When I was a kid, Easter was a very big deal to our family. In later years, we’d go to the Easter Vigil mass, which I loved and often sang in, but back in the day…
First came the dresses. There was a fancy store in our town, and we’d only go there once a year…for Easter. Oh, my goodness! We didn’t get fancy clothes often…we were more of the Sears sales rack family, but at Easter, look out, Kate Greenaway!
The dress would be pastel, of course. If it was indeed a Kate Greenaway, it had a secret pocket somewhere. I had one for my First Communion, but my mom and I could not find that pocket, and the dress was handed down to my sister and cousins, so it’s gone now. (We were also the type of family who didn’t keep much…I had a bunch of cousins, and we shared our stuff).
At any rate, we’d go into that fancy store and be on our best behavior, my sister and me. It was heaven. We’d try on a couple of dresses in pale yellow, or blush, or white with embroidery. I seem to remember a lot of matching dresses for Hilly and me, and we liked that.
Then, the gloves. Tight little white gloves with weird seams and room in the fingertips. We loved them. They were so clean! So utterly useless but so pretty! Next came the tights—white lacy tights with legs that were never long enough. Mom would have to pick us up by the waistband and shake us into them, the way you’d get a fat pillow into a pillowcase. Stiff white patent leather shoes. A white faux-straw hat that itched like mad but looked so cute…the start of the idea that women dressing up had a certain degree of discomfort, but hey. For the risen Jesus, we’d do it!
Best of all…the purse. The white straw purse with fake flowers. Amazing. We had nothing to put in the purse, of course, because we were, you know, six or whatever. But Mom would give us a tissue and a quarter that we’d have to hand over to Holy Mother Church on Easter morning.
On said morning, I remember rolling over in bed and immediately spotting the Easter basket, so colorful, wrapped in green or pink cellophane. The fake grass, the suspiciously familiar hard-boiled eggs that looked just like the ones we’d made the day before. And the candy, that wonderful candy. Maybe a little plastic toy or a new toothbrush. But the morning was always rushed, it seemed, because we had to go to church. Decades later, I’d see that this was all about whose family cleaned up the best, whose mother was prettiest (mine, clearly), which woman wore the best hat (Mrs. Bertuglia). We kids compared dresses and purses and scratched our chins, snapping the elastic that held our hats onto our heads.
We’d fidget, playing with our purses, fondling our quarter, nervously waiting for the long basket on a stick to go in front of us so we could put our coin in there. There’d be an Easter egg hunt on the church lawn, which sloped steeply down in the back, and we’d become a barbarian horde, us kids, chasing those plastic eggs to get the Hershey kiss inside.
We’d go to my father’s parents for dinner after church…shrimp cocktail and leg of lamb with mint jelly and mashed potatoes and, for some unfathomable reason, canned peas that were puffy and grayish-green. Still, it seemed so elegant! The flowery china, the extra gifts from Nina and Pop-Pop, the chance to play with Gramp, my great-grandfather, who always wore a three-piece suit. At some point, I’d take off my tights, which even then rolled down, cutting into my chunky little waist, and the relief would so sweet. We’d play outside, blowing bubbles or drawing on the sidewalk with chalk. We didn’t (and still don’t) have sidewalks on my street. It felt very cosmopolitan, having a sidewalk.
Maybe, if they left early, we’d go to see my mom’s family, which was much bigger and more boisterous than Dad’s. We’d tear around with my very young uncles, pop into the neighborhood church, where they spoke Polish, and light all the candles, unaware that we were supposed to leave money to do that. Hey. We’d already given a quarter to Rome that day. Plus, we were little and innocent.
Finally, we’d go back home, and Mom would tell us to brush our teeth extra long, since we’d been chomping on sugar all day. By then, it was a relief to take off that special dress. By next year, the gloves wouldn’t fit, and forget about those tights. The dresses would be passed down to our cousins, never to be seen by us again.
Happy, happy times. Thanks, Mom. You did great.