There’s nothing in the world that brings me memories of my childhood in New York, my own time machine, like my mother’s Passover dishes. The Passover dishes remind me of new holiday clothes and the smell of a new plastic table cloth in the kitchen. In those days, someone else was cleaning the house and I was just a pesky kid who had to keep away from the turmoil of the upcoming holiday.
On Passover eve, the whole house was brighter- the rays of sun that streamed in through the kitchen window were brighter. Maybe it was because the windows had been cleaned, or the curtains were washed, or maybe because of daylight savings time.
As children who studied in a Jewish school in Queens, we were most excited by the fact that there was no school on the day before Passover. We had the whole holiday off! All eight days, including the middle days.
My mother’s battle with chametz began about two months before Passover. She called it spring–cleaning. She would announce: “Elizabeth has cleaned your room for Passover.” And that was the warning — that you should not bring a micron of food to your room. Our schoolbags remained at the bottom of the stairs, lest there was a forgotten cookie or sandwich in them.
Elizabeth came to clean our house once a week. Before Passover, she would arrive twice a week. Picture Shaquille O’Neal with an apron and a broom, standing guard at the staircase to make sure no one brought any food upstairs into the bedrooms. Even a glass of milk was forbidden. Elizabeth did not distinguish between different types of food. All food was the enemy. She was so strict that even the rabbi of the shul would consult with her regarding questions about Passover.
The idea of koshering utensils was not acceptable to my mother. “I should put my dishes in the same water as everyone else? Yuck!” So my mother went out to the 5 and 10 and bought a set of cutlery with yellow plastic handles and square bowls that were exactly the right size for matzah brie, blue glasses, a red kettle and a new sugar shaker. We enjoyed eating from our Pesach dishes as if they were gold-plated china.
The sugar shaker was made of transparent plastic with a red lid. In the middle of the lid was a button. Press the button and a teaspoon n of sugar, more or less, poured out the bottom. It was perfect for pouring sugar on our matzoh cereal, and a little too big for our teacups. Every innocent visitor would pick up the canister and ask, “What is this?” and push the button, he would pour a teaspoon of sugar on the table or on the floor.
One year, when we were all grown up, visiting my mother for the holiday, I took a walk around the kitchen to reacquaint myself with some old friends, my mother’s Passover dishes. There was the salt shaker in the shape of a rose and the famous sugar shaker. For some reason it seemed much smaller than I remembered it.
“Mom, right now, we’ll call your lawyer and make an addendum to your will. I don’t want any silver candlesticks or jewels, I only want the kosher for Passover sugar shaker.”
“Take it,” she said.
“Why should I keep it? I have high blood sugar.” So I took it. Fast. Before Mom could change her mind or my siblings would hear about it and get jealous. The kids suggested we use it all year round. I vetoed the idea.
“The mechanism is very delicate; it will not last if we use it every day. Only on Passover. It is probably the only one of its kind left in the world — it must have cost at least 99 cents!”
My family is thrilled every year to see our Passover dishes (all the yellow Duralex dishes we got for our wedding that we put aside). I think, “This is their time machine,” and I wonder how long it will be before they start fighting over the sugar shaker.