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Up In Smoke April 25, 2019

up in smoke

For the most part – and I get that this makes me fortunate and privileged – I am well insured enough that a well-placed lightning bolt to a particularly flammable place on the roof of my house would make my life better. Assuming my family and my dog weren’t at home at the time it happened, there isn’t much in my house that would be missed, stuff-wise. 

There’s something appealing about starting fresh with a wad of insurance money.  Of course, there would be the giant pain in the neck factor of rebuilding the house and finding a place to stay in the interim.  But all those boxes full of unknown crap?  Gone.  All those clothes that mostly fit but don’t flatter but are too good to throw out and I can’t afford to replace?  Gone with insurance money to replace them.  Decorative dust collectors that I don’t particularly care for but would hurt someone’s feeling to get rid of?  Bye-bye.  20 years’ worth of collected mold, dust, and assorted detritus?  Ashy remains carted off.

Among the very few things I’d be sad to see burned up is a set of my grandmother’s china that I inherited from the spoils of her estate.  My grandmother kept kosher, which meant that she had a lot of dishes.  When you keep kosher, you have separate dishes for dairy-based meals and meat-based meals.  You also have separate dishes for Passover, both dairy and meat.  You also have separate fancy dishes, dairy and meat, regular and Passover.  I managed to inherit her Passover meat china.  It’s not particularly valuable china, but it’s sentimental and pretty.  I don’t use it often, though probably more than she did, since I don’t keep kosher and so I’m not restricted to eight days a year and only certain types of meals.  I use it for Passover, and occasionally for Thanksgiving, and less occasionally when I have a fancy dinner party.

Because I use the dishes so seldom, I keep them stored in a Rubbermaid storage container, wrapped in newspaper in the attic.  I keep them in the attic instead of the more accessible garage or basement because our garage and basement are, well, crap repositories and there’s no telling what’s in them.  Things get buried and lost.  The attic is hard to get to, and, thus, more sacred space.

Recently, it was Passover, and I was getting ready to set the table for our Seder.  I went up into the attic to get the china.  It wasn’t there.  I found my high school diploma and a certificate showing that I participated in the Nassau County, NY All-County Band, but not my grandmother’s china.

I was incensed.  There is nothing on this Earth that I despise more than looking for things.  The things I use have a place.  I put them in their place, and then when I go to use them, they are there.  If they are not there, it is because another force that is not me has acted upon them in a way that places them elsewhere.  That other force, usually in the form of my husband or children, needs to be held accountable.  My immediate conclusion was that last year, after I cooked all day, then cleaned up everything and put the dishes, a certain adult male said that he would put the box back up for me so he could claim to be a Big Helper.  Then, carrying it up the attic stairs became too daunting and it ended up in the black hole of flotsam that is either the basement or garage, where the Rubbermaid container blended in with the 70,000 other Rubbermaid containers that look exactly like it, excepting that the others contain worthless doodoo and not MY GRANDMOTHER’S CHINA.

I said many bad words that I will not repeat here.  I may have slammed some cabinet doors.  I may or may not have taken out my aggression by chopping some carrots and onions a little more vigorously than they deserved.  I never stopped being mad.

My daughter’s sweet boyfriend, who had never seen me lose control of myself before, offered to try to look through the 70,000 Rubbermaid containers to try to find them.  He got through 10,000 before the dust conquered him.  I love him for his failed heroic effort. 

We had our Seder with our regular, every day stoneware and the good silver, which I was able to locate, exactly where it belonged, as well as the good crystal, which was at home in the hutch it lives in.  The table was pretty enough, but it made me sad.  It wasn’t what I wanted it to be.  I worked so hard making ritual foods and things to eat, but it was all less than for reasons beyond my control.  I honestly tried not to cry.

The Seder began.  Passover is one of my favorite holidays.  I love having people to my house for Passover.  As a purebred Jewish mother, I live in mortal fear that someone, somewhere might be a little bit peckish and I plan accordingly by cooking for approximately 600 people. The holiday itself is all about freedom. It’s all about recognizing that, while our lives aren’t perfect, they are abundant and free. The small sacrifice of giving up leavening for eight days reminds me of how cushy and privileged my life is and how grateful I should be. Slaves can overcome. In bitterness there is sweetness. The bread of affliction still nourishes our bodies and gives us strength for the journey to freedom.     

And as we went through the rituals that reminded me of these things, I thought how silly I was to be so mad about plates.  It wasn’t like I was scooping muddy, amoeba-infested water out of a hole with my bare hands.  I was with family and friends in a warm, dry house; sitting at a table covered with good food and sweet wine.  We were laughing at each other’s jokes and wondering how many of the three desserts we could stuff down our gullets without throwing up and whether the toddler would try to feed the dog a third banana. 

We were free to worship as we pleased, we had the means to eat whatever and as much as what we wanted, and we were amongst those whose company we sought.  We could say and do whatever struck our fancy and, since it was a Friday night, go to sleep afterwards in a warm, comfortable bed, and wake up whenever we were done sleeping. 

That’s freedom.

The rest of it can just go up in smoke.

If you enjoyed this and want to read more like it, visit Lori on Twitter or on Facebook. Lori is a National Society of Newspaper Columnists 2018 Columnist winner, and a New Apple, Readers’ Favorite, and eLit award winner for her latest release, “You Know I Love You Because You’re Still Alive.”  She is also the author of the bestselling books “Mismatched Shoes and Upside Down Pizza,” and “The Armadillo, the Pickaxe, and the Laundry Basket.”

Up In Smoke


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Up In Smoke


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Lori Duff

Lori B. Duff is an award-winning author who practices law on the side.  Her latest book, "If You Did What I Asked in the First Place" was awarded the Gold Medal for humor in the Foreword INDIES awards in 2019. You can follow her on Twitter at @LoriBDuff and on Facebook. For more blogs written by Lori, click here. For more information about Lori in general, click here. If you want Lori to do your writing for you, click here. If you want Lori to help you market your book, click here.

Up In Smoke April 25, 2019