The kitchen already is an undeclared disaster area. On one counter, bowls with ingredients ranging from lumpy to velvety stand like sentries. On another, two chopping boards bear witness to the recent massacre of onions and carrots.
Pots simmer on the stove in their own crazy syncopation.
But where, oh where, is the recipe for matza apple pudding with raisins that my sons-in-law, the gargantuan eaters, have requested from last year’s feast? It had been clipped from a newspaper, stuffed somewhere for safekeeping. But its current location is, of course, unknown.
Yes, it’s Passover season, the holiday that marks the Jewish people’s freedom from slavery in Egypt. And while I won’t be hosting the Passover Seder on March 25, I will be doing my share of roasting, baking and fretting over lost recipes.
I’ve insisted upon helping our daughter, Nancy, who will be doing the family honors this year. Even though I pretend to mind the work and the mess involved in preparing for this Jewish holiday, I love it.
Every Passover season brings a collision with the passage of time. And I’m wondering how preparing for this lovely ritual of spring passed in a blink from my maternal grandmother, to my mother, to me, and now to Nancy.
“The seasons they go ’round and ’round,” as that old song about the generational dance of life reminds us. And in this case, those seasons remind me of other times, other Seders.
And suddenly, it’s 2013. And gathered at Nancy’s table this year will be our nuclear family, and the wonderful additions to it: those hungry sons-in-laws, some members of their families as the circle grows, the young urban child one of our daughters is mentoring, an old family friend who will be celebrating this holiday of freedom in a special way because once, she barely escaped extermination in a horror called the Holocaust.
This same group, with a few additions and subtractions, has shared our profound gratitude at Thanksgiving, too, and countless other milestones: birthdays, anniversaries, and yes, the grief and loss that inevitably dot the human calendar.
I know there will be mass confusion in Nancy’s kitchen. There will be noisy children anxious for the Passover service to be over and the meal to begin. And there will be too much food and vows that next year we’ll be more prudent.
I’ve come to realize that holidays matter not just because of their inherent meaning, but because they are mini-reckonings.
We know that nothing will ever be quite the same as it will be at this year’s celebration, this marker on the relentless march of time.
Those missing from the table are more present than ever in their absence. They are somehow with us as we sip the sweet wine and pass the chicken soup with matza balls, made from my late mother’s scattershot recipe.
“I don’t measure,” she told us time and time again when we begged for this treasured recipe. And we all agree that despite our best efforts at imitation, Mom’s soup was always better.
The passages we mark at this table are just that – passages. No stopping them, nor would we want to.
My husband and I now sit at the head of the Passover table as — how can it be? — the elders.
Our youngest grandchild, blue-eyed Carly, no longer begs to sit on my lap. She’s linked with the older cousins now, thrilled to be one of that noisy army. I miss her nestled next to me, yet delight in seeing her dash off, flushed and joyful. Yes, a passage.
There is comfort in knowing that all across the world, other Jewish families also are celebrating Passover. That no matter what a mess the world may be in at this moment, we have this shared and glorious history.
So yes, I’m a bit weary from the cooking. I’ll be glad when I can restore order to the counters and pantry closet and yes, a determined post-Seder diet will start in a few days.
But what a glorious time of year, this Passover season, when the past lives in the present, and embraces the future.
No wonder I always get teary, and reach for my husband’s hand, when we end our Passover Seder with the toast “L’Chaim — To Life!”
And that says it all. ••
Sally Friedman is a longtime freelance writer with a special interest in family life. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Ladies Home Journal, Family Circle, the Huffington Post, and frequently in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.