This pandemic Passover is very weird, but past years had trials of their own. Here’s the story of one such year from times gone by.
In ancient Egypt the plague was locusts, but we had termites—a slow, endless stream across the kitchen floor to the window. The exterminator had said I should get the children, who were then 4 and 1 years old, out of the house overnight, so I was packing for a hasty flight to Grandma’s.
Hasty flight? Ha! If there’s anything I’m worse at than getting out of the house, it’s getting out of the house in a hurry.
No matter how hard I tried, it was always the same: I’d spend hours rushing around, stuffing things into bags, cursing under (and over!) my breath only to end up with what still seemed to be an entire house’s worth of stuff that was all somehow “essential.” This time I had produced one big bag for each person, plus one diaper bag, plus the Toys Bag, plus a separate duffel bag for my special hypo-allergenic pillows. Oh, yes, and the porta crib, the booster seat and the stroller.
Next came loading the car, and the catechism that went with it: “Did you remember the blankets? The monitor? The trucks book? The special V-I-D-E-O? Oh, my God, the snacks!”
Just fitting things into the car took me more than an hour, on top of the five hours it always took me to pack. I once asked my husband if we could get a minivan, so I could just throw everything in. “Are you kidding?” he responded. “Then you’d pack enough for an RV!”
As it happened, this night of our personal Exodus coincided with the first night of Passover—a holiday whose entire point is to commemorate our ancestors’ original hasty flight from Egypt.
How on earth did they manage?
I could just see us attempting to set out:
“My pots! My matched set of earthenware pots! How can I leave them all behind?”
“Judy, it’s only what you can carry! Do you see any oxcarts here?”
“Do you have the bullrush basket for the baby?”
“I couldn’t find it, but I’m sure we can borrow one from Moses’ mother now that he’s grown up.”
“And do you have the toy pyramid? I don’t want to answer for 40 years in the desert without it!”
“Judy, the Angel of Death is on His way — he’ll be here any minute!”
“Well, can’t you mark the door or something? I’m not ready!”
Passover might have been designed with me in mind, having as it does two special nights to the celebration. We can set out for the first Seder, and stand a reasonable chance of arriving in time for the second. It took my in-laws a while to adjust, but eventually they learned to assign me desserts, not appetizers, as my share of the feast.
Thanksgiving has been a different story. My family in Maryland learned to celebrate it on Friday (or “Thanksgiving Observed,” as they now call it), just to be sure we were there. That left all day Thursday for telephoned progress reports:
“We’re just leaving New York now, Mom.”
“You haven’t packed the car yet, have you?”
“Yes, I have. Except for some socks. And my pajamas. Oh — and the kids’ water bottles. Gotta go!”
Many hours later: “We’re in New Jersey!”
“Is that ‘almost-in-Delaware’ New Jersey? Or ‘just-through-the-Holland-Tunnel’ New Jersey? Never mind, we’ll leave some turkey in the fridge.”
After my first child, I became unable to say when we’d make it to anything. With two children, all bets were off.
In fact, even now in 2021, with everyone itching to leave the homes where we’ve been sequestered, it will probably take an earthquake, or something like it, to get me out the door.
I can see it now. There’s a storm heading straight for Long Island. For days the radio has been warning people. The Weather Channel shows a picture of my house as “THE #1 place NOT to be!” Now the National Guard are driving up and down the deserted streets on the bullhorn, saying “This is your final warning, Judy! You must evacuate now!”
I’ll be on the phone to the National Weather Service: “I’m running a little late. Go ahead, start the disaster without me!”