Calvin called me bright and early this morning.
“I heard you’re going on an airplane this weekend.”
“Yeah. We are. Why?”
“Are you going someplace fun? Can I live vicariously through you?”
“No and no. We’re going to St. Louis to spend Passover with WineGuy’s family. It will be a weekend spent in too close quarters with too much family doing too little.”
“You should go away someplace fun so I can live vicariously through you!” I think she and her family will go over to the Miami to see the Marlins play this weekend.
I can tell you about my trip to St. Louis right now. We go every year to spend the Passover seders with WG’s sister, the Prodigal Daughter, and her family. She’s married to an MIT grad with a Ph.D. in biology. He’s a brilliant, nice guy, but not Jewish. Let’s call him the Prodigal Shaygitz (Yiddish slang for “non-Jewish man”). PD is my in-laws’ only daughter, and she’s perfect in every way. I do like her, but let’s just leave it there. PD and PS have two perfect children, Niece SB and Nephew B. They are brilliant and talented and way past all those “above average” children in Garrison Keillor’s Lake Woebegone. Niece SB, if she’s not studying, practicing cello or playing volleyball with her team, will entertain Moose for the weekend; otherwise, Wild Thing and Moose will play together constantly until they drive everyone bat-shit. Nephew B, a/k/a The Prodigal Grandson, is brilliant but nasty, spoiled, picky and prone to tantrums. My SIL and BIL gave in to him one too many times and created a monster. He’s selfish, doesn’t share, bossy, and a typical baby of the family. He is 7 months younger than Wizard but emotionally seems 2 years younger. Nephew B and Wizard will get along for an hour, playing Wii or Guitar Hero in the basement, and then Wizard will come upstairs complaining that B is hogging the game.
My in-laws, despite their comfortable station in life, will be staying with the Prodigals. On a sleep-sofa. In the basement. The Prodigals always wanted us to stay with them, too, but WG and I refused. I don’t sleep in basements, thankyouverymuch. The day I can’t afford to stay in a hotel or motel will be the day I stop traveling. No, the entire Zone family will stay together in a 1-room suite at a nearby hotel. That will be tolerable only because we do it all the time. Very soon, Wizard will be too big to get away with that ruse.
Passover is about freedom and food. The holiday celebrates the Jews’ gaining their freedom from Pharoah and their exodus from Egypt. The Passover seder is a festival meal, celebrated in a specific order with a specific book (hagaddah). Traditional foods are served at the seder. In Ashkenazic Jewish homes, you’ll often find matzah ball soup, gefilte fish, brisket or roast chicken, fruit and vegetable kugels, and lots and lots of matzah. What is all this stuff?
- Matzah ball soup is chicken stock, occasionally with cooked carrots and celery, in which float dumplings made of matzah meal, eggs, and oil. In The Zone, matzah balls are meant to be light and fluffy. In the WineGuy Family, including The Prodigals, matzah balls are “sinkers”: leaden blobs destined to obstruct your colon. One year, PD thought it would be clever to make my famous Peanut Soup, usually a Thanksgiving favorite, kosher for Passover. It was disgusting. 😦
- Gefilte fish are like quenelles: patties or balls of ground whitefish and carp, that are usually poached. You either like gefilte fish or you hate it, kind of like lima beans. We like it; we’re used to it.
- Brisket is actually a cut of meat from the breast or lower chest of a cow or calf. It is a tough piece of meat and must be cooked low and slow for many hours. Despite PD being an excellent baker, she doesn’t make the brisket she serves. My MIL makes it, freezes it, and transports it to St. Louis, where it is reheated and served. Dried-out, tasteless, shoe leather. My brisket, OTOH, is outstanding. Even my father, who hated brisket, ate it.
- Kugels for Passover are made with matzah or matzah farfel (bits of matzah) combined with vegetables to become savory or fruits to become sweet. PD does a pretty good job with these.
- Matzah is a cracker made from specially prepared wheat and water. The wheat is not allowed to ferment at all. Why? Because when the Jews fled Egypt, there was no time for their bread to rise. So, during the eight days of Passover, observant Jews eat nothing made with leavening, no grains, no legumes or corn. Just matzah. All the time.
The one other thing which PD insists on making every year is “crap”. No, not poo. Some kind of Lithuanian beet candy which WG’s late Nana made (and they all loved). Instead of some hard and sweet confection, PD’s beet candy comes out more like hard jello. So she serves it over sponge cake — another Passover regular because it is not made with flour — pretty purple goo over dry, white cake. Over which my MIL and FIL will fawn incessantly.
My husband will complain bitterly to me about his sister’s cooking, and I will be quiet. He will become frustrated over his parents’ lethargy and unwillingness to participate, and I will be quiet. My kids will fidget and act up, and I will deal with them because this is my husband’s time to spend with his family. Then, I will come home and try to block this trip out of my mind for another year.
I haven’t spent Passover with The Alto2 Family in over a decade. My brothers leave their planning until the last minute. The Zone lived and lives far away from my brothers, so traveling was and is required. The thing is, we make our travel plans months in advance. My brothers make their Passover plans 4 weeks in advance, if they’re really on the ball, otherwise, it might only be 2 weeks. I miss my family at Passover. I hate spending Passover with WineGuy’s family.
Dear G-d, the phone just rang. It was WG’s brother in Fort Lauderdale (NiceGuy) asking if he can bring his son, Nephew Al (age 15), to The Zone tomorrow to catch a ride to the airport. Huh? Apparently, NiceGuy, who is perpetually broke, just decided to send his kid to spend Passover with the rest of the family. The cheapest flight he found was the one we’re taking from Fort Myers tomorrow night. NiceGuy expected I would meet him halfway, somewhere in the middle of Alligator Alley. Forget it. Now the dumbass is driving 2 hours over here tomorrow to drop off his kid and then 2 hours back home. Meanwhile, that’s one more person and more luggage to deal with. The car I’m renting in St. Louis will never hold 6 people and their luggage. Either WG tells his sister to pick up the nephew at the airport or he tells his brother to pay the difference for the larger car I’ll have to rent. Dumb. Ass.
Meet me in St. Louis and save me from the torture.