|Better colors than Xmas to my 6 year old eye
On Good Friday in 1969, I was almost 6 years old and my mother took me for my first visit to a beauty salon. I had long, thick brown hair and up until this day my mother had always been the one to trim it, outside on the brick patio, with her large, black handled, metal sewing scissors. My mother would yell at me regularly about the squirrel’s nest in my hair, but the squirrel’s nest wasn’t there; it would have been too wonderful for words to have my own squirrels. This day, Good Friday, 1969, my hair was gathered into a ponytail, secured with a rubber band, cut off, and handed to me. I sat in the salon chair, swinging my legs and holding my hair, stroking the long straight brown ponytail like it was a pet. I shook it like a whisk. I held it up so it could cascade out around my hand like a fountain. I brushed my face with it. When the stylist was done cutting my hair I had what my mother called “a pixie cut.” I thought it looked terrible and I cried silently all the way out of the salon, back to the front seat of our Ford Falcon.
On the way home I slid very low on the seat so the backs of my legs would not burn on the car’s hot, black, vinyl upholstery. “What is Good Friday?” I asked.
“It’s a religious holiday. When Jesus Christ died,” my mother said.
My childhood was filled with mysteries; “Jesus Christ” was something my parents shouted at each other when they were very angry.
“Why is it a holiday if Jesus Christ died?” I asked.
“It’s part of Easter,” my mother said.
I did not understand.
Easter was not one of the holidays we celebrated. We had Christmas. We put up a tree, made lists, and Santa brought presents. As far as I could tell, only the Presbyterians who went to the church across the street from us had Easter. They wore fancy dress-up clothes, the little girls in smocked dresses and white tights and shiny Mary Janes, the boys in seersucker sailor suits and saddle shoes and little caps with white piping. I wore my brother’s hand-me-down Optimist Baseball League t-shirts and cut-off jeans, and ran around with no shoes most of the time so my feet could take the hot pavement in summer. I spied on the Presbyterians lying on my stomach on the cool tiles of the side porch of our house. When the church bells were done ringing and the last of the church-goers filed in the door, I might go crawl around our suburban yard to see what the cat was doing or look for a long line of ants.
I wanted the Easter bunny to come and bring me a huge Easter-colored basket filled with green plastic grass and stuffed rabbits and ducks and plastic eggs filled with jelly beans. I wanted to dye eggs with a Paas kit and hide them for my little brother, pretending that the Easter bunny had done it. It would have been like a second Christmas, with prettier colors.
In the family photo album there were pictures of my older brother at an Easter egg hunt at my father’s parents’ house when my brother was 3. By the time I was 3, and I was old enough to ask for one, but there were no more Easter egg hunts. By the time I was old enough to wonder about religion or Jesus or Easter, my parents had stopped going to church and stopped sending us to Sunday school. I was pretty sure maybe I wanted parents who would dress me up in a new dress with little ducks appliqued on it, who would buy me white tights and shiny new Mary Janes, and we would walk into church with my brother Clark holding my hand. Well, maybe I hated wearing dresses or any shoes at all, and my brother punched me, and church was very boring and Sunday school smelled like paste, but I still wanted that basket. I really wanted my own Easter basket.
Clark still likes to tell a story about our cat Sugar killing baby bunnies on the front lawn one Easter while the horrified Presbyterians (who were our enemies because of their poor parking manners) filed by on their way to church, stifling their screams, and hiding their eyes. Sugar was a prodigious hunter, able to catch a mouse in the ivy as casually as Clark would toss a baseball into his glove. Sugar did bring us a litter of screaming baby bunnies one day, one at a time, all in various stages of shock, but I think it happened on an ordinary quiet day in spring. My mischievous father was the one who suggested that Sugar should have done it on Easter, and gleefully described the parade of traumatized Presbyterians witnessing the slaughter. My family was the kind that laughed at church-going-people, holding hands and wearing matching outfits, singing about Jesus’ love and yet parking so they blocked our driveway.
Many years later, when my own children were small, my old-world mother-in-law would send us tiny fancy Easter outfits, complete with matching socks and small caps with white piping. Sometimes we had to wait a year or two for the one-piece sailor suit to fit one of our boys; other times we might wait a whole year for an occasion worthy of stuffing our wild toddlers into dress-up clothes. If the outfits were worn, they were worn once; some went to Goodwill without ever being taken off the plastic hanger or coming out of the sealed, clear plastic bag. For many years, this Hungarian grandma, known as Nagymama, would send lavish Easter baskets, with huge chocolate bunnies and jellybeans and stuffed animals. Usually the package would take us by surprise because we never paid any attention to the arrival of Easter.