Sunday, April 16, 2006
It's Easter Sunday today and it seems like just last week I was writing about New Year's Day. This year, like so many others, is flying by.
I walked by Our Lady of Angels Church this morning (yes, I know, I should walked in) and I remembered lining up outside the church with my classmates to attend Easter services.
We always wore new clothes that day and some kids would try and scuff up your brand new shoes, or "initiate them" as the guys liked to say.
I've been conducting some research amongst Catholic school survivors in an attempt to track one particular practice from my R.C. experience. (Sounds like a band, doesn't it?)
We were told that if we remained silent for three hours on Good Friday, from noon until three, the time Jesus spent on the cross, we would somehow get extra points with the Big Man upstairs.
Shut Up and Repent
It was one of the few things that wasn't mandatory, you-shall-burn-in-hell-for-all-eternity type of thing, but strictly a bonus deal. Today, as an adult, I strongly suspect a scam. I believe the teachers and the parents, seeing as there was no school on Good Friday, came up with a plan to keep the children quiet and give their parents a break. Hey, kid, Jesus wants you to clam up.
I have yet to find any other Catholics who know of this ritual. I know one year my poor sister tried to earn some brownie points for her immortal soul by keeping the silence and her three brothers, myself included, poked and harassed her for most of the alloted time in an effort to get her to crack and start talking.
I don't think we succeeded, but we had a lot of fun tormenting her, little bastards that we were. One year I actually tried to keep the silence myself, but I must confess I took a three hour tour of my neighborhood, away from friends and family, so I doubt if the All Mighty was all that impressed with me effort; but officially I did put in the time.
As a kid I didn't get terrbily excited about Easter. I colored eggs, got some new duds, and, most importantly, I got the chocolate bunnies and eggs. But it didn't compare with Christmas, which was wall-to-wall presents.
Still, there were some very good times. My mother used to mix the dye for coloring eggs on the night before, and it seemed like a complicated and potentially dangerous process, like this stuff might become radioactive if it wasn't mixed in just the right way.
My mom was always interested in these creative projects; she loved ceramics and making things out of discarded household doodads. I still find some of these things around the house, even though she's been gone close to four years now.
One year I picked some bizarre color for my Easter egg, gave it a frowning mug, and wrapped a tissue around one end to make it look like a hospital patient. I'm not sure what I was thinking, but I don't believe my mother was too pleased.
On Easter we usually had ham, one of my least favorite dishes, but for kids, the real meal was chocolate. Every year my mom would make Easter baskets for us, with the fake grass, chocolate eggs, jelly beans (never like them; they were like candy corn on Halloween) and a big rabbit right in the middle of everything waiting to be devoured.
I'd start nibbling away at the little eggs early in the day, snatching one every time I walked by my basket, popping it in my mouth and carefully ditching the tin foil wrapping while no one was watching.
My mom would catch me eventually and she'd give me the don't-ruin-your-appetite speech. I always managed to eat my dinner and then I'd had right back to the basket and start biting off the ears of the chocolate bunny.
One Easter, about 12 or 13 years ago, Casey, our family dog was very ill. He spent Easter pretty much on his side, weakly thumping his tail on the floor, an incredible and painful contrast to the ball of wild energy he had been as a puppy.
Forgive My Sins
The next morning, as I getting ready to leave, my father called my mom into the porch, where Casey had gone to sleep, and, as it turned out, never woke up. I heard my mother stifle a sob; there was so much emotion in the one sound because that poor woman loved that dog so much.
My father later praised Casey for going out like a gentleman, leaving this world on the day after the holiday, so as not to ruin Easter for his family. I still feel guilty about Casey, because I was very tough with him, cowardly, really. It was a bad part of my life when both my health and my career were in tatters, and I used to yell at him and hit him when he didn't obey me.
Casey was rowdy and wild, and never listened to you unless you were shouting. But it doesn't excuse my behavior, making him my whipping boy, and I put my treatment of Casey on that long list of sins for which I ask God's forgiveness. This is a time of rebirth and I want to step away from the past and one way of being a better human being is treating animals with kindness.
My mother kept making Easter baskets for us well into our adulthood. I remember one time, when I was living in Pennsylvania. I must have been 34, 35 years years old, and I came home for the holiday to find my mother had made yet another Easter basket for me.
By then, adult concerns about gaining weight and losing teeth had outstripped my love of chocolate--and plus it just felt silly at this age to be gnawing on a bunny's ears.
"Mom," I pleaded, "why are doing this? I'm an adult now."
"Oh, now," she said nonchalantly, "who's going to do this for you when I'm gone?"
I scoffed and scolded her for speaking about death, since I'm half-Italian and quite supersitious. You don't want to put the evil eye one yourself by even mentioning death, but I guess because my mother had been in ill health most of her life, some part of her knew she wouldn't be around that long.
The answer to her question, of course, is no one; no one is going to love me like she did, no one is going to think of me at all hours of the day and night, no one sure as hell is going to put together an Easter basket together for me.
I'm not trying to be negative. I know she wouldn't want me to be miserable, but the love a mother has for her children is like no other, and when it goes, there's absolutely nothing like it to fill the void.
I called my brother's ex-in laws today, "ex" since he divorced my (ex?) sister-in-law, to wish them a good holiday. I found Millie's number in our family phone book, written by my mother in a slightly trembling hand, and I felt like crying. People just don't vanish when they die; they leave so much behind and you find their mark in the strangest places.
Today we went to a local restaurant with the usual suspects, as my mother called the relatives. The attendees included myself, my dad, his sister, her son and daughter-in-law, my sister and my mom's sister. I wasn't feeling my best, having experienced one of my chronic fatigue episodes earlier this week, but I was able to get around.
The restaurant's a very nice Italian place, but I was struck by the fact that one of the day's specials was rabbit. Is it just me or does the idea of serving rabbit on Easter Sunday sound a little strange? I mean, are you cooking the Easter bunny? Poor guy delivers all those eggs, and you haul his sorry ass off to the kitchen. I decided to have the seafood pasta.
Well, we got through most of the day without incident, and I thought we were home free as we walked to my sister's car. My sister was ahead with my dad, holding his arm, when she tried to cross the street, but then changed her mind. My father yanked free of her grip, determined to prove something to somebody, and walked across the street, against traffic with cars coming in both directions.
He got to the halfway across when a car carrying what appeared to be your typical Brooklyn goombahs starting honking their horn. Of course, my father couldn't let that go, so he stood in the street yelling and waving his cane. The goombahs yelled back and my aunt began yelling at the goombahs. It was turning into a first-class firefight.
"You seen him," shouted the knuckle-dragging driver.
"Saw!" my aunt angrily yelled, actually attempting to correct this simian's grammar. I grabbed her, my sister grabbed the old man, and we got the hell out of there without any bloodshed.
For the record, I think the buttholes in the car should have waited, since they could see how old my father was, but what used to be called common decency when I was a kid is quite rare today.
It was a disturbing scene. My father has been a pretty hostile guy and age and Alzheimer's haven't helped any. It seems like there's an incident every time we go out with him, like the one we had on St. Patrick's Day, and that's why I want to lay low until Father's Day.
At the end of the evening, when it was just me and my sister, like it usually is when a holiday is over, we looked at a family photo album we keep in the living room. We saw my mom and dad, young and healthy, posing with their little children.
We watched our family grow, as each one of us was born, until I was arrived, making for a total of four. We saw our grandmother, we saw ourselves on vacation in the Poconos, unwrapping presents on Christmas, and just being kids. It was like taking a ride on a time machine.
This evening I spoke to my niece Kristin, who will be a freshman in college this year, something I still can't believe. And, speaking of old photos, we have a picture of her from another Easter, many years ago, when she was four or five years old.
She's sitting in a rocking chair in the living room smiling and clutching her basket of goodies. I can hear those years streaming by when I look at that picture and I wish now I had taken the time to put together an Easter basket for her.
I'm sure she would have been embarrassed getting such a childish gift now that she's a young woman, but I know my mom would have been very pleased indeed