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That’s What I Do I Garden I Drink And I Know Things Poster
One spring, the Seder was more subdued because I had laryngitis and my brother, congested with a very bad cold, could barely get through the evening. The conversation lagged. Bruce and I offered to stay and help clean up. My mother shoed us all out, telling Jimmy and me to take care of ourselves. She said she would wash and put everything away at her leisure, with a smile indicating another successful holiday dinner. That’s What I Do I Garden I Drink And I Know Things Poster
The next morning Jimmy died of an asthma attack at 40. The Hansel to my Gretel was gone. I had just become an only child instead of a big sister.
We gathered for Passover the following year without my brother, but with our baby Jaime, named for him. Everyone was grateful for the new life in our family, but the loss of Jimmy hovered over the room like a tent. The extra yahrzeit candle seemed to tip the tray. That year marked the beginning of the holiday as a family memorial event, instead of the lively gathering it had been.
The first Passover after my mother died in 2009, teenage Jaime made the stuffed mushrooms with great effort to duplicate my mother’s recipe. He recreated the dish dissecting the memory of the tastes he knew so well. Before dinner, he proudly presented the tray to us in the living room as we sat on the same green furniture, a little more worn. My father asked me to take mom’s seat at the table in the dining room. The chair felt too big for me. I was surprised that my feet could touch the ground. Bruce, who was no longer my husband, but still part of this family ritual, made the turkey at his apartment and brought it to dad’s house. I improvised the rest of the meal. Jaime, as the youngest, asked the four questions beginning with “why is this night different from all other nights?” The Passover story provided the answers.
Departing from my mother’s format, I initiated singing the songs, talking about what freedom and bondage meant to us and finishing the Passover story before dinner. It wasn’t the same cool dinner party as in the past, yet the Seder bound us together in the absence of my mother and brother. Memories haunted and filled the house.
After my father passed, five years ago at 95, I hosted the Seders in my apartment ready to take on the role of Mistress of Ceremonies and infuse the holiday with some of the old joy it used to have retaining good memories of my late family. Each year the definition of kin was bent and expanded. In March 2020, I zoomed into a Seder at my Rabbi’s apartment. The sense of community was larger than one I had known, though each of our personal worlds constricted. My dining table had a Seder plate and my ex, now my best friend. Isolating, we were too vulnerable to COVID for our son to join us. The little squares of screen sharing, many of the people unknown to me, held us together as a group but didn’t generate the warmth of close proximity.