by Richard Epstein (Washington, DC)
Your grandpa passed away some twenty years ago
and so have his Passover Seders. Every year, he used
two chairs. As I write this, I am there. Time stops
like a turtle on its back, legs flaying wildly in the air.
The house is scrubbed, the windows cleaned. Two sets
of pots and pans, dishes and dinnerware are retrieved
from boxes and paper bags stored in the cellar.
The dining room table is set, wine glasses filled red.
Your grandmother places the Seder Plate on the table
while Grandpa says a blessing and washes his hands
at the kitchen sink. Grandpa holds the Seder Plate
for all to see and explains each item.
“…because we were slaves in Egypt…,” he would say.
He breaks the middle matzah in its covered plate, wraps
half in a napkin and places it under the tablecloth by his chair.
As we turn our attention to the Haggadah, he moves
the wrapped matzah under the pillow on his second chair.
At the table sits Grandpa’s sister, Aunt Rose, always first
to disapprove of something said or done but with a grand smile
and poised in exemplary posture. There’s cousin Lilly, gray haired,
too thin, always wary of an un-approving look from her pal, Aunt Rose.
There is usually a guest (a boarder or family friend), my brother,
home from the Navy; my sister and her husband (a cross between
Kojack and Yul Brynner) and their three pre-teen daughters. Sitting
closest to the kitchen is my mother, always with a pleasant smile.
Our dog watches from the edge of the kitchen as we begin
the Four Questions. My sister recites in Yiddish, her daughters
recite in Hebrew. I ask permission as an Ashkenaz and after
a nod I sing each question as smooth and faultless as I can.
We listen to the tale of the Four Sons (the wise, the wicked, the simple,
and the one who doesn’t know enough to ask). I am satisfied in not
knowing which role I am cast. The Haggadah reminds us Moses was given
up at the river’s edge to save his life and he came to live as a palace prince.
We tip our wine glasses ten times as we recall each plague cast upon the land
and our escape through the Red Sea. We eat scallions dipped in saltwater
(to remind us of spring and life’s sorrows); a hardboiled egg in saltwater
(I always plead more); home-made gefilte fish with horseradish, grated
the night before; matzah ball soup; brisket, crowned with onion
and an obedient audience of browned potatoes; and four glasses
of sweet, red wine, each with a blessing before and after the meal.
I open the front door to welcome Elijah. The red goblet at the center
of the table is filled just for him. As I stand in the cold night air, I scan
the sky for a winged angel on horseback with a long black sword dripping
with blood and edged in flame.
Back inside we remind the young to barter with Grandpa for
the afikoman they stole. (It must be redeemed to complete
the meal.) We end a long evening with bellies too full and we
open our books to find Chad Gadya.
In these days, Grandpa is just a word and Passover is something
you may have once heard. Both flow warm in my blood
and give strength to bone. If I were a sunflower, I’d bow
my head low. For too soon, there will be no one left to remember.
Richard Epstein lives in the Washington DC area and is active in the Warrior Poets sponsored by Walter Reed Medical Center, the Veterans Writing Project and he hosts an open mic venue for veterans and friends of veterans on the National Mall