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Life Notes: Generation to Generation
The natural changes of life’s special moments

Noise. Confusion. Chaos. My very first Passover images are smudged now with the imprint of decades, but vivid still.

My mother and her sisters are jammed into the kitchen of Grandmom Goldberg’s tiny house arguing, laughing, carrying strange foods to a table set with Grandmom’s fraying lace tablecloth. My sister and I pull at the unraveling threads of that cloth as the grown-ups say prayers we don’t understand and let us drink sips of the sweet, sweet wine. But we know instinctively that this holiday is very special.

Years later, we are primping. Fussing over hair and clothes, and arguing about what constitutes “proper attire,” according to my mother’s definition. I am in those turbulent pre-teen/teen years, and the family Seder has been moved to the home of an aunt in a newly developed neighborhood whose name my grandmother couldn’t pronounce.

I am struck by the rituals, the sense that this early spring celebration is so much more than just religious.

But soon, Grandmom Goldberg and her sweet, silent husband Joseph disappear from the table. So, too, do my paternal grandparents.

And not even the deepest teenage angst and rebellion can keep the family Seder from being an annual milestone for me, a marvelously relentless marker of time and history. In their absence, as it turns out, my grandparents are more present than ever.

Years rush by, and suddenly, there is a new face at the Seder table. My bridegroom now sits by my side at his new in-laws’ home. My mother fusses over him, and my father delights in having a lawyer like himself available for heavy-duty conversations. Theirs is a Passover match made in heaven.

Two years later, a baby with blonde curls and her grandfather’s steely blue eyes is at a high chair at the table. There is a new star attraction this Passover, and she milks it for all it’s worth. Her sisters, who come along in two-year intervals, eventually do the same.

And then although we don’t know it, along comes the year that is our last Seder with my father at the table. His death stuns us, diminishes us and reminds us that every Seder is uniquely precious.

Soon, the table at what is now just my mother’s house is stretched to its absolute limits. During those years, each of our daughters gets her chance to do The Four Questions, a Passover ritual, for the first time. I will forever hear the sound of those little voices reaching for those first elusive notes.

And then, the inevitable shift.

Now I’m not the one dashing about to collect the wildly diverse ingredients for a Passover menu. For over two decades, I’ve hosted Passover, doing the endless shopping, chopping and cooking. For years, my silver-haired husband had led the Seder.

But this year will be markedly different. Passover will be celebrated this year in a daughter’s house. The mantle has been passed to Nancy, and the table will be set at her quirky old house in Montclair. “You’ve done it long enough,” our daughters insisted in a way that let us know the shift was a done deal. Their father and I felt the momentousness of the moment – but didn’t argue. Yes, things change. The circle shrinks – and grows. The dance of the generations whirls on.

Parents who can’t imagine where the years went yield to adult children who now begin the role reversal: they lead, we follow. And at Passover, the past lives in the present and embraces the future. It’s time for change. And change waits for no mother.

April 2014
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