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Category: old friends

when the gentlest, dearest sounds of your day are gone

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some days when i write, it feels like i need a crane to hoist my heart out of the deep-down depths, to vault to the heights where the words deserve to be. this is one of those days….

it’s been five days now. five days without the sound of his front right paw rubbing against the back-door glass, when every morning at dawn, his shadow etched against the fading darkness of night, he’d be waiting for me, waiting for me to let him back in, our night-prowling cat, to let him get back to the business of roaming this creaky old house as if it all belonged to him, his acreage to do as he pleased, to rustle under the covers here, to climb into the laundry basket, the shopping bag, the shoe box we accidentally forgot to put away. to plop himself squarely onto whatever book or newspaper we were reading, whatever keyboard upon which we were trying to type, shoving aside all distraction with his furry insistence, as if to say, forget that, pay attention to me.

it’s been five days since i’ve heard the faintest trot-trot-trot of his little cat paws, descending the stairs, coming round the bend to where he knew he’d find me, letting out one of his signature meows, the ones we’d learned to read as if particular declarations, and so we’d do as he ordered every time: feed him, scoop him into our arms, open the door to let him out into the garden he guarded so well and so long.

tiger boy and his tiger cat

tiger boy and his tiger cat

it’s been five days since we’ve heard the lap-lap-lapping of his tiny sandpaper tongue, scooping up the droplets of cream with which we indulged him (or, truth be told, the water from the bowl of the toilet he considered his own private pond). and it’s been five days since i’ve heard the sound of his four-pawed leap to the hardwood floor from the very high bed of the boy who’s never known a day without him, the old striped cat, the cat who came from the farm, the cat with more adventures than a conquistador or even huck finn. the cat we called “turkey” for short, the cat whose very long name — turkey baby-meow-meow-choo-choo-hi-cat-bye-cat — won him a contest just this year at a faraway vet school, where the vet students (one of whom used to work at our long-ago animal hospital) were asked to submit the best pet name they’d ever heard — well, sadly, finally, after nearly 19 years, our sweet little cat is no longer.

turkey baby meow-meow etcetera lay down and died on pi day, monday, the 14th of march, 03.14.16. curled up in a ball, face turned to the stars, he quietly softly slipped away, a dignified death for a most dignified fellow.

and it’s the absence of sound — those soft, barely-perceptible sounds, the ones that beg your keenest attention — that is so deafening, that amplifies the ache in all our chests, that defines — at least in small measure — the volume of the hollowed-out hole in each of our hearts.

in the blur that this week has been, here’s what happened: sunday afternoon i found out my dear, dear friend had died, and because i’d been asked to write her obituary, i slipped into that writing zone where i lost focus on nearly everything that wasn’t the words i needed to type to tell the world who she was. i do remember that later that night i scooped up the cat as he meowed at the bottom of the very steep stairs, and i carried him up to the bed of the boy doing homework beside the bedside lamp. as i walked in the room, the boy scooted over, away from the light, clearing a space on the sheets and the pillow. i asked what he was doing, and he matter-of-factly told me, “oh, that’s the side that turkey likes, so i’m getting out of his way.” when i countered that, actually, he — the boy with the hours of homework — was the one who needed the lamplight, he shrugged it off, said, “nope, turkey gets the side he wants.”

that’s the last that anyone remembers.

and then, monday, not long after dinner, when i bent down to scoop up my backpack, to head out the door to drive a carpool to soccer, i eyed the little cat bowl still piled with bits of the food that he crunched whenever he needed a nibble. and that’s when it hit me: i hadn’t seen him all day, or at least i suddenly didn’t think i had, though i couldn’t clearly remember. delaying carpool departure, i zipped through the house, spot-checking each of his usual places, an itinerary i knew by heart: atop the sleeping bag in one bedroom closet, under the bed blankets in the other boy’s bedroom, curled on the heated bathroom floor, snuggled on the bean bag by the back door from which he surveyed his lair. one by one, the spots came up blank. our cat was not in the house. so we took to the alleys, combed them up and down, back and forth till close to midnight. (i managed to squeeze in my carpool duties, worried the whole way, resumed my search with headlights on high beam once back home.)

and then, the next morning, in an early morning volley of email about wholly other matters, i mentioned to my across-the-street guardian angel of a neighbor that “on top of everything, we can’t find turkey.” and that’s when she shot back the news that felt surely heaven-sent: that reminded her, she wrote, that a friend of hers had mentioned seeing a cat who looked sick the day before, and it was somewhere down our very block. i had hardly finished sweeping my eyes across the words when i was out of my seat, and halfway across the room to the old tin bucket where we kept the cat’s mud towel, the one we’ve used a hundred thousand times to wipe off the rain or the snow or the puddles of goop he padded through, on his way to the door where he waited, always waited.

i ran out the door, and down the sidewalk, eyes trained on the distance, murmuring — almost a prayer — no, no, no! and then the lump i’d passed the night before, the lump that in the dark had appeared to be a pile of leaves, it wasn’t leaves in the early morning light; it was dear sweet turkey, curled in a little cat comma, his paw up and over his eyes, his face pointed up toward the half-moon, still fading against the early morning’s soft sunrise.

a whole 18.5 years after he trotted into our lives, he was gone. i wrapped him, and carried him home. my arms shook the whole way. we all huddled in the front hall, at the foot of the steps, and we cried. the little one’s knees went out, as he crumpled onto the stairs, and his face contorted in grief.

not one of us didn’t cry, and cry hard.

and just like that this old house is missing some of its most essential sounds. and surely an immeasurable chunk of its heart.

i heard the boys shouldering each other’s heartache. i heard one say to the other, “he was like our third brother.” they both said, in unison, as i carried him, stiff, into the house, “he was my best friend.” a cat can do that — a cat can be so loyal, so loving, so there when you need him, everyone thinks he or she is his favorite. DSCF6964

the older one, the one who rode out to the farm with me back in october of 1997, back when we were convinced there’d never be another babe in the family, he’s been around for every one of ol’ turk’s big adventures: the time he got stuck in the drug-dealer’s den just down the alley; the time he leapt and then tumbled from the third-floor skylight, and lived to tell about it, staggering along the gangway, dizzied but unharmed except for a droplet of blood that dribbled down his little cat chin; the time he was missing in action for six unbearable days, and then, minutes before the very-sad firstborn was supposed to shuffle off to his very first day of kindergarten, that old cat came bounding up the back steps like he was the hero in a hollywood western, the sheriff who rides to the crest of the hill, bringing on the cavalry, just in time to kill the villain, just before the credits roll and the sun sets on the five-hanky movie.

the little one — only 14 to turkey’s 18 years, six months and 21 days — he had never known a day without that old cat. when we moved to cambridge, mass., for a year, the little one said he was happy to tag along, but he had one non-negotiable caveat: “i’m not going unless turkey comes too.” and so, we tucked that old cat in a nifty little carrier, slid him under the airplane seat, and made him an apartment cat for one (rather miserable, far as he was concerned) year of his long and storied life.

so here we are: bereft beyond words. the reminders are tucked in a thousand places — the cat toy peeking out from the basket, the stacks of cat-food cans on the shelves of the pantry, the old navy bean bag still streaked with clumps of his fur. bit by slow bit, i’ve been subtracting, cleaning the shelf of the cat food, washing out his bowls one last time. i’m trying to think of these awful days as lessons in grief, and the insolubility of death. no matter how hard you wish, you can’t bring back the pit-a-pat paw sounds. can’t muster his face, with the ears perked just so, there at the glass still streaked with his mud prints.

it’s the valley of mirage and phantom echo, the raw and early hours of grief, as you imagine, make-believe — for an instant — you’ve just caught a glimpse, or just heard the sound.

it’s deafening. and deadening.

and i know that time, the sacred balm of all of life’s deepest heartaches, i know time will bring healing. i know the day will come when the thought of that old cat won’t sting quite so piercingly, the way it does now.

and so, for the second time this week, i am writing an obituary. and while the loss of a most blessed friend and the loss of a furry one are in no way comparable, i’ve realized this week that death is death. and “little deaths,” too, loom large, and they hurt sometimes in ways that riddle each hour with excruciating moments of missing.

and, yes, it’s only a cat, but a cat over time, a cat you’ve known and nuzzled and loved across the arc of your entire childhood — across the days when no one else understood your sorrows, and no one else curled across your chest, or slipped warm against your pjs quite the way your cat did — it makes it achingly hard to catch your breath, to steady your knees, to find your way forward without him.

our garden will be so empty this spring. the whole landscape is so empty right now. and it will take a good dose of time till we’re breathing deeply again.

i was thinking i’d write an “ode to one exemplary cat,” but for now i might simply point you toward posts from the past: in chronological order (he’s been a recurring character here at the chair over the years) the hunter (2007); starting the goodbye (2010); when the cat comes limping home (2011); and “will he make it home?” (2013).

if you’ve a furry or a feathered or a slippery or a hard-shelled friend, give him or her an extra squeeze today. and listen close to those sounds that animate your day. the silence will break your heart when those blessed little friends are no longer…..

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dear turk, we loved you dearly. as sweet will said when he kissed you goodbye, “thank you.” thank you so very very much. xoxox happy hunting wherever you are. love, all of us.

and to louisey who insisted we needed the little striped farm kitten so willie wouldn’t grow up alone, and to dr. jane whom we adored and who tried to convince us a roaming cat wasn’t such a good idea in the bustling big city but fixed him every time he got into a fix, and to all the friends who’ve loved him, and not minded — alicia! — when he ambled in your back door, and made himself quite at home, despite your trembling fear of all things furry, thank you and thank you for ever and ever amen.

cooking for company

i’ll be humming today. most of the day. for i have one main mission: i’m cooking for company.

oh, no one’s ringing the bell till tomorrow night. and when the bell rings it will be old, dear friends. friends we grew up with, all of us with jewish-catholic kids, all of us finding our way. among the crowd will be the woman who took my breath away long, long ago, when we sat down to a table at the very first meeting of our little interfaith school, and she looked up and down both sides of that table and announced: “we’re here, because one or both of you (among the pairs learning their way in the raising of jewish and catholic children) is passionate about your religion.” a finer reason to be at a table, i’d not encountered, not lately.

that particular woman, and her particular husband, rose to hero status in my mind, when one rosh hashanah we sat down at their table, a whole ring of good souls seated there, and the doorbell rang. and a disheveled but beautiful woman stepped into the room. her name was “lovie,” and she was homeless. but she knew, because she’d been ushered in so many times, that if she climbed the steps of the front stoop on berwyn avenue, she would always find a place at the table, and endless plates of food. but more than that, she would find the richest, most curious company.

no wonder i call this crowd my lights along the way.

our children are grown now, the ones who together reached for the crayons and drew pictures of God, the ones who traced the histories of judaism and catholicism. who read the stories of clashes and wars and injustice, sometimes, heartbreakingly sadly, under the banner of God.

each one of the couples who will come to my table tomorrow, we’ve all just deposited a child — or in one case, three children — far away at a college — or colleges, in the case of the triplets. where the growing goes on, far far away from all of us.

and because i love each and every one of these someones, i am cooking my heart out.

for a minute or two, i considered ordering in. calling up the middle eastern place with the fabulous kifta and shawarma and baba ganoush, reeling off my plea for oversized aluminum pans filled to the brim with deliciousness.

but i changed my mind.

these are great good souls i want to cook for. i want to chop and stir and saute. i want to hear the red wine glugging into the pot. want to hear the chicken sizzle when it hits the olive oil, the garlic.

i want the house to fill with the savory song of coq au vin cooking.

i want to put a bit of my heart in that pot. i want to have labored.

because, call me crazy, i think you can taste it.

i think when you cook for company, when you cook for people you love, it always comes out in the broth, in the essence. could that be the reason we sometimes lick plates?

it’s the same with setting a table. it’s as if you wedge open a space in your heart. you lay down forks and butter knives and old chipped china with a mix of charm and occasion. you lay down layers of story: those plates found in the cupboard when you moved into the house you bought from the two guys who took the time to find out you loved blue, and figured you were a wiser option than the resale store, where those old willow plates would have been headed had you not fallen in love, with the house, yes, but, too, with the guys who were selling it.

it’s why i’ll be out in the chilly cold garden today, clippers in hand, bringing in heads of hydrangea and rosehips to tuck in a vase, to make it all beautiful. layers of beauty, i’ve found, gild conversation. make words sparkle. stories tumble and spill, like jewels from a bag.

it’s all part of the alchemy, the gift and the joy of inviting in company. of taking the time to clear out a date, to anticipate, to imagine the words and the faces crowded there in the kitchen.

there is nothing i love quite so much as a crowd in my kitchen. i love the snippets of words, of one someone’s story mixed with another’s. sometimes, i step off to the side. i soak it all in. i memorize the moment.

and then, when everyone’s deeply absorbed, i might lift the lid on my old red dutch oven. the hint of the wine and the garlic will rise.

deep down, someone might notice, might realize, might get it: she cooked for the whole of us. she didn’t take short cuts.

in a world of instant and virtual, she did the real thing. she cooked from her heart. she pulled out a table of beautiful somethings.

she set the stage. and company came.

xoxo from my house to yours. what’s your go-to company recipe? and what fuss do you make in setting the stage? i am utterly taken by the fine art of hospitality, of those good-hearted, generous souls who understand the magic of gathering company and making it last long after the last of the sparkling cleaned dishes is tucked back on the shelf. spill your dinner party secrets and stories, if you please….

talking till the wee, wee hours

i’m thinking slumber parties for grownups are the next big swell idea. or, at least they should be, if we give a dang for the continued tick-tock-tick of that ol’ vessel keepin’ time, just beneath our jammies and our frayed and flannel robes.

oh, i don’t mean yakkin’ the night away with whoever it is you’re shacked up with. that’s all well and good (although there are the toothpaste blobs in the sink to contend with, and company seems to know to refrain from that. or at least wipe ’em down with a wad of toilet paper). in fact, some nights when i find me and the tall-guy-with-glasses laughing ourselves silly at 2 in the morning, i really do think marriage–on a good day–is like your mom telling you your best friend can have a sleepover all summer long. and then, poof, the summer never ends.

what i’m talkin’ here–sorry, boys, you can go play all-night poker, or whatever it is that would float your so-called boat–i’m talkin’ havin’ your best girl friends, one at a time is how i like it best, come knockin’ at your door, with jammies, mouthguard, heck, even pimple cream tucked in some little over-the-shoulder satchel.

i’m talkin’ curling up on the couch, armed with bowls of popcorn to punctuate the most important points–you can bite it hard and loud, if you need to, or let it linger on your lips, for effect; it really is the perfect conversational accessory, salted, greased or plain old plain.

i’m talkin’ whispers when the rest of the house is filled with zzzzzzs. i’m talkin’ getting past the ancillary business and boring straight inside the heart.

i’m talkin’ saying things you can’t say out loud to barely any other soul on earth. but you can when you’re with a best friend, because she knows it all already. and she can fill in blanks no one else would every guess.

what makes me think all this is i had a slumber party just the other night.

one of my oldest, dearest, wisest friends was in town from california. she stretched her trip just to spend two nights, one day, with me and my boys. once again, i was humming as i readied her room, blew up the air mattress, put out a little vase of white tea roses in winter, laid yummy soaps and lotions on her tall stack of fluffy towels. i even plunked a toblerone chocolate on her pillow. there is nothin’ like spoiling your best friends.

the first night, after fish soup and black cherry pie, we stayed up for hours, accompanied by the boy i call the manchild. he adores her too. she is pretty much his auntie to the world. she knows more about everything than most anyone i know. she’s hip. she’s cool. she wears her hair in dreadlocks (not a lot of which you see around this leafy shore). and she’s the one who taught him how to take whatever’s in the fridge, add rice, one egg, and call it “ghetto fried rice.” a dish he could eat five times a day, swooning every time.

oh, and besides, she went to the school he’s set his sights on, so he had hours’ worth of questions. right down to subway stops, and profs.

that night, as you might figure, it was all PG, content approved for family audience. (with just a few racy winks and nods, perhaps, since after all, he’s a manchild now, and she was easing him into the club.)

the next night, though, once home from a rousing dinner with old newsroom pals, we paid no mind to the clock telling us–in no uncertain terms–that anyone with sense would be in bed, tucked beneath the puffy covers.

nope. we were two old, old friends who’d had to keep the lid on all the really pressing stuff the night before. so this night, we were all but yankin’ that old clock right off the wall. it ticked, we talked. ignored its insistent gongs, every quarter hour, like a toddler tugging on our sleeve.

we got down to business. we got down to girl talk–and i’ll not spell that out. you’re either of the double-Xs (i’m talkin’ DNA, not ratings, here), and you know of which i speak. or else you’re not, and forgive our exclusionary ways this one time, but there’s no translator in the house.

here, though, are some hints: dreams, drama, heartache; repeat, repeat. how’s that for what it was us girls were digging into, besides the mound of exploded kernels that stoked our late-night talking binge?

oh, yes, there was something to the sleepiness that crept in, as that ol’ clock kept burping up its teeny-tiny numbers. not unlike wine, it made the room all gauzy, almost blurred. i was bleary-eyed, all right, but that only oiled, loosed, the conversation.

like a stream that rushes, sends its waters down and in, rinsing ’round the rocks, bathing every crevice, that late-night hour propelled the words, the thoughts, down deep to all the nooks and crannies of our souls.

we went to places the daylight does not allow. only the long blank slate of night, with dawn the only end in sight, still miles out beyond the eastern sky.

in fact, at one brief synapse, when some wayward thought was trying to take the leap from nerve to nerve, i did think, oh heck, let’s just go all night. let’s watch that rosy-fingered dawn reach out and try to tap us on the noggin.

but at last, when every chamber of our hearts had been unlocked, laid bare, when eyelids were truly slipping, and yawns distorting words, we succumbed.

we did what grownups do: we got off the couch, and sensibly climbed the stairs (if 2:30, maybe 3, has any sense at all, what with a whole sunday just ahead).

we kissed goodnight, for that’s what best friends do.

and then we dreamed. of the next night when we’d unspool our hearts and souls, join hands and sail to places that can only be discovered when it’s dark and quiet and you pay no mind to midnight chimes on busy-body clocks.

have you had a slumber party lately? with your oldest bestest friend? or with, perhaps, the ones who shared your dorm, or house, in college? or, maybe, you lucky duck, you have a sister who brings her jammies for the night…
to mix it up here, do you ever think of being married as the longest lasting slumber party in the world? oh, one other thing, i hated slumber parties as a kid. hated the way it made me feel the morning after. hated being the only one who wanted sleep, and didn’t like to get in trouble, despised the scary movies. did you like ‘em? or were you, like me, more inclined toward the one-on-one, more tame, sleepover?

being e. bunn

when i signed up for this being-a-mama thing, there are many points i failed to adequately ponder.

(we’ll not dive, not today anyway, into some of those matters that i might wisely have run through the almighty thinker, that mass of cells between my ears, that might better have equipped me for this madre job. we’ll leave that for a less auspicious day. this, after all, is countdown week for judy garland belting song of easter bonnet and said parade.)

certainly, in days b.c. (before child, that would be), i never grasped the charm, the pure delight, of packing joy, delivering it, complete with jelly beans, in a straw-braided basket. the easter basket, of course.

the santa thing, i might have given thought. you know, some winter’s afternoon, as a pouty post-believing child, flung (with requisite drama) upon my bed, legs cocked at the knees and crossed, kicking foot up in the air. thinking: when i grow, i’m going to be one heck of a santa. i’ll not forget the china teaset, the one with tiny painted flowers.

but easter? who spent much time considering the occupational upside of mr. e. bunn, esq.?

the basket, while i do recall a spectacular sponge paint set when i was 5, was, in the house where i grew up, more pure sugar rush, ten grubby little hands racing to the pink-and-purple plastic baskets, inhaling beans, then dashing off to rest of resurrected morning.

i failed to grasp the paschal possibility.

i would say i rather stumbled into the rabbit hole, into the unexpected magic of tiptoeing through the night, leaving trail of cut-out bunny feets, and hiding the basket of just-hatched tenderness in a place that, come morning, little feets would have to find.

there is something, something far beyond charming, about slipping inside these make-believe, oversized, dispatchers of joy, be it the one with wiggly tail or the chap with jiggly belly.

there is something that almost takes your breath away when you realize, poof, you’re all grown up, and you now are the one who, with your brush of many hues, shades and colors the someday stories, the memories, of what it was to grow up in the house where you preside.

it’s up to you, you realize, you who tucks tenderness in a basket, to tenderize the hearts of those who traipse through the land where children romp. at least in your house.

but, indeed, i have discovered, and now, myself, i practically jiggle with the wonder that it brings, that nowadays i get to pack the baskets for those little sparkling eyes, the ones that, certainly, will be up and out from under covers, rubbing, shouting some early-morning merriment, as they stumble down the stairs and round the bend, ultra-sonic easter radar leading them without wrong turn straight to where the sugar, in several forms, awaits.

before we get too far on that sugar thought, let me toss this sad disclaimer, admit this thing that might make you sigh a sigh; say, phew, thank heaven i wasn’t born to that ol’ mama. here’s the sorry truth: i don’t do unending sugar at easter. it’s not about sugar in this house.

it’s about something far, far sweeter.

and that, i think, is why i love it so.

i have a someone, a sandra sweetpea, who taught me how to do easter. instructed me in easter basket 101. like many things she taught me, she hasn’t a clue, really, how deep the lessons she imparted. there was no hand-out. no quiz, or chapter review.

instead there was a little shop, a shop called sweetpea, a shop of natural toys and classic books, a shop where imagination unlocked the door and set the stories spinning. sandra was the shopkeeper. and if you studied the way she gathered things, the tender, earth-spun beauty she gathered in her shop, in baskets, on antique bookshelves, tucked in woodland scenes that you swore the fairies might have visited, then you learned a thing or ten about quietly offering a whole other sort of being a child.

being a child–or a mama or a papa or a someone with child heart–who listens to the rhythms of the season, who understands the gift in playing richly with simple child’s toys, who breathes in the magic of a beautifully spun storybook.

it was like a refuge and a respite from the worldly, that little shop on southport in chicago. i’d pull back the door, a bell would tinkle, and then, surely, sandra would appear from behind a curtain, all sparkling eye and wisdom. quietly, without words sometimes, she’d lead me by the hand to something full of beauty. she would laugh her marvelous grown-up-little-girl laugh, and i would see the magic. then she might spend a minute telling me about the marvelous soul who tromped the woods, carved the elfin house, spun the wool, dyed the cloth from flower petals or vegetable scrapings. i would stand there, spell-bound.

my children’s toy chests were never stuffed. but they were rich in things–an elf’s tree house, rows of books, simple blocks–that will last forever.

and so it was sandra who taught me easter baskets, too. to go to sweetpea for easter, my pilgrimage each holy week, was to come home with a finger-sized bunny so sweet i’d want to carry him to bed with me (or feed him itsy-bitsy carrots). a book or two, the pages splashed with springtime colors. some little pack of seeds, forget-me-not, or carrot. just enough to whisper, the earth is waking up from winter’s slumber. all life is new, rejoice.

and so it was the other day that i wandered back to where sandra now presides. the sweden shop, it’s called, but i like to think of it as the swede pea. for it seems she’s transplanted plenty of her magic there. (her sweetpea, sadly, closed.)

the little bunny smiling from above–sandra, who is quite something with thread and needle, made him. stuffed him first with lavender, real lavender, from someone’s garden. then she stitched him up. when you rub his belly, lightly, with just the press of your finger, the lavender wafts. i bought two. one has little button eyes and nose. of course, i bought a book. a book from green tiger press (collectors of breathtaking, knee-buckling illustrations from days past), a book called, “the truth about easter rabbits.” of course, i bought a pack of carrot seeds. and a big fat orange carrot stuffed with all orange jelly beans.

come saturday night, when all is clear (i can’t promise quiet, since my littlest rabbit has made quite a habit of hopping out of bed in recent weeks), i will make like e. bunny himself, and gather my new-life wares. i will tuck simple magic in a basket. i will smile all the while. it is hard not to melt when tucking easter in a basket.

i will make one basket for each boy in this house, and then i will tiptoe to a hiding place. when all is finally still, i will sprinkle pink construction-paper rabbit feet and baby carrots from edge of beds through the hall, down the stairs where the trail will then diverge, one branch south and one southwest. each boy is on his own to find what easter brings.

and i’ll stand off in a corner, softly soaking in the joy. no one told me how sweet it is to play the easter bunny. and that, perhaps, is the sweetest secret ever. one i’ll not stop, ever, believing wholly in.

oh, if only i could, i’d make a lovely basket for every one of you. the house would be so filled, there’d be lavender wafting everywhere. and plenty of old-fashioned carrot bunches, complete with carrot tops, those leafy greens that are, perhaps, the crowning glory of every bam-made easter basket.
do you, or you, or you, find joy in being a big invisible bunny? and do you have any secret things you always search for in a basket of your own making?

every year, a cast of characters

 

 

every year. count on it. there will be characters. they will be many. they will be deeply, richly, crazily creviced, shadowed, colored.

it is as much the order of the seder as the haggadah itself. the table will spill with character. ooze with it. rumble, tumble, jumble, full of characters.

wafting just above, that’s character no. 1. the tall one, that is.

that’s ted. rebbe ted. the one wrapped in japanese prayer robe, tied with obi. the one raising the first of four glasses of vintage manishewitz. the one we drive miles to be with every pesach.

ted, a rabbi and cantor without a congregation these days, is a therapist; spends his working hours trying to screw on people’s heads, or at least screw them on a little less wobbly than when they first wandered in.

but mostly, always, ted is a character. ted’s eyes, i think, must gleam even when he’s sleeping.

at ted’s seder, things are, um, unorthodox. ted reaches in a bag and pulls out yarmulkes from around the world. sometimes he wears his tibetan temple headdress. he always wears his japanese robe.

at ted’s, you do some chanting. you close your eyes and chant the vowels. you do not close your lips when chanting vowels, he tells you, and thus you assume a posture of openness that ted thinks the world truly deeply needs. you chant deeply, ahhhhhhhhh.

at ted’s, you eat sumptuous french hors d‘oeuvres. (and then you find out, oops, they are not kosher for passover; maybe that’s why they tasted so good.)

i tell you the story of ted because in bringing my children to ted each year i bring them to one of the most essential gifts a parent can give a child: the gift of the one who’d never paint by numbers, the iconoclast, the eccentric, the character. the deep and rich and soul-expanding knowledge that life is splashed with vibrant colors.

one of those colors is the color ted.

it brings unending joy to me to bring my children to tables where i know they will hear voices they do not hear at home. home is where the grounding happens. home is where you learn that the parachute has a safety cord, and you can pull it any time.

other people’s launch pads are where you learn to lift your foot off the ledge, set it in mid-air, and feel the fall, but then the updraft, carrying you, lifting you to places you’d never see from the safety of that concrete ledge.

last night we soared with ted. heard his salty brand of politics. took in his dash of new-age mysticism. felt the gestalt of letting go of that by which we’d been enslaved. watched him raise a yale sweatshirt, oy, to teach a lesson on hebrew light and perfection. (right there, spelled out on yale’s emblem, in hebrew letters, who knew? found out that centuries ago, at the founding of yale, patrician of patrician schools, hebrew was required study. ted, by the way, went to yale.)

tonight we congregate again. at another table of eccentrics. they will be the ones with whom we’ve worked for decades. the ones with whom i’ve “sedered” for 25 years, before husband, before children, and every variation since. a cast of newspaper kooks. my boys, all eyes and ears, will learn much that i won’t teach them.

besides the wine glasses filled with jelly beans (the kinder version of fruit of the vine), the flogging each other with scallions, yes, scallions, the pulling out of little plastic plagues, there is the annual putting of passover lyrics to broadway tunes.

we drive home each year, from nights one and two, with bellies aching. not from all the passover matzo kugel. no, no. from laughing ’til our sides feel split in two.

we are blessed. so very blessed.

all my life, far back as i can remember, i have loved the odd ball. the duck who waddled to his or her own drum beat. at my mid-century mark, i survey the landscape of my life and see i’ve assembled quite some cast of characters.

my almost-man-child told me recently that one of the most lasting lessons he learned from his uncle david was when david spoke of a brilliant friend of his, a friend with phD in sanskrit, a friend who studies global drumming and, for a long while, drove a cab in new york city. david, it seems, told my almost-man-child: “he really is a kook.” and my almost-man-child told me that the way he said it, he knew that uncle david meant that to be a kook is a very noble thing. “that’s how i learned i should never march to other people’s drummers,” said my boy who decidedly does not.

my prayer this pesach, my prayer that already has been heard on high, is that all the children, not just my boys, hear a world of many drummers. and come, as often as they can, to a table that spills with kooks and characters and bold eccentrics, a table, every first-night seder, led by rabbi ted.

who, by the way, i love with all my heart. even if he makes me close my eyes and chant the vowels.

do you collect characters? do you see the beauty in those who color outside the lines? do you, if you have children, or love children, or are a child at heart, seek out tables where you know they–and you–will hear voices unlike the ones they–and you–hear at home?