Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Ghosts of Easters Past

While the first Easter I can remember happened when I was five (and a half), what I remember about it tells me a lot about how our family had been celebrating the holiday. As a kid, the holiday was all about bunnies, eggs and candy, of course. Religion entered the holiday later.

This particular holiday occurred while my mom was hospitalized for a "nervous breakdown". I had been staying with my Aunt Agnes and Uncle Larry in Minneapolis. Steve, being older and going to school, stayed up at the resort with Daddy. There wasn't kindergarten offered in Nevis at the time, so I was the only one of us to go to it. For some reason, I had been relocated down to Austin to stay with Aunt Jeanette and Uncle Virgil for the last few months until Mom returned home again. I remember little of that stay, other than watching Howdy Doody and Pinkee Lee on TV, something else we didn't have up north then. And Easter, of course.

My bed was located out on an enclosed porch. No more sharing a room with a cousin. When I woke, there was this huge Easter basket sitting on the floor next to my bed. I was amazed, and not sure I was allowed to touch it. This was the first Easter basket in my life. I already knew that our family wasn't rich enough for such fancy things. Was this really mine? Would I have to share? I hardly dared hope, and remember waiting to dig into it until I had permission.

Would there be an egg hunt too? I tried not to be disappointed when the answer was "no", since after all there was the miraculous Easter basket all mine. But still, that had always been part of the fun. The family (Daddy exempted) had cooked eggs, decorated them with white crayons to create design that wouldn't get dyed in the colored liquid smelling of vinegar. While we slept, the Easter Bunny hid our eggs for us to find the next morning, along with pieces of wrapped home-made fudge. I'm convinced the whole tradition was designed as a way to allow parents to sleep in while the kids were safely occupied finding their own breakfasts. That was the only disappointment about Easter of course, having to eat hard-boiled eggs. If we were really lucky, uneaten eggs would get turned into egg salad, but mostly we had to eat them plain.

This time no egg hunt. But there was also the even bigger surprise of new clothes. The only picture I have of myself at that age is of me in my new coat, Easter bonnet barely covering a multitude of blonde curls, and - wonder of wonders - patent leather shoes! I'm holding the basket for the picture, but recall it had to be left home while the family dressed up to go to church.

When my kids were growing up, the family traditions remained much the same: dying eggs and having the Easter Bunny hide them for a morning egg hunt. With funds being scarce, this also became a good time to add to the spring/summer wardrobe in the disguise of "presents". Two years stand out.

The years spent in Georgia offered the first chance for an outdoor egg hunt. Minnesota springs are seldom amenable to such events. Peachtree City offered a candy egg hunt in one of its parks, and Paul, being youngest, was just the right age. I was allowed to supervise him. When the gates opened, most of the kids charged straight in. We headed left, with much less competition for the eggs.  There was a special prize, including your picture in the local paper, for the kids collecting the most eggs. We were still counting his when they tried to announce a winner, but hearing a total below what we already had, I stepped up and offered them a chance to make a correction. I recall his total being 102. I still have the newspaper clipping.

After returning to Minnesota, we lived in a 3-bedroom mobile home. One year I was both very tired and thinking I was being creative when I offered to let each kid hid the eggs for a sibling. All the eggs had been identified with white crayons for each kid, so they knew which ones were theirs. Everybody became the Easter Bunny, now that they no longer believed in a magical one.

There was just one problem. Richard was a much better hider than Paul, 4 years younger, was a finder. For that matter, he was a better hider than even he could remember. Some of those eggs were never found. After a while we started to smell them, still without being able to locate them. Eventually, like dead mice in the walls, the smell faded away.

Don't ask me how I know.

As a grandmother, I was allowed to participate in one of Jordan's Easters. She was five when I first was awarded court-ordered visitation, just in time for Easter. Visitation was still supervised, my being an unknown quantity to the courts, so it was held at her other grandmother's house. This was where she was staying temporarily, due to the CHIPS court proceedings which encouraged me to get into the court process in the first place. It was a warm day, and we set up at the picnic table in the back yard. I brought everything needed for dying two dozen eggs, all to be left for the Easter Bunny to hide. I was shocked to find out that she had never dyed nor hunted Easter eggs before. At the end of the afternoon I had hopes that a new tradition would be started by her other grandma, but no control over the process. But it was the beginning of a much treasured relationship.

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