It was all over.
On the day before Passover, with Mother busy supervising the cook, with potatoes boiling and apples stewing and beef bubbling in carrot-studded gravy, General Robert E. Lee surrendered. There were still some troops fighting outside Virginia, but my father said it didn’t matter. The war was really over.
The War of Northern Aggression had started when I was seven. Now I was already ten and the Rebel Confederates had lost to the Union. I was never going to be a Rebel general. I’d never capture a whole unit of Yankees single-handed.
But war or no war, Passover is still Passover. My mother had been getting ready for months. The whole house had been scrubbed clean from the attic to the cellar, just to make sure we didn’t own a single bit of bread. If a stray crumb did somehow find its way into our house, it would just die of loneliness.
Grandpapa took down the leather-bound Haggadahs from the highest shelf in the parlor. The Haggadahs, which explain the whole order of the seder, the festive Passover meal, were in large Hebrew letters, splotched with wine stains from years past. Every year at this time, we remember how the Jewish people were slaves in the land of Egypt long ago, and how we were led out of slavery and into freedom. We sing songs and eat special foods to remind us how bad it was to be slaves, and how good it is to be free. Of course, with the war these last four years, we’ve been talking about slavery for as long as I can remember.
Yesterday morning, when Father and I went to pick up our matzoh, I heard talk of rioting in Richmond and whispered worries of worthless Confederate money. No one knew whether the Union would treat us well, now that they’d beaten us. But word had spread that at least our soldiers would be allowed to take home their own horses to work their farms.
Yankee soldiers patrolled the streets, walking around as though they owned Virginia. To be fair, I guess they did own Virginia now.
Excerpted from The Yankee at the Seder by Elka Weber. Copyright © 2009 by Elka Weber. Excerpted by permission of Tricycle Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.