Nana Ruth, as she became affectionately known in our home, was coming for the Passover Seder.

Midday on Passover eve, in walked Nana Ruth, a trim, professional woman wearing a crisp, cream-colored suit with a matching clutch and perfectly coifed hair. Her coordinating pumps elegantly graced her movie-star legs—legs that should have been insured by Lloyd’s of London. Especially as they walked through my pre-Passover home.

I was mesmerized—and horrified—as I watched her carefully navigate the maze of books, toys, bags, vacuum hoses and children, all while balancing a beautiful bouquet of flowers in one hand. Finally, she arrived in our kitchen, which had been transformed into our Passover kitchen extraordinaire.

Nana ruth was coming for the Passover Seder

Ruth’s eyes opened wide as she took in the scene. The room was draped with plastic, foil and bed sheets to cover appliances that would not be needed. There were cases of fruits and vegetables piled about, and piles of peels on the floor. The kitchen resembled a cross between an operating room, an Apollo cockpit and a barn.

A homemade stove was propped on top of the regular stove, which was covered with a sheet, looking like a ghost of its former self. There were children peeling potatoes onto large piles on the floor—a tradition born the year my husband brilliantly and thoughtfully built us a Passover stove, finishing two hours before the holiday. That year, we lined up the children, instructing them to peel as fast as they could, creating large piles of peels on the floor. The entertaining acrobatics of catching our balance while rushing by on the slippery peels, combined with the thrill of doing something otherwise forbidden, was so joyful, it became our minhag, our cherished tradition, to create peel piles on the floor each Passover eve.

Ruth gracefully closed her jaw, and smiled. She handed us the flowers, wiped a child’s nose, and turned on her heel to navigate her path back to the door.

Oy. I cringed. Would she really come back?

Nana Ruth did come back. And she brought her husband Herman with her.

We had a very lively Seder that night—Ruth, Herman, and our large, gregarious family. It would have been laughable if it weren’t so embarrassing. With children and grape juice spilling everywhere, Ruth wiped spills and noses, while Herman sat as if watching a Ping-Pong match, following the busyness of the children and smiling a smile that I could not read . . . or perhaps didn’t want to.

I still remember the silence after they left, broken only by the voice of an older child: “That’ll be a Passover Seder they’ll never forget!”

Surprisingly, Nana Ruth and Herman came back the next year.

And the year after that.

And the one following that year as well.

In fact, much to my surprise, each Passover eve, Nana Ruth would appear, impeccably dressed, with her perfectly coiffed hair, to navigate her path to the kitchen to drop off her flowers. We never knew what she would catch us in the middle of: the little ones cleaning their toys in the tub, using more enthusiasm and water than the manufacturer recommended—or the hallway carpet could hold; the older boys hauling the furniture to the lawn—to better reach the garden hose; or a loud choir of older children mimicking old Passover story tapes in nasal voices. But it was, for sure, a behind-the scenes event we would likely have chosen not to share.

Each time she came for theEach time she came, I would breathe deeply Seder, I would breathe deeply, wondering why she came back. It’s not as if she didn’t have local family of her own that she could have joined for the Seder. Family whom she could have sat comfortably with, at a first-class table set with the finest linens, beautiful china and crystal, and polished silver. I could just see her with lots of polite throat-clearing and proper chatter. Sure, we had cleaned up the peel piles and made a beautiful home before the Seder, with the children dressed in their holiday finest, seated at a pretty table covered with thick plastic. We had done away with real dishes early on, voting to have more people singing at the table than scrubbing at the sink. And as for our grandmother’s fine silver—well, the year my husband searched four large black garbage bags in our dark alley for a fork, only to find it hidden in the dishrack, gave birth to the tradition of plastic utensils.

But Nana Ruth just kept coming back. She even came back the year one child took it upon herself to enforce our tradition of washing in age order, broadcasting each time, “NANA RUTH’S THE OLDEST—SHE GOES FIRST!”

Although Ruth was sophisticated, well-spoken and anything but shy, she never mentioned this slight. Or the peel piles. Or that she could hear us from the curb as she pulled up to deliver her flowers. Instead, she would watch the children with fascination and respect as they swept or vacuumed or did any other job she may have caught them at, and praised them for being involved and responsible and part of the family. She enjoyed how it was all a team effort. Ruth smiled as she watched the children haul piles of school-made hagaddahs to the table, so they could give lively divrei Torah, words of Torah, making our Seder longer than anyone would be expected to sit for. Yet, she would sit, smile and wipe.

Each year, I marveled at the juxtaposition of our boisterous clan and this refined, elegant woman, who somehow looked joyfully relaxed in our lively chaos.

I grew to understand that our Seder, with its busyness and lack of elegance, had the love, joy and strength of traditions, with a promise of future generations continuing them, that was all very satisfying to Ruth. That was what she saw. And that was what drew her back year after year.

As for Herman, he continued coming with Ruth, watching the children spill, give divrei Torah, sing . . . all the while following the action with that smile that I could not read, and was afraid to ask about. One year, after Herman was no longer alive, Nana Ruth confided in us that although she loved him dearly, Herman was somewhat of a sourpuss.

“Your Seder was the only time Herman ever smiled.”

I got it. And I stopped cringing.