frequently about the length of the seder. Grandmothers seldom made it to the table as they were in the kitchen overseeing all the pots and pans, all the salads, all the side dishes, and the mains. Like Leonard Bernstein in front of the NY Philharmonic, their arms would be in constant motion, making sure nothing burned. As a side note, they also made sure that the vegetables were over cooked to the point of being soggy. I don’t know about you, but it was quite a revelation to me to discover al dente veggies!
My parents were quite ecumenical. We always had some non-Jews at the seder. The best part of having them at the seder was watching them when the gefilte fish was served. Suffice it to say, if you did not grow up eating gefilte fish, you won’t like it.
One of the things I never understood was the fact that there had to be at least two different meat dishes and two different chicken dishes on the table. On top of that, there were baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, sweet potatoes with marshmallows and raisins, boiled potatoes, and potato kugel (potato pudding).
All in all, Passover was lots of fun. Yes, the prep work was exhausting, but the holiday itself was a lot of fun. Whole families got together. Okay, so it was not always peaceful with everyone there, but it was always memorable.
Ah, it just ain’t the same! But some things never change. The kids are all ramping up to sing the Four Questions and to find the hidden matza (afikomen). Shopping is an exercise in guerilla tactics. And getting the house ready is never easy. But in the end, it is all worth it. And our kids will have their own memories to carry them into their later years.