The Friday night Shabbat meals in my parent’s Herzliya apartment were legendary. They featured the “good” dishes and the “good” silver and all the traditional trimmings. The guest list was really not a guest list. It was us! And as the family grew so did the crowd around the modest dining room table. Always included was Yogi, my sister and Zeev’s sparkling white German shepherd. We all looked forward to these gatherings…….but no one as much as Yogi, who tried to keep the tradition going long after my mother’s passing. But, I get ahead of myself.
The meal usually started with an entree, which in my mother’s parlance, learned from years in the hotel business in the Catskill resort town of Parksville, NY, was the first course. This varied a bit, but not much. It was either chopped chicken liver with lots of raw onions to please my husband, or my favorite, sweet and sour meatballs. I often wandered into the kitchen, ostensibly to help, but really to snatch a meatball from the pot. They were succulent and truly delicious, especially on a wintry evening when they warmed me even more than the soup which always followed.
And so, as my mother lay dying, I asked her for the meatball recipe. I don’t know why I had never asked before. Like most children who love their parents I suppose I just couldn’t think that my mother might die one day, leaving me bereft and without the meatball recipe. My own children and grandchildren shared my appetite for them and assumed I would, as the next in line, soon be rolling the meatballs.
My mother shouldn’t have died when she did. It was all because she jaywalked. Living a few doors down from Herzliya’s main street, she, and just about everyone else who wanted to cross the street, would carefully jaywalk. The traffic lights were far apart, as, many years later, they remain; and crossing legally would require a circuitous route, much more than doubling the trip. The Superpharm, for example, was directly across the street and less than a minute walk if done illegally. Crossing with the light required much more energy, especially for the aged, and lots more time.
Mom was a careful woman. She never crossed without looking left, then right. Always. But, how was she to know that the teenaged supermarket delivery boy would charge down Rehov Sokolov on his bicycle on the wrong side of the street and plow into her with a powerful force that knocked her down and broke her hip. She was never the same. The surgery was less than successful and her two legs were now different lengths.
Still she plowed on for a bit until it became clear that she could no longer manage at home. She was constantly falling, and Dad, already over 90, could not pick her up. They hired a home attendant but the situation became more and more dire. And so she moved into a nursing home, affiliated with Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba. This was not a place you find in glossy magazines. It bore no resemblance to a hotel. There was no infinity swimming pool or luxurious catered meals. There was no game room or library. Each resident did not have a private bathroom or internet service, or even a bedside phone. There was no high tea, or musical entertainment on Saturday nights. No. Each patient had a bed in a ward with at least five others. Next to each bed was a small table for earthly possessions which were reduced to a hairbrush, toothbrush, and perhaps a Siddur. It was not a pretty place.
But, yet, it was a place filled with love. After Mom passed my sister and I made a generous donation to the facility, not because we were asked but because we wanted to show the staff that we were touched by their efforts to give our Mom a loving sendoff. Our mother was fed by an attendant who despaired if she didn’t eat. She was kept clean and treated with dignity. All worked tirelessly to nurture her, and all of her roommates. Love can thrive even in the absence of creature comforts. And it did!
Towards the end of her life, I finally asked her how she made the meatballs. She was at a stage where she was still correcting grammatical mistakes so why not remember a recipe she must have made hundreds of times? Or more! She answered me thusly, “You know.” But, I replied, “I don’t.” Again she said, a tad more impatiently, “You know.” I didn’t. I tried again and got nowhere.
She died on the day of our granddaughter Adiel’s fifth birthday. The phone call came in while we were about to watch Adiel blow out the candles. We were all assembled in our own Herzliya apartment and we had bought a special whipped cream cake from a new bakery in Raanana. My father was, of course, with us, and we had to gently tell him that the love of his life to whom he had been married for 62 years, was gone. Just a few days later our grandson Dov Itai was born. Itai is for Ita, my mother, who would have loved him deeply as she did all those grandchildren, and now great-grandchildren, who came before him and those who followed.
Dear Mom, you left me sad, brokenhearted, and without the meatball recipe. But I wish you could know that this week, finally, I figured it out for myself. I had been focusing on ingredients that you never had in your kitchen. Therefore I never got it right. And then I decided to remember your shopping list. You never bought tomato sauce. Ketchup did the job. You never bought cranberry sauce. Honey was better. You always had fresh lemons. And raisins. Onions too. You never had breadcrumbs. Matzah meal. Eggs. Water. Voila! Ida’s famous meatball recipe. Simplicity itself. And simply delicious.
And Yogi, lest I forget. Yogi dodged traffic repeatedly to arrive alone at my parent’s apartment. Always on Friday night. Somehow he knew when Shabbat was entering their kitchen. But he never really understood where they had gone. But, then again, neither do I.