We sat for a bit Friday and kibitzed. Aunt Helen (my father’s 100 year old sister) and me … two on a couch … for a half hour. I spoke; she listened. I rambled; she heard (I think). Before you go thinking, though: “What a good nephew”, DON’T. I did it for me. Just for me.

They’re all gone, you know — well almost all. Some died, some moved, and strands — just strands of my child/time family — remain in Cleveland. It is on holidays, especially Passover, that I miss the masses.

Helen stands. Aunt Etty too. Gary’s here and Jackie and Pinky and Sheila … and Hal of course. But that’s it. Poof! In the sandstorm of half a century my family’s mural tore, its mosaic frayed and pixels only remain from my past.

I miss them: those endless seders of Pesachs past, the dreadfully dour yet extremely animated assembly of aunts and uncles —one louder than the next – (except my father who steadfastly followed as Grandpa Sam led and Uncle Bob: always there, but always bored).

Yes, six decades or so after I first thrilled to hunt the afikoman, I miss them all.

On my mother’s side the service was social. We’d sit aside a configuration of card tables, plastic tables, and true dinner tables all covered in cloth camouflage, zigzagging through our great-grandparents’ living room and dining room spacing. (Ed. Note 1: Only in the retrospect of years would I perceive an airplane view of the array revealed a pattern not unlike a swastika).

On my dad’s side the service was stern. Rigid, in fact. Sitting in the endzone of a table for six, Al Bogart kept his eyes on the liturgy and ears on the boys. God forbid that when without warning he’d resolve “Bruce, take the next paragraph” that Bruce wasn’t ready! It was … let’s just say … worse than getting called out on strikes with men in scoring position. A shanda! (Ed. Note 2: On the other hand: start reading the next segment in stride, enunciate the Hebrew precisely, and the thrill of knowing you’d hit it out of the park was enough to carry you through the entire second half of the Seder!). (Ed. Note 3: And Lord knows we wouldn’t miss a line. Indeed, the ritual at Grandma Bogart’s home included every f’ing song in the Haggadah. Some years, when perhaps he needed to have a cigarette, our Dad would rush through “Ki Lo Naeh”, but other than that, the only tell-tale sign the vigil was ending was when we stood for “Hatikvah”. Rising for the anthem was akin to the Boston Celtics’ Red Auerbach lighting his victory cigar.

So I do look back. Especially now, with our numbers faded.

Uncle Irv went first, then Great Grandpa Sam and Grandpa Irv. The cousins went to college and never came back.  Their parents headed south (to never move back). Lives and marriages would take their tolls.

The clock ticked.

We lost Joel and we lost Barbie, but I remember them well. (Second cousins they were, but our hearts knew no difference). The twins wore matching glass frames, went to Brandeis and Michigan. Barbie? Florescent lipstick of the ‘60’s faded sadly, but I recall well her smile. We’d speak through the years, but there was always a scent — even over the phone — of her unfulfilled promise).

—And all the great aunts, and all the great uncles….gone. No more quarters from Uncle Phil, no more humor from Uncle Benny, no more pointed sarcasm from Aunt Ruth…

How then…as I trudge through my sixties … do I not look back? Yet how, …as I embrace the present … can I not be grateful?

Michael, Jamie, Stacy… grounded with heritage, have left town. Their homes are Jewish homes, and to the east and west they build families and memories.

Me? Even with all the wear and tear, self-inflicted wounds and otherwise, I sit pretty. Carrie’s table last night bore the traditional Seder plate. Surrounded by her mom and kids, she served matzah ball soup, chicken, brisket,  and warmth.   Oh yeah, and Leesa (her youngest) found the afikomen.

And not far down the road in a house full of family my brother presided while a half century later Aunt Helen still scrutinized his Hebrew…

And from Boston to New York to greater Washington to Cleveland to Chicago to wherever Debbie Hoffman is out west I’d like to think our family stands — like posts to a chupah.

Yet I miss, to this Yom Tov,  not seeing the head table in the old house in Cleveland Heights…where the tables dreidled around walls and where Grandpa Sam sat immobile and Grandma Becky smiled and my Uncle Phil always gave me a quarter.

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