April 21, 2005
Hail to the Seder Chief
I can just imagine my Orthodox grandparents worrying about making the seder come alive for their grandchildren. Grandma was too busy de-feathering chickens and grandpa taking care of business in his violin shop to think about how we might be kept happy at their seder table. Entertainment and seder would never have been uttered in the same sentence in their Bronx home behind the H. Bass Music store.
But I am different. I have the time and the energy to make our seder a swirling, interactive event for my four grandchildren. Why, they can even dip their little feet into my cellophane Red Sea as it parts on my living room floor.
And, to top it off, I am the maven of plague bags. When the kids were very little, the bags were little. The first years they were small, white paper bags with simple black lettering. Simple items went into them: frogs that I had made out of green paper, 99 Cent Store kid's sunglasses for darkness, wrapping bubbles that popped like boils and small plastic cups colored with red markers to signify the blood.
No grandchild would ever sit tired and glassy eyed just waiting and praying for the meal. We would go through the entire hagaddah, but with enough diversions to allow them to stay 'with us' without having a grand melt down before the first course.
In 2003, I went big time. I bought small canvas bags for 99 cents each but then had them machine embroidered by my dressmaker friend Liz. Each child's name was written in a different font and color. She attached ribbon fringe with multicolored beads to the bags. Creativity and hopes of keeping their attention and in the process teaching them the significance of the seder meal was my goal. And now, my friends were getting involved as well.
Last year, we had our bags, we had our green gummy frogs, we had our boils and our blood. When it came to talk about darkness, I turned out all the lights and each person at the table talked about what darkness meant to them. The kids said bedtime and a few of the adults joked about sex.
But everything seems to pale in comparison to my hail. Now, you have to understand that the previous years' hail was quite adequate. Small rolled up pieces of silver foil did the trick and could be playfully tossed around the table. But, a few weeks before Passover, I had read in The New York Times about a grandfather (surely he did not own a violin-making store) who also tries to engage his young grandchildren at seder time. During the day, the article said, this man secretly and gently places minimarshmallows on top of the blades of his wooden ceiling fan. My eyes lit up. This would be a real crowd pleaser. When the fan was turned on, the little white pseudo-hail would fly around the room, just like the real thing as all would watch, wide-eyed.
I had a ceiling fan. I would buy the tiny puffs and we too would have our authentic San Fernando Valley hail. Surely the kids and the grown-ups would stand in awe of this my most fabulous creation to date.
Everyone followed me from the table as we marched to my computer room where the fan was silently waiting with its marshmallow topping. One of the kids turned on the fan and as predicted, the tiny white confections started flying. Up, down and on the ground. I waited, if not for deafening applause, at least oohs and ahs from my adoring fans.
Here is what really happened. They looked; some may have even thought, "Wow, that was great!" At least I hoped they did. But no one said much and if they did, it was lost in the shuffling of feet as they scurried back to the seder table.
The marshmallows. I was too tired to even think of cleaning them up that night or even asking for help. We did get a few up, but that was because they had stuck to the bottom of shoes and kept sticking us down as we walked.
The marshmallows a week later? Many still remained where the fan had dutifully blown them the night of our seder. Many more hardened where they lay but I learned to walk gingerly among them. As the days melted into weeks, they began to harden. A friend said, "If you leave them on the floor long enough, next year they will really feel like hail." She was on to something. My ever creative mind clicked in and I answered:
"Yes, and the kids could wear woolen hats and mufflers and maybe even ski clothing."
When I started to think about erecting a miniature ski lift next to the pool, I knew, that even for me, that would be going over the edge.
Maybe my grandparents back in the Bronx had the right idea after all.
Barbara Joan Grubman is a retired speech specialist and author of "Introduction to terrariums: A step-by-step guide" (Nash Pub, 1972) She lives in Woodland Hills.