Sunday, April 11, 2010

917. Taking down the dishes

A few more thoughts about Pesah, even though we're well on the way across the desert to Sinai. This year I didn't take down the dishes, since I wasn't hosting a seder and planned to have many meals at friends' homes (I used paper and plastic instead). When I was a kid, it was "take up the dishes." They hibernated, in cardboard boxes wrapped with crumbling twine, in a locked basement storage room along with ancient bicycles and patient, empty armoires, and every year were liberated the day before the holiday by Norris, the porter. Norris looked like Chief Bromden in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Next," although was slightly more verbal—but not much. He had arms like trees, and would lift the boxes into the elevator as if they were made of feathers. Once upstairs, the boxes would sit on the kitchen floor for hours as my mother painstakingly replaced shelves full of soon to-be-treyf coral-colored china with acceptably kosher plates and bowls that looked exactly the same, but with fewer scratches and chips. (I always wondered why we didn't have two sets of dishes in different colors, but never asked. And, in fact, the chip and scratch situation made them quite distinct.)

After lunch on the eighth day (our particular minhag was to resume hametz well before sundown; maybe my father was pretending to be Israeli or Reform, or just disliked matzah as much as I do), the ritual would be reversed, and the cartons parked in the exact same rectangular oasis amidst a sea of dust until next year.

These days my Pesah dishes, kosher in spirit more than halakha (since I've served food on them that, although hametz-free, wasn't prepared in a strictly k for p kitchen), live in funky little aluminum boxes from Ikea that reside in the space between the top of my kitchen cabinets and the ceiling. So now I have to say "take down the dishes" instead of "take up."

I wish I could find a low spot for them, though, in order to revert to the old phrase. "Take up" suggests aliyah, as if the dishes themselves had to make their own harrowing journey and spiritual ascent just like the Israelites.

916. Family

Finally recovering from matzah (I really do NOT like it, even when camouflaged by chocolate or tomato sauce.) A little belatedly, hoping everyone's seders were fun, meaningful, and delicious. Mine were just about perfect. I spent one night with a friend who kept us learning and questioning—why are there four questions, and not three or five? and why did those rabbis stay up all night discussing them?—helping me see the holiday with fresh eyes, as required. The second night, like almost every Pesah since college, was with old friends, and this year was the best of all (even though I say that every time). Our lives are now very different from one another—some of us are married, some not, some are happy, some not, some have kids (in college! how is that possible?), others don't. But we first met when we were unformed people, a strong bond. There's nothing intellectual about this seder, which consists of a zippy, marginally reflective English reading of every single word in the haggadah punctuated by groan-worthy but highly anticipated jokes that have been uttered, year after year, at the exact same places in the text. We're not very close friends, and sometimes I get jealous after hearing stories of large, loving families and wonder what my life would be like if it happened to have taken that path. But then I give myself a virtual slap and across the cheek like Cher to Nicolas Cage in "Moonstruck"this is my family. Just one of my families, to be specific, along with the one actually related to me, and all my other communities of friends.

This is freedom—being able to move between two completely different and wonderful kinds of seders, friends, relatives. You can't get much luckier than that, despite the matzah.