“Lean on me when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
Till I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on”
Lean On Me– Bill Withers
It is Passover 2010. I sit down at the table and wait for my father to start the seder. My son is on my left, grandfather just to my right. It is the first holiday since grandma died and I am surprised by how hard it is.
Grandma wasn’t particularly religious. She was proud of her Judaism but didn’t go to shul unless it was for a family function. Didn’t keep a Kosher home and really didn’t do much to Kasher the house for Pesach. But she was an integral part of our lives and it is impossible not to notice that she isn’t there.
It is not the first seder that she has missed. Due to health issues she didn’t make it last year, but that was different. She was missed, but it was understood that had things been slightly different she would have been and that is a significant difference.
This is a first of different sorts. It is the first seder at my parent’s house in several years. The last few have been at mine. Instead of running it I am back to second chair status. It is ok with me, my mother is more comfortable being at home now so I am happy to help.
My father starts telling stories about Pesach past and I am irritated. Spent the last few days doing nothing but story telling about days gone by. I don’t want to hear the tales of my youth for the 23rd time, not the least of which is because none of them seem to resemble the versions that I know.
I pour myself a big glass of wine and start drinking. My daughter smiles at me as whispers, “don’t be mad and don’t be sad abba.” I smile and am more irritated that my face doesn’t hide my feelings. A few hours earlier she took me aside to tell me the story. She thinks it is important for me to know that Moshe took the people into the desert a long, long time ago, 59 years by her measure. The memory makes me smile, who knew that the Exodus happened a mere 18 years before I was born.
The family is talking about my great-grandmother, reminiscing about how in her Yiddish accented voice she’d say that she was “shikkered” (drunk) on grape juice. She died when I was 17. I remember her well and I think for a moment about how closely my grandmother resembled her mother. Both are gone now, so is my great grandfather.
Though he is gone my father tells us all again about how he refused to speak Yiddish to his children, he was an American and wanted his children to be Americans. Still he told the stories of his time in Vilna and how he hid in the fields from the Cossacks.
I smile again and remember how he used to play with me. I was seven or so when he died. He was a tall man who used a cane and had white hair, at least when I knew him. But I heard the stories of a man who had been a tailor. I heard the stories about how my zaide (great grandfather) would walk into shops and shut them down, shouting for the other tailors to leave because they wouldn’t work unless they were part of a union.
Stories of the times he would have fist fights with the police, of card games at the house and how he could quiet his children down with just a look. My father and his cousins all tell stories of a loving man who was as tough as they come, tales that echo those told by my great grandfather’s children.
My son asks me if I know who grandpa is talking about and I say yes. I realize that I have to take a moment to explain all the connections to him. My dad interchanges grandfather with ‘pa’ because they called him both. I called him zaide, but sometimes refer to him as my great grandfather. And of course my son thinks of great grandfather in the context of my own grandfathers.
It is loud inside house. The stories are interspersed with singing and the tales switch from one side of the family to the other. My own head is pounding from exhaustion and frustration. I remind myself that it is ok to be upset but feel torn by it all.
What is my responsibility here. What is my obligation. I have my grief, my grandfathers, mother, aunts, siblings and children, nieces, nephews and then some.
As I write this it is intentionally garbled, jumbled and filled with more emotion than I can convey. I do it because I am trying to show just how nutty it was.
The dogs are locked up for the time being, puppies are whining, big dogs are yelping. They want to be inside with the rest of us. The singing is loud and off key and all I want is to start eating. Let’s eat and maybe in the quiet I’ll gather my thoughts.
It is hard. Grandma is gone. All of my grandmothers, the matriarchs have gone on to wherever it is we go. I am down to one grandparent. Now it is just my grandfather. He quiets everyone so that he can say a few words. He sings softly, the words barely intelligible. A tear rolls down his cheek and I hear my daughter react.
Passover 2010, the moment when I realize that my childhood is almost nothing but memories has arrived. I am not ready for this but can’t say that I ever will be so does it make a difference.
Passover 2010 is my own exodus from one place into another, into moments unknown and unseen.
The seder is over. We’re home and the kids are in bed. It is almost 2 AM and I am back at the computer. I had intended to write about the night, but just couldn’t make it happen. I didn’t want to write a post that was overly sentimental junk. So I decide to wait until the morning.
Morning turns into afternoon and afternoon turns into early evening. So here I am with a post that is overly sentimental junk. Sigh.
Sounds Of My Youth
Transitions- Passover Seder
Struggling With Pesach
Passing The Baton- Grandma is 94
Passover- The High Cholesterol Holiday
What is Your Favorite Pesach Memory?
Some Passover Musings