Sunday, April 8, 2012

Missing my Father, Passover Edition

Batman & Joker at the Seder table, 2012
Food is the great memory-soup-pot stirrer. And so moments with my father often rise up to slap me in the face when I am in the midst of fixing food. (I would have said "cooking" but anyone who knows me would have done a spit-take, as I don't really cook these days, mostly assemble.)

Passover began on Friday at sunset, so our house was awash in matzo. Making Ethan his lunch, I asked if he would like some, or if he thought he’d be sick of it by the time these next 8 days were over, but he responded with an enthusiastic “Yes!” (Or as enthusiastic as a kid who is down for the count with a sore throat and bad cold can sound.)

And so I head to the kitchen to fix Ethan some (whole wheat) matzo the way he likes it… the way I liked it as a kid, schooled by my father because it was the way HE liked it: slathered with a thin, even sheen of butter and then salted.

He LOVED to eat matzo like that, and for years I did too. There is an art to it, making sure the butter is soft enough to spread, and spreading with a light enough touch so as not to pulverize the matzo as you spread. Then shaking on just enough salt. A delicate operation all around.

So standing in my kitchen, making my son his matzo I have invoked my father, tickled that such an un-religious man is so heavily associated with this very observant foodstuff.

He was a dedicated atheist/agnostic. He disliked organized religion. But we always did Passover and Hanukkah. I think because these were holidays in the home, about food and family.  And food and family were really important to him.

So every Passover of my childhood, we would head off to my Aunt & Uncle's (my mother's brother's family) where my wonderful cousins would be waiting for me.  We would go through the haggadah - a liberal, modern one, light on the "chosen people" & Hebrew and heavy on the social justice and unity of all peoples stuff - as quickly as possible. Then linger over the wonderful meal, finish up fast and roll home very late, very happy.

My husband's family is much more traditional and religious than mine, and in the years when my father was still alive and it was the year for us to Passover with Dan's side, my father would gamely sit through the long Seder, eat his matzo without butter, it being a Kosher meat meal.

As the years went on, his post-dinner sofa nap became longer and longer, eventually involving a pre-dinner one as well, encompassing most of the Seder itself. But still, it was good to have him with us.

He and my Mother-in-law passed in the same year, so my mother is the sole representative of their generation at Passover now. This year she appeared markedly more fragile than last, fading rapidly.

I feel her slipping away before my eyes, a pleasant smile always on her face, but less and less going on behind it with each passing day.  Caring for my father grounded her, kept her present, focused.  She is starting to forget people.  I do not know if she will still be with us next Passover.

This year my father is now two years gone; this our third Passover without him. But buttering and salting a square of matzo for my son, I feel him standing by my side, peering over my shoulder, reaching out for its crisp, crumbly goodness; reassuring me I've salted it perfectly, just right.


  1. When I was a very little girl, we lived next door to an older Jewish couple who invited us to their Seder each year. I still remember it all -- loved the food and verses, the songs and the festivities. I haven't been to one in ages and ages. Thanks for sharing yours!

  2. It's funny how celebrations and food seem to make families. For us it is christmas. For years i made trifle, for some desert of some meal during the season. My Dad loved it and so did the kids - so rich you could really only have it one or 2 times in a year.
    My dad died 8 years ago and i can't find it in me to make trifle - yet. But we have jettisoned some of the negative things. My daughter says she misses her grandad and the trifle, but not her aunty and uncle (my brother and sis) who always made them feel uncomfy, even in our own home!
    Funny to find that no matter what faith you are, there are similarities.
    Seder - is that when the children ask questions of the grown ups? And you have unleavened bread and lamb and bitter herb?
    One of Peter's new workers is Jewish - it came out one day as we talked about something. So we've been asking questions and learning from him about things . He is a very gentle person and when Peter is with him, i feel safe. He's been telling us bits about his family, we tell him bits about ours - it's lovely.
    Josh has gone home for Passover - we hope he had a good time with his family and i hope you have haad a good time with yours. And if there is a God in Heaven, i hope he has directed our Dads to each other to meet!!

  3. Amazing how food has the power to take us way back...good to remember as we craft the memories for the next generation. Your blog is beautiful btw!

  4. Hmm, Varda - funny, I too smear a thin layer of a butter substitute on my matzo. (gave up real butter a long time ago) I don't remember Dad doing that, but maybe in my subconscious I do. Thanks for giving me the memory path.

    (somehow my name is 'gone' but you know me as HiLo. )

  5. Memory is so interesting, isn't it? One smell or sound or action can just shoot you back in time as if the years between had never been. And even when it's painful, I am grateful for those connections to my past and all the people and things I have loved.

    This was one of those full circle days for you, it seems. I especially love those, when I can see the symmetry in life...and family.


  6. Salt it. Salt it lightly and perfectly, and hope he loves it for as long as you did, so that just as you hang onto your father by making his meal, your son will hold onto you in the same way.

    Visiting from write on Edge.

  7. I lost a dear friend last July far too early in my humble opinion. She was my mom away from mom. I am blessed to have both of my parents still living, but living too far away to see them often - perhaps once a year. This friend taught me so many things about running a house and making it a home. She taught me how to fold fitted sheets, and to use a small serving spoon if you're not quite sure if there's enough to go around. I miss her more than I've missed anyone else who has gone on before, including blood relatives. It is good to have these day to day memories. Times when I think I can see her smiling at me from the corner of my eye.


I am so sorry to have to turn word verification back on, but the spam-bots have found me - yikes!