The dining room table was simply resplendent. Covered in her now off-white lace table cloth, the oak wooden table stood sturdily atop the navy tuft pile carpet, though every year a few more shims were added for leveling. On the soft carpet, slight impressions from hundreds of chair legs left indented memories of the past.
In the corners of the dining room, white built-in cabinets displayed China dishes with tiny blue and white flowers, wine glasses of every size, a shelf reserved entirely for Shabbat candlesticks, and a rudimentary hanukkiah made of wood and bolts, the sole survivor of Sunday school, now coated with wax.
The door was open to Elijah. At one end of the table sat his goblet full of wine, waiting for his visit, while across from it, Miriam’s cup stood in prominence. The children, who were now adults, still shot furtive glances at these cups. Would the wine disappear this year like it always had?
As in every year, there was too much food. He always cooked for twelve, even though now, there were only five or six people who might return to this table for Passover.
In the foyer, a few table leaves leaned against a corner.
“Honey, we don’t need them this year,” he suggested to his wife.
“No. Let's put them in – just in case.”
“But Mom,” their adult children echoed, “its just the six of us. And the leaves are really heavy. It's not worth breaking your back over.”
“No. No. Let's put them in – just in case.”
And so they compromised. This year, one leaf would be used. The other would stand lonely in another room.
“And Mom, we don’t need extra chairs either.”
It’s in these moments, joyous holiday meals and family celebrations, that we remember them. It is in the smell of spices so fragrant, the taste of sweet wine, and the shadow of candles flickering, that we recall the days when they sat next to us and sometimes we can still feel their warmth.
As we recall the story of the Jewish people, of our redemption from slavery in Egypt, we remember also the story of our own families: the journeys and experiences that shaped us, the people and places, and the faces that sat across from us, shared meals with us, shared the story with us – for so many years.
We can’t help but want to set a place for them at the table, hoping that they will walk in the door years after they’ve departed. We can’t help but want to hear their voices singing, laughing. We can’t help but want to smell their perfume, to taste their cooking, to see their smile.
While our memories are but meager substitutes for the warm hug we so long to experience, may we find solace and comfort in knowing that while they may be gone, our memories endure.