In first person… Grape-stomping at Passover a cherished childhood memory

Passover was a very exciting holiday for me.

I was about 6 years old when I became aware of the extensive preparations both my mother and father engaged in for weeks before the holiday. I was too young to know we were in the midst of Prohibition and that whatever my father was doing was illegal. His job was to make the sticky, sweet wine which was consumed in very large quantities during this joyous holiday by the entire extended family of uncles, aunts and cousins.

Our basement, normally a dark, dank forbidding place that terrified me, came to life transformed as a gourmet chef's kitchen and wine cellar. My father had built a very large pantry with a heavy lock on it for my mother to secure her baked goods and other Passover goodies from her five greedy children, at least until the holiday began.

I remember my father buying many many crates of grapes — deep red ones called Concord, and then fewer ones less colorful and perhaps less sweet. He had several large vats in which he would put the deep red grapes; he'd wash them down with a hose and then pick me up, barefooted with only underpants and a shirt on, and put me in the vat with the grapes.

I remember waiting all year for this thrilling moment. He would then say in Yiddish, "Dance my little girl, dance," and in total joy I would begin to jump and stamp and mash those grapes with my little feet. He would clap his hands and begin to sing some Russian or Yiddish songs and say, "Faster, faster, dance and jump my little one, my baby, my youngest."

When he thought it was enough for that day and I was thoroughly exhausted, he would pick me up, hose down my legs and feet, scrub them clean with soap, tenderly wipe them dry and put shoes and socks on me. He would then kiss me and tell me what a big help I was to him and that he would save the first glass of wine for me.

That scary dark basement became a place of enchantment for me and my father at Passover. I loved and cherished those intimate moments. They stand out as a beacon of light in my memories of an otherwise tumultuous and traumatic household.