On this holy week of all holy weeks I get chocolate by Joseph Schmidt (via the Easter bunny). I wonder anew at the strangely grammatical phrasing -- “He is risen.” I’m lucky enough to be invited, one more time, to a Passover Seder.
Last year I flew to Scottsdale to be with my Uncle Harry and my cousins Maggie and Andy, who made from scratch the chicken soup, the matzo balls, the gefilte fish, the flan for dessert. Everything but the matzo.
It would be the last supper -- make that the last Seder -- for Harry, a bon vivant, the last of a generation of sportsmen, kibitzers and wags and, at 89 when he passed on, my mother’s baby brother.
He was a dapper dresser, my Uncle Harry, preferring custom-made clothes by Eldon Genrous, a tailor in Birmingham, Mich. The suits included his trademark ticket pocket, 15-inch side vents, a pocket square scrunched into the pocket and a vest. He loved wearing argyle socks with plaid pants, an ascot on Sunday and a tweed cap.
He liked a good brisket, which on our last Seder together, my cousins cooked to perfection.
And while my uncle did lead us, albeit briefly, through the Seder service, we could stop for a few yuks too, long enough to quote from humorist Michael Rubiner, whose opening prayer goes like this: “Thanks, God, for creating wine (Drink wine). Thanks for creating produce (Eat parsley)”; long enough to ponder Rubiner’s seasonal Haiku: “On Passover we/Opened door for Elijah/Now our cat is gone.”
This year I traveled out to Grimball Point for a ritual gathering and more good food. Nothing shabby about that, either. I did not read the Four Questions at the Seder. (I’d explain what they were if I could; all I really know is they’re read at every Seder). The reading is reserved for the youngest child at the table. But this religious season, I have my own questions.
Why, dear God, do we eat so much brisket?
Why do we have so many different religions when they all seem to say the same thing?
Why do people still believe President Bush?
Finally, dear God, and this is my main question, why do I have to have the biggest, most fruitful, most luxuriant loquat tree in an eight-block radius? I don’t even like the fruit. Too tart. Too much work getting out the seeds.
Too bad. Everyone else born in Savannah loves the tree. It’s part of their DNA code. Rich or poor. Black or white.
The crowds start early. At first, holding bowls, buckets, plastic bags, the kids, sent by their mothers, knock on my door and ask, ever so politely, if they can pick the plums, the Japanese plums.
Yes, but don’t you want to wait until they’re more orange, more ripe, I ask, hoping to avert the inevitable. No. They have their marching orders.They like them sour. They like them tangy. They like them any way they can get them.
In days, the word gets out and the situation, once orderly, once civil and well-mannered, grows chaotic. They shake, probe, bend, curve the limbs. Be careful standing on that bucket! Don’t fall!
When I drive home from the Seder, hands full of leftovers, the full moon beaming from above, the dogs are barking up a storm at the noise. I’m nervous. I wonder about liability. The next day I call my insurance agent.
In the morning, when calm has returned, I pick up wrappers from Little Debbie’s cake donut, Wise cheez doodles, Cool Ranch doritos and York peppermint pattie. I fantasize about a number system. “S-23,” I announce, my voice booming over a loud speaker, as if I were at a bingo hall. “Come and get it. She left? Back of the line! Next number.”
It’s an amazing year for loquats. Trees that have never bloomed or set fruit before are filled with the little jewels.
Same with the appealing and very toxic castor bean tree. It never died back this winter. Usually I collect its mottled, swollen seed (the Latin - Ricinus - means engorged dog tick) to replant. This year I didn’t need to.
Same with banana trees. One friend said his tree, which never died back, is full of bananas. In April!
Someone else, who conducts kayak tours at Tybee Island, said she was paddling along the Back River when someone asked about banana trees.
“Nah,” she said definitively. “They grow here. But they never produce.”
Minutes later she takes her paddlers past a tree with several hands of bananas, dangling down, their red flowers turning back to reveal the fruit.
“Go ahead,” she said to the tree. “Make me a liar.”
A holy week. A powerful month. A strange year. Thanks, God. (Shake loquat tree.)
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