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Is there anyone who isn’t affected by the holidays? You can start to smell the Douglas firs in parking lots sometime around Labor Day. If by chance you miss the obvious signals, you can judge the date pretty accurately by the displays in the Hallmark aisle. There are sections for celebrating holidays I never knew existed. What in the world is Kwanzaa? It means something, because there are a lot of cards for it.
Around here, Christmas is the biggie, of course, but it doesn’t stop there. Even in the days before Political Correctness, we were aware of that special celebration called Hanukkah, mainly because our classmate Hinda always brought a dreidel to school for show and tell. We really weren’t all that impressed with the funny-shaped top and its printed symbols (mainly because there weren’t any presents to go with it). But Hinda also had a mother who came to school laden with an electric frying pan and bags of potatoes and onions to make latkes.
Ah, latkes! Those marvelous, crispy, savory potato pancakes did more to make our pre-teen minds take an interest in Jewish history than all the books ever written.
Everyone got a chance to participate. For most of us, that meant peeling potatoes, which isn’t a great chore when you’re ten years old and hungry. Usually it was the boys who got the job of grating onions, joyfully waving their odoriferous contributions around and giggling at the tears they elicited from the bystanders.
We didn’t get to fry, of course. Even in the pre-OSHA days, that was something not even to be considered. Hinda’s mother, a rather scraggly woman with a hint of a mustache, tied on a flower-printed apron. The first blob of sticky, wet batter dropped into sizzling grease, while we, the expectant diners, scrambled toward the back of the room under the ferocious eye of Mr. Truex, our fifth-grade teacher.
Anyone who gets too near the cooking doesn’t get to eat!
Who would take a chance on that? Besides, we didn’t have to see into the pan. The fantastic aroma of those onion-y, peppery delights must have reached all the way to the Principal’s office. We handed around paper plates and napkins and waited for the first batch to be done.
Eight little round treasures to a pan. Okay, the first eight in line, step up! As fast as the pan emptied, the apron-clad giver of gifts deposited more spoonfuls. By the time each of us had made the trip two or three times, we were smiling and well-fed, back at our desks to resume the everyday routine.
Mrs. Schwartz cleaned up her makeshift kitchen and said with a smile–at least, I thought it was a smile–that she’d be happy, certainly, to do it again next year. She escaped through the front door as the classroom swelled with spontaneous applause.
We might have trouble spelling the holiday, but we’d certainly remember it.
I’ll see you again, after the commercial.