The menu at my parent’s annual seders was pretty much always the same. Probably the same as in your house. Once the seder plate and the opening rituals were dispensed with we got to the serious eating of homemade gefilte fish, my mother’s inimitable chicken soup with rock hard matzah balls, the way my father loved them, and, dayeinu, if you were still hungry, brisket, turkey, all sorts of kugels, a tiny bit of healthy veggies and, topping it all off, miserable bought Pesach cake which is memorable only because who could forget those cakes that cost a week’s salary and tasted abominable. My mother scrubbed and scoured her already immaculate kitchen, made everything but the cake herself, and I was just one of the numerous attendees who enjoyed all of her efforts but didn’t as much as lift a kneidel. I was a kid. And now I’m not.
As a matter of fact, I’m so not a kid. I’m really ancient and if I ever forget it, there are all kinds of clues to serve as reminders.
For example, this morning we had breakfast at a restaurant with our 26 year old grandson. The friendly waitress asked me if he is, actually, my grandson. She didn’t for one moment mistake him for my son. Clue number one!
Clue two: people are always holding doors for me. They never were so polite in bygone days. I don’t think people have better manners these days. I think they’re afraid of blowing away a fragile old lady. Last night we were at a concert at the University of Pennsylvania. Most of the attendees were students, obviously much younger than I, but one wrinkled (deeply!) lady, sitting next to me, was a bit too patronizingly nice to me, asking me if I needed help. Come on. Her wrinkles were ravines. Mine are more like a scratched surface. Sort of like your old eyeglasses. And she’s trying to help me?Does she think I’m that old?
Clue three: whenever we travel and look lost (less often these days with WAZE and other helpful electronics) people flock to our aid. We were in Moscow, Tblisi, Warsaw, Tokyo. Hong Kong. Same all over. Can we help you, they want to know. It’s nice for sure but they never did this to us when we were younger. Just sayin’. Oh and seats on the subways in those places (not Tblisi by the way). Never have to stand. I don’t mind when teenagers give me a seat but when it’s someone like the ravined lady, who I swear is older than I am, then I get pretty cranky. What are they thinking?
I know if my mother could come back from olam ha ba, she’d be surprised to see this happening to me. After all I’m her child. She gave birth to me. And I’m so old. It would be as difficult for her to fathom as it is to know that my own children are not kids any more. Weren’t they born yesterday? Wasn’t I a young mom? Not anymore.
And just in case my mirror lies to me, all I have to do is look at the picture on my driver’s license. That’s scary stuff!
So the seders went from my mother making them to me making them. I agree that they’re hard work, especially in the galut where we insist on two. One is nice. Two is over the top. But I did it for many years. Maybe I did it my way. I bought frozen gefilte fish. Much easier than grinding or chopping. My feathery light kneidels were made from a mix and I cut back on the kugels and became inventive with the vegetables. Lots of salad. Topped off with the miserable cake which was really for show since no one wanted to eat it. Every year I’m reminded of my grandfather, Pop, who was eating presumably Pesach cake and forcefully spit it out, exclaiming, That’s not Pesach cake. It’s too good!
But dayeinu. I was replaced by my daughters. I’m no longer in charge. I take orders which are really minimal. I’m the matriarch. I’m supposed to be a guest. But where did my life go?
In the time it takes to shape a kneidel, it seems, I’ve gone from help-less (meaning I helped less) to help-less, from the kid who ate to the old lady who eats. Lucky for me I’m still eating but how did those years fly by? And how come Eliahu Hanavi still stays young as he floats through millions of houses every Pesach. What’s his secret of perpetual youth? And you better believe he’s there! That wine doesn’t shake by itself.
At times, like major holy days, I guess it’s normal to reflect. I guess aging is also normal. But does it have to happen so fast? Can’t we savor life like my father savored those rock-hard kneidelach? I guess not!
According to Robert Browning, Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be. Who’s he kidding?
But from this old lady comes a wish to you and to all am Yisrael:: l’shana haba-a b Yerushalayim. Chag sameach!