There was a full moon that night, and not a cloud in the sky. Linda and I ran from shadow to shadow as they strolled down the street, hoping they wouldn’t spot us as we followed them. It was late, and normally we’d be dozing off on the couch in the living room while Mom, Grandma and Aunt Sarah cleaned up after the seder.
Every Passover, the three women spent the entire day cooking. Early in the morning, Mom would go over to Grandma’s house, where Uncle Jack and Aunt Sarah also lived, and if it wasn’t a school day, Linda and I would have to join them for maybe the most boring day of our lives.
Mom and Aunt Sarah didn’t exactly get along. I don’t know what the issue was; perhaps Sarah felt that, being married to Mom’s older brother, and living in the house with Grandma, she had seniority rights. Mom, on the other hand, being grandma’s actual daughter and not just a daughter-in-law, begged to differ. Each thought the other was the inferior cook. So making the Passover meal became an awkward dance, in which Mom and Sarah avoided being in the kitchen together while trying to make their individual dishes in time for that evening’s seder, the traditional Passover feast.
Linda and I spent the day trying not to be bored out of our skulls, but there wasn’t much to do with the kitchen already crowded and the two of us underfoot. There were no kids our age in the neighborhood to play with, there were only so many games we could play before we ran out of ideas, and there was nowhere within walking distance for us to go. Worse, Mom made me wear a good shirt, long pants and my nice shoes, which I couldn’t get dirty by playing outside.
Mom was a good cook, but the seder meal often frustrated her. Grandma’s recipes, written on little note cards, sometimes in a mix of Yiddish and English, were infuriatingly imprecise. A handful of flour, a pinch of salt, a little sugar. Add milk. This somehow worked for grandma, but left Mom at sea. Grandma’s matzo balls always came out light and fluffy; but Mom’s, following the identical recipe, would break a toe if you dropped one on your foot.
The Passover seder itself was something my sister and I dreaded. After a day of smelling the wonderful odors wafting from the kitchen, we were already starving when we were finally seated at the big dining room table. With all the leaves inserted, it filled the dining room with little to spare. Every chair in the house was appropriated for the meal. With Grandma, Jack and Sarah, my cousins Alan and Ron, Mom and Dad, Linda and me, plus whatever guests had been invited that year, the table might have 16 or 18 people crammed around it.
The ceremonial seder plate, with the symbols of Passover, was put in the center of the table. Every place setting had a copy of the Hagaddah, the book containing the seder service in both Hebrew and in English on facing pages. It was illustrated with biblical scenes, which was the only thing about it I found the least bit interesting.
Being the youngest who could read, I got to recite the Four Questions. Linda would take over that chore in a year or two.
The Passover service is essentially a long narrative that answers the Four Questions, telling the story of the enslavement of the Hebrews in Egypt and their redemption after the Ten Plagues. The problem was, asking the Four Questions was the only part of the seder we kids actually participated in, and it came early in the service, after which the reading of the Passover story would go on for an eternity, as hunger fought with sleepiness until it was finally time to eat the traditional meal.
Dad and Uncle Jack would take turns, reading the entire thing in Hebrew as the minutes turned to hours, while the food stayed in the kitchen, except for the few sprigs of parsley, an occasional bite of matzoh, which tasted like cardboard, and a tiny dab of charoses, a mixture of apples and walnuts, which we were allowed to eat as part of the service. The adults got to drink wine, but Linda and I only had grape juice. That tiny bit of food and drink made me even hungrier.
The wait was sheer torture.
This night, however, was different. My cousin Ron, a dozen years older than me, was already in college, at the University of Texas in Austin. This Passover, he brought his new girlfriend home with him. Now, this was something completely, fascinatingly new, and a powerful reason to stay awake. I spent the evening surreptitiously studying her, trying to decipher the meaning of the looks she and Ron kept giving each other. After the seder mercifully ended, they excused themselves and left the house.
I decided to follow, and Linda came with me. We had to be careful. The moon was bright, but if we kept to the bushes and walked quietly we could see what the two of them were up to. We followed for several blocks, always keeping to the shadows, as they walked hand in hand down the street. Finally, they stopped, and whispered quietly to each other. Linda and I hid behind a tree.
Then, shockingly, they kissed. Linda and I couldn’t believe it. They KISSED! Right on the lips, like they were married, or something.
We couldn’t help it. We tried to keep quiet, but both of us burst out giggling. Linda covered her mouth with both hands and managed to suppress it. I tried to stop and ended up snorting a big wad of snot out of my nose. Linda thought that was hysterical, and started laughing all over again.
They must have heard us, but they acted like they didn’t. They turned around and walked slowly back to Grandma’s house, their arms around each other’s waists.
Linda and I ran back in a hurry and went inside before they got back. We parked ourselves innocently on the couch and pretended we’d been there the entire time.
Except that we couldn’t stop looking at each other and giggling.
Mom came into the room to see what the fuss was about. What’s going on with you two? She stared at us accusingly. Did we help ourselves to some of the Passover wine while she wasn’t looking? Are we drunk?
That made us laugh even harder. I pretended to give my sister a big smooch, making loud kissy noises. She almost fell off the couch she was laughing so hard.
Yes, Mom, we’re drunk.