When I was a kid, Easter marked the beginning of spring and the end of another long cold New England winter; ushering in the return of kick ball, long bike rides, and eventually summer vacation. Although most of the trees still stood naked and desperate looking, spring was officially in the air. It was as though the April sun had become a patient crock pot…slowly thawing out the neighborhood, and producing a fresh batch of happy smells that had been frozen away for months.
Ma began planning our Easter outfits right after New Year; cutting and sewing until three frilly pastel dresses, with layer upon layer of tulle puffiness, appeared on hangers in our closets. These dresses were made to open up like Gerber Daisies when you twirled around in them. I can still remember my sisters and I twirling until we were sick with dizziness and then falling down in fits of wet-your-pants laughter.
On Easter Eve, Ma would set our hair in rags and then make us wear our underpants on our heads to keep them in place (okay, we were poor). The desired result was three little heads draped in long dark bologna curls. The next morning we’d ransack our apartment searching for our Easter baskets; snarling and clawing at each other like feral cats, until our hunt was rewarded and we were gorging ourselves on marshmallow chicks, jelly beans, and speckled malt eggs. The coveted hollow chocolate bunny, which never made it through the hunt in one piece, was set aside for later. As we munched on our candy, Ma would remove our rags; transforming us into three gluttonous Shirley Temple look-a-likes.
We were poor and scrappy, but once we donned our fancy dresses we became demure and polite. Even our Worcester accents took on a hoity-toity quality, sounding more like, Oliver Twist, meets Tony, The-Ice-Pick, Garbino.
Easter service always seemed too long. What with that banged up chocolate bunny waiting at home and a big meal to look forward to. The crowded church became a sea of pastels and stank of morning after booze breath and cheap perfume. Punctually, the high mass would begin and the church would come alive with the ceremonial thurible swinging (incense bong), genuflecting, and our cantata singing priest. The best thing about Easter service was hearing that Jesus was finally off of that awful cross and alive again. The worst part was leaving, and having to walk under the life-sized wooden carving of Jesus still hanging on the cross, complete with realistic blood stains and glistening tears. Staring soulfully down at me, I always felt that Jesus somehow needed my help getting down from there.