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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Remembering Easter

Easter was the second big deal of all holidays when I was a kid. Our church was a frenzy of preparations. Choir rehearsals, the church breakfasts, the choir robes got dry cleaned (!), the parish hall floor got a new finish, there were flowers all over the place, inside and out. It was beautiful.

The biggest deal to me, before I was old enough to join the choir, was the Cross of Flowers. There was a 7' shadowbox cross with a chicken wire cover on front. Every Easter it was at the edge of the altar, waiting for the parish kids to fill it with the flowers they'd brought. When I was 4 or 5 I scrambled over my family to bring my flower to the cross first, to the embarassment of my family and amusement of everyone else. But I remember being so overcome with wanting to give my flower to Jesus that I didn't care about anything but getting up there to my minister so he could put it on Jesus' cross. When filled with all the flowers it was a sight like an Easter card and filled the church with the once a year truly heavenly smell of flower gardens. I have a photo of our minister, Dr. Marion Matics (a remarkable man) and me standing with it the last year I went. I believe I was 12. Good memories.

Easter was also a "turn out in your finest" event. If we didn't get all new clothes, we got new accoutrements to make old outfits fresh. Sometimes the accoutrements weren't technically new, but new to us. Since I was the only girl I always got a new hat and shoes at the least. Which meant that Easter Sunday was pain. That elastic string under your chin was irritating no matter what you did with it but you didn't complain. Jesus had just suffered and died for your sorry ass; don't bitch about anything. At least the hat could come off when you got home; the shoes were another story. Usually they were black patent leather (or pleather in the lean years) and they were your church shoes for a year. You'd best make them last til next Easter. They'd be big on your feet, so you could grow into them for a year. They'd give you blisters on your heels everytime you wore them until sometime in the fall. All your socks and tights had bloodstains at the heel; it was ripping scabs off to get them off your feet. I remember that at Thanksgiving my shoes were always at peak- still in good shape, but totally broken in, fitting me without friction blisters. From then on it was a game of making them last til the Spring. One year (4th grade) a pair was so tight by February that I couldn't bend my feet- they were bound stiff in them. They were also the only pair I had that got on my feet at all, so I pretended I was Chinese and my feet were being bound so I would walk like a lady. Which also led me to walk with a book on my head, like they did on the Patty Duke Show. To this day I can mish my toes together into the perfect shape of those shoes.

Easter also meant that we would be at Nana's house. It was a combination of dread and awe to go there. My Uncle Bert's study was a ham radio station and where he did his artwork. We crept in there expecting to be thrown out at any moment. Nana's furniture was Victorian and dark and stodgy. Her parlor rug was sacred. They were remains of the family's wealthier days, pre-Depression. There was no running, no loudness, no tomfoolery. It was exhausting to contain myself, to behave with the manners Nana demanded. My brothers, older, could adapt by harassing each other with low voices. I wasn't old enough to know how. Anything I did was loud and childish so I hid under the library or dining table, playing silently to myself or stealthily watching TV. Or pouting.

By the 60s TV was a big deal. Uncle Bert was an electrical engineer, and was always rebuilding his stereo and TV. He built a color TV, the first I ever saw. I think we spent more time watching my Dad and Uncle tearing these things apart and replacing things than we ever did watching entertainment. But Easter was mandatory TV watching. The Wizard of Oz, with its joys and horror. Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. The Wonderful World of Disney (the Disney colors!). Midget and Women wrestling. So Easter became the "Watch Colour TV" holiday at Uncle Bert's house (by that time Nana was gone).

I stopped going to church in the early 70s. Easter, I learned, was only one among many Spring religious traditions. While the formal church fell away from my life, some traditions went on. To this day, I still have colored boiled eggs and chocolate around on Easter, I still eat lamb for dinner, I still want flowers to fill my head with dreams. This year finds me more than at peace with the church. But not so much that I'll go.

Anyway. Happy Easter however you perceive it.

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