In the early 1950’s Easter had several meanings around my house. Jesus’ resurrection was first and foremost. All the other meanings sprang out of that one, like new Easter dresses. We had to have new clothes for Easter, because Easter represents new life, new beginnings, a new start.
I don’t know when my brother Harold’s new outfits were acquired but mama always took me shopping for mine. We browsed through J. C. Penney’s dress racks. “Why don’t we change colors this year?” mama would suggest, examining pink selections with frills and bows and poufy sleeves. “What about pleats?”
Yuk. I really, really preferred blue. Since mama preferred not to have crying fits or temper tantrums on her hands, blue it was for my dress, again. Next came the bonnet, of course. Wide brim? Chiffon roses? Fabric or straw? Whatever matched the dress, that’s what we wound up with.
Dress and bonnet in hand, over to the shoe department we marched. That was a neat place. It was such fun to see your foot skeleton in the x-ray machine. “Can I have black this time, please, please?” No, Easter needs white shoes and white frilly socks.
Easter eve meant pulling out the vinegar, an assortment of coffee cups and tiny food coloring bottles. Mama boiled a dozen white eggs, then let Harold and me dip them one by one in the smelly dye. I had a blast making mine light blue, and dark blue, and darker blue. Of course I was dipping the same egg over and over.
But mama said we needed pinks and yellows and greens too so she put a stop to my experiment. (I was trying to make a black egg but my curiosity was never satisfied in that regard. Pity.) We set aside our masterpieces for the morrow and went to bed early.
Easter Sunday Harold and I awoke bright and early to see what the “Easter bunny” brought. We were well aware there was no actual bunny, but here was another meaning that went with Easter: gifts, representing the gift of eternal life in Jesus.
Green cellophane grass spilled over the edges of a brand new basket. Nestled atop the grass would be a chocolate egg surrounded with other candy goodies and a small toy or two. The entire basket was encased in yellow or gold cellophane, gathered and tied at the top with a big bow.
We usually didn’t get up early enough for the sunrise service at Timrod Park, but 11:00 worship usually featured “Up From The Grave He Arose” and “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” The sanctuary was filled to capacity and a sea of new ladies’ millinery met your eye in every direction.
After church we didn’t go home for lunch. Still in our new finery we headed for Mimi and Da’s house, a sumptuous Easter dinner of ham, fried chicken and potato salad, and another meaning of Easter: family. Being part of a family. Being reunited with family. Our family Egg Hunt with Mimi, Da, aunts, uncles and cousins, included lots of in-laws and sometimes some of their family, totally unrelated to us except on this special day.
The kids had to stay inside while the parents hid the eggs outside, naturally. We champed at the bit until finally the signal was given and we made a mad dash with our baskets. Mimi’s large farm yard was full of likely hiding places. Climbing rose bushes adjoined chinaberry trees. A fenced chicken pen was lined with clumps of jonquils, border grass and assorted weeds.
Upturned foot tubs and cracked enamel pots were scattered amidst bits and pieces of farm tools. A rolled-up clothes line lay across a pile of clothes pins. Partially empty chicken feed sacks sat side by side with a stack of dried corn cobs at the edge of the porch. Porch steps! Truck tires! Every imaginable spot was a potential hiding place for a dyed egg.
The race was to see how many eggs we could find before time was called, and how many eggs granddaddy’s hound dog could find. He wasn’t supposed to take part in the hunt but somehow he had developed a taste for boiled eggs, shell and all. If we did our job well he would be disappointed. If not — oh well, the lost eggs wouldn’t go to waste.
While us kids compared our basket totals, folding chairs were set up outside. Cups of fresh perked Maxwell House were handed around with wedges of Mimi’s pound cake for the grown-ups. The kids quenched our thirst with Kool-Aid, and more Easter eggs accompanied by salt and pepper shakers were distributed to anyone interested in actually eating them. Many were.
All in all, my childhood Easters were wonderful times. There were weeks of preparation as choirs rehearsed musicals, schools prepared for Easter break and we shopped for the latest spring fashions. Easter meant thoughtfulness, forgiveness, newness, celebration, reunions, food, fun and fellowship. (It still does.)
Even granddaddy’s hound dog had a good time on Easter! And the smell of vinegar brings it all back.