Monday, March 10, 2014

Purim with Uncle Slappy.

This morning my wife and I woke up about half an hour early to straighten out things in our guest room. Like most guest rooms, I suppose, particularly those in cramped urban apartments, ours fills during the time it is non-guesting with the flotsam and jetsam of every day living.

Mail is the main culprit. And piles of it seem to be lodged into every spare inch in the room. I suppose if we were a little more organized or a little less busy, we would throw out the LL Bean catalogs as they arrive. Instead, we transfer them to our empty space until it is no longer empty. Then, when circumstances are ripe, we run through the mail like the Huns through Moldova, slashing, burning and pillaging as we go.

In any event, we tossed and tossed and tossed, decimating the unread and then we made the bed, adjusted the clock and aired out the room, all in preparation for the arrival of Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie, who are coming up by train from Boca to spend Purim with us.

As far as Jewish holidays go, Purim is not one of the heavy-hitters. It looms large when your kids are little since it's treated like Halloween and they get to dress up. But there is none of the garment-rending, chest beating and deep introspection that are attached to so many other Jewish holidays.

In fact, since Passover follows so closely on Purim's heels, I assumed Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie would delay their sojourn north for a month. But knowing Slappy as I do, he is likely to come up for both occasions.

My wife, ever the uxor, was up late last night concocting and constructing the symbol and favorite treat of the holiday, a "hat-shaped" fruit-filled cookie called a Hamentashen. The kitchen was neat as a pin this morning, unusual on even the best of days, and there were taped up corrugated boxes on the dining room table full of Hamentashen ready to be sent hither and yon to our hither and yon children. There were also, of course, a few stowed in the cookie jar, awaiting the arrival of Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie. They aren't officially "good" until Uncle Slappy proclaims them so, usually so obliquely he says only, "Not like Aunt Bluma's," which is to say, "good."

Aunt Bluma was a bad cook in the old country and a worse cook when she arrived here in America. She died some decades ago and has been remembered ever since as the woman who instigated the Jewish emigration from Europe to the US at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Centuries. It was not the Cossacks or the pogroms or the abject poverty that drove people from the Pale and from the shtetls. It was fear of being downwind from Aunt Bluma's cooking.

Bluma got worse when she arrived in America primarily because she was able to use her rudimentary English as a bludgeon masquerading as an excuse. For instance, she made no distinction, when "following" a recipe between tablespoons, teaspoons, cups or pints. If a recipe called for 3 teaspoons of salt, she might just as well added 3 cups.

Aunt Bluma's specialty was a dish called Cholent, an uneasy dish, halfway between a cassoulet and building material. Cholent was invented to be served on Saturday night, once the Sabbath was over. Women like Aunt Bluma would place it in the oven on Friday afternoon, before Sabbath began. Over the course of 24 or 25 hours, it would slowly bubble into cardiac arrest.

There will be no Cholent at our apartment for Purim. My wife, like me, born old, has assumed the holiday chores for both of our families. In the past, she's made Chicken Kiev, but this year, I suppose in deference to the Ukrainian rebels fighting Putin's Cossacks, we might just order in a pizza.

All this is to say, Uncle Slappy and Aunt Sylvie will be arriving on the Amtrak Palmetto, scheduled into Penn Station at around 4 this afternoon. From there, they'll cab up to my place and let themselves in with their key.

Uncle Slappy, if you're reading this, yes, the sheets are clean. There are towels and wash cloths in the second bathroom. There's also some coffee in the pot you can zap, and like I said above, a few Hamentashen, not like Aunt Bluma's, in the cookie jar.

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