Most cultures celebrate holidays related to the changing seasons, especially the spring and summer equinoxes, with roots tracing back to antiquity. Passover and Easter are clearly spring holidays. There’s no question that Chanukah and Christmas call back to ancient winter festivals.
Even some celebration symbols share recognizable features but not necessarily for the same holidays. Take palm fronds for example. Each Sukkot Jews of every flavor love to shake their etrogs and lulovs made up of a variety of things including a palm frond.
Christians also give special meaning to waving palm fronds around, but they do it when the weather is generally nicer, on the Sunday before Easter to mark Palm Sunday. The black smudges you see on some Catholic foreheads each Ash Wednesday? Burnt residue of last year’s frond collection.
During my high school summers in the early 1960s, I worked my way up from busboy to waiter at a Catskill Mountain resort in upstate New York. (Younger readers: Dirty Dancing, but without Patrick Swayze and Baby in the corner; or Season 2 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.)
Jewish families made up approximately 100% of Paramount Hotel's guests. Paramount marketed its kosher kitchen more prominently than its entertainment, which paled in comparison to the big Borscht Belt acts at Grossinger’s, the Concord or Browns.
Summer vacations were different then. It was common for a couple, with or without children, to check into the hotel on Friday. Then, sometime on Sunday, the husband would drive back to New York City for the work week and return on Friday in time for dinner. Some customers stayed a week or two. Many came on Memorial Day and checked out on Labor Day leaving their wives free to … well, there are plenty of other websites for that.
In the dining room customers were assigned to the same table for each of the three meals — huge, gluttonous (kosher!) meals. That meant we waiters and busboys brought food and cleaned up after the same people for the duration of their stays. Unlike restaurants where you leave tips at the end of every meal, guests tipped us just once covering their entire vacation before checking out.
As the end of summer approached, especially for families who spent months enjoying the clean mountain air and sumptuous meals — not necessarily in that order — it was a long wait for those of us who had served them.
Tensions were high. Expectations were optimistic. Breaths held. We had spent all this time getting very minor paychecks, which included deductions for room-and-board, in anticipation of big payoffs for all the obsequious service we'd provided.
Finally, on that day before Labor Day, the time had come. We were beckoned over to each husband (always the husband). As he reached out, I would open my hand in a pious ritual fashion appropriate for the Catskills holiday preceding the fall equinox:
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