Underwire: April 2021

As we approach the final night of Passover and Easter Sunday, my mind turns to the overcoming of tyrants and plagues, the wandering towards freedom, and the miracle of resurrection – in other words, the past year. This year’s little Atlanta backyard Seder with fully and partly vaccinated attendees was a vast improvement over last year’s Zoom view of Bubbe’s elbow filling the middle square as I poured myself a fifth glass of wine. Dayenu.

You might imagine my Easters were a little less booked, and in recent times you would be correct. However, long before Jenette Bras, when I was a single mother of three, the father of my eldest son, Pablo, whose family is from Mexico, would enact his own Easter tradition, dropping his visiting mother and aunt off with me to get them downtown to Mass on time, as something had come up, and he might not make it to mass at all, tragically, so possibly if I could also take them out to lunch after? The Mass was no great imposition. I was already taking Delfina, our nanny, also from Mexico, to church every night during Semana Santa and I was getting very comfortable with the customs…but lunch? My default is of course Chinese food, but that rang insufficiently papal to the ladies. We settled on Les Frères Taix in Echo Park. Old school: soup ladled from tureens, iceberg wedge and prime rib. ¡Muy elegante!

There were many lunches with Abuela Trini and Tia Rita, before they passed away, both at the age of 98,
at more traditional (now sadly vanishing) Mexican restaurants in Highland Park: La Abeja, El Huarache Azteca, IHOP… On one of their last visits I was slowly walking them to the car, Rita holding Pablo’s arm, Trini holding mine, when they started to talk about the old days in their village in Michoacán. They were orphaned as pre-teen girls and left to care for two younger siblings. They talked of going from house to house begging for food. This shocked me, thinking how large a typical Mexican family is. I asked if there weren’t a grandmother or aunt or any relative to take them in? Rita shook her head and said, “La Gripe.” The Flu.

The First Wave of the Spanish Flu started in Kansas in Spring 1918 and traveled to Europe with American soldiers fighting in World War 1. Neutral Spain had no wartime censorship, so Spanish newspapers reported on it freely. This gave the false impression that Spain was harder hit, so it became the Spanish Flu, and is even called that today in Spain. A Second Wave at the end of 1918 ricocheted around the world, taking a terrible toll. The pandemic reached Australia, and Mexico in its Third Wave, taking Pablo’s great grandparents among many others. A sporadic Fourth Wave finally exhausted itself at the beginning of 1920. The virus is thought to have mutated into a less fatal form. Estimates of the death toll range from 17 million to 100 million. Interestingly, mitigation measures were very similar to those for Covid-19: face masks, social distancing, quarantine and confinement. What is different now in 2021 is that we have the vaccine. Call it a Miracle of the Season or a Miracle of Science, I urge you to get it.

Have a Happy Passover and a Happy Easter.

jenette goldstein