I return to Baltimore to buy my Passover food at the kosher market on Reisterstown Road. Navigating the frantic basket-jam, I choose among the matzos, then locate the horseradish, brisket, and frozen gefilte fish—the required delicacies for my family’s seder. My shopping done, I have no reason to travel anywhere but home to Montgomery Village. Few friends remain in Baltimore, and my aunt, the last of the Baltimore family, rests now in a Pennsylvania cemetery.
Instead, the car drives me down Seven Mile Lane, through the religious neighborhoods of the black hatters. On auto-pilot, the car turns right on Smith Avenue, where the secular Jews lived, taking me past Wellwood International School, once packed with the offspring of Jewish World War II vets. The squat split-levels, mansions to my childhood eyes, line the narrow avenue. When we reach the mini-park in memory of the man whose funeral my father attended the last day I saw Dad as himself, my heart races.
There. There. I see it. The skinny attached brick house. The driveway with cracks half-patched. The red brick now fading. The carport recently repainted a bright white. The new wrap-around deck in the back, visible from just the right angle. All tell me that strangers live here. I am not invited to ring the bell and walk in the front door, up the four hallway steps to a living room and dining room that expand magically to hold tables and chairs for twenty people.
I pull to the side of the road and let impatient drivers pass me. From the front seat, I strain to see inside the floor-to-ceiling windows, to find my father at the head of the seder table, his black hair now silver, his voice booming like the sound of G-d inviting us to partake of the ritual food. I glimpse my mother, tucked away in the closet-sized kitchen, rotating pans in the single-shelf wall oven and pots on the four-burner stovetop to make enough food to send foil-packed leftovers home with guests. I have not lived here for fifty-four years, since I left for the University of Maryland, returning only for school breaks. Yet I know the placement of every piece of furniture. The big arm chair and ottoman in the corner, where my father plays hand games with my children. The floral-painted wooden bench against the paneled wall, where my grandmother holds court next to her walker. The kitchen table pushed flush against the wall for the hungry masses swarming the buffet. I know, too, where to put the soup pot after I dry it and which drawer contains the meat silverware and which the dairy.
From the driver’s seat, I travel upstairs to the front bedroom I share with my sister, our beds so close that I can reach across and tickle her, the closet so small that our clothing stays crisp, as if just pressed by our mother. One bathroom—salmon sink, tub, and toilet—stylish for the late 1950s—is shared by six people, who shower or bathe on alternate days, timing the morning with precision. Time folds and unfolds. 1959–I’m a 12-year-old girl with budding breasts. 1974–I’m a mother with my baby daughter. 1998–My father has died, ripping a hole in my soul. 2006—My mother’s gone, too. 1968–I’m a 20-year-old college student bringing home friends for seder, one of whom will become my husband. 2019–I’m a 71-year-old grandmother sitting in a Toyota on the side of the road, staring at a house owned by someone I don’t know.
The tin tzimmes pot, which cooks the tzimmes just right, bequeathed to me when my mother retired from making seder, rests on the trivet on the kitchen table, both here and not here. The blue glasses, scattered to homes across the country, overflow with sweet wine around people-packed tables. The spring-yellow sponge cake, in its moment of supreme majesty, waits to be admired, then sliced. I pause to savor its beauty, then start the engine, and retrace the road to Montgomery Village, Mom and Dad in the back seat, next to the thawing gefilte fish.
Carol Westreich Solomon has returned to her first love—creative writing—after exploring literature and writing with high school students in Maryland. As the lead consultant of Carol Solomon and Associates, she previously taught writing to adults in corporations and government agencies. Her YA novel Imagining Katherine was designated a 2016 Notable Book by the Association of Jewish Libraries. Her work has also appeared in Lilith, JEWISHFICTION.NET, Persimmon Tree, Poetica, Little Patuxent Review, Pen-in-Hand, Bethesda Magazine, the English Journal, and the Washington Post.