Until I was six or seven, Passover seders involved a raucous bunch of grey-haired aunts and uncles crowding around a big folding table in the living room as I crawled between their legs and made them laugh. My favorite uncle was Charlie, Phil's father. I remember wrestling with him when I was four years old on the gold carpet in our living room, not caring one bit that we might topple over the fake antique lamps. In what seemed a feat of enormous physical skill, he taught me how to stand up from lying flat on the floor without using my hands at all. (Thus making us the only athletes in a family of round, sedentary lovers of heavy Eastern European cuisine.) Charlie was married to Aunt Della, who suffered from debilitating depression; I remember my mother crying because Della wouldn't let her visit her brother in the hospital during his last days.
Uncle Ruby was short and dark, with a gap between his front teeth and eyes crinkled from too much smiling. When I was seven, on a day much like today, he and I and his son, my cousin Jerry, built a snowman right in the middle of the frozen street as cars hid in big white mounds all around us. Ruby survived his wife Viola, a bird-like woman who wore too much red lipstick and didn't seem to like me very much, or anyone else. Then, just a few months before he died, Ruby married Teresa, whose Catholicism was a scandal until we got to know her a little better and discovered her kindness and generosity. (Jerry disappeared when I was nine; I wonder if he might have stuck around had he met Teresa). Ruby died when I was ten, and Teresa not long after.
(To be continued.)