A memory of Passover

Family Matters

April 04, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff

It was crowded in my parents' Northwest Baltimore dining room on the first night of Passover.

My two older sisters, with their husbands and children, were together at home with my parents and me that night in the late 1950s.

I squeezed in near my mother's end of the table, my back against the breakfront, facing Gischa, the oldest sister.

This is supposed to be a solemn holiday dinner marking the hardships of the ancient Jews in Egypt and their escape from slavery, and the pre-dinner service featured lengthy prayer readings.

But Gischa and my other sister, Jo-Ann, were enjoying themselves, giggling quietly together like young girls, as they observed family members' personality quirks and foibles on display in such a large gathering.

The main object of their mirth -- our father, Israel "Kit" Carson -- sat at the head of the table, yarmulke perched awkwardly on his shiny pate, as he tried valiantly to achieve the solemnity he was trained to believe the occasion observed.

Dad was trying -- trying very hard, which appeared to add to his problem.

He held the prayer book uncomfortably, his mouth set somewhere between determination and resignation, and haltingly he said the prayers.

First the unfamiliar Hebrew, then English. Then the inevitable confusion over who was supposed to read the next passage.

"Kit, why don't we just skip over to ..." Mother began. I squirmed and struggled with demon hunger growling in my adolescent stomach.

"Mary, it's only a few more pages. God sakes! It's only once a year. We're supposed to read through all of it," Dad replied.

On and on, from the 10 plagues to the pharaoh's cruel edict that the Jews make bricks without straw.

The roast-beef aroma drifted in from the kitchen, and even the dish of bitter herbs on the ceremonial plate began to look good.

Our bodies added to the already extraordinary warmth from the kitchen and the furnace below.

"Baruch, atah, Adonai, boy, it's hot in here," Dad said in a continuing monotone -- and all in one breath.

The rest of us, trying hard to be serious, were lost.

The laughter spread from my sisters, roaring at the incongruity of his words, to me, and finally even to Mother.

Dad looked up, surprised and bewildered, and laughed with us at himself. Then, he went on, not really sure what it was all about.

My parents are gone now, the family has scattered across the country, and my dad's sense of religious duty lives on only with my sisters, but his gentle spirit and his love for us is still strong within me.

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