Everyone who celebrates Easter has their own holiday memories. It may be waking up early to attend a sunrise service at their church. Or hopping out of bed to find the multi-colored candy eggs that the Easter bunny has hidden. Or smelling the sweet fragrance of an Easter lily and winding up with a bright yellow nose from the plant’s powdery stamens. (Studies tell us that smells are our strongest memory associations). As a child, my family did all of these things to celebrate Easter. But for me, some of my happiest and most vivid memories of the holiday were the family ‘suppers’ that we all sat down to after the morning church service.
For my mother, or my aunt, who took generally took turns preparing the big noon-time holiday meal, Easter started early. Before heading off to church, which began at 9 a.m., they would be in the kitchen, putting the ham into the oven so that it would be cooked by the time we returned. The new potatoes that would be stirred into the pot with the creamy white sauce and added to the early spring peas, would be boiled.
The packaged ‘brown and serve’ dinner rolls would be placed into a shallow baking dish and covered so that they could be popped into the oven for a few minutes just before supper. Some of the eggs that we had dyed a day or two before would be peeled, sliced in half and made into the deliciously simple deviled eggs that always seemed to vanish almost before we sat down at the table. And the table, that had been covered with the soft green-colored damask tablecloth with the protective pads beneath, would be set with my mother’s best china, sterling silver and often the dark green water goblets. Sometime the entire setting would be accented with a centerpiece of whatever was flowering in the garden, usually daffodils. I would contribute by decorating white paper napkins with Easter bunnies and eggs drawn in crayons.
There were usually eight of us at the table, including my parents, my brothers, and my two aunts and uncles. I later learned from one of other aunts that this coming together for a meal after church had long been a tradition carried out by my mother’s family.
My mother came from a large family, as did my father, and, like my father, grew up on a farm during the Depression. I had always imagined her family as struggling to survive, like so many during the era. I later learned from my aunt that despite the hard times, there was always plenty of food on Sundays. I was surprised to hear that my Grandmother, who lived with her husband and, at the time, with her seven children and her mother- and father-in-law, would often invite people from their church to supper afterwards. Indeed, they had difficulties, but they had chickens and cows and fruit and nut trees, vegetables in the garden and wild plants from the woods that they could eat. I guess that my Grandmother thought they were more fortunate than other families so on Sundays, she would set as many as 12 extra places at the table for supper. I think they must have had a very large table, or perhaps the children ate elsewhere. But according to my aunt, there was plenty of food to go share. It was a happy memory that my aunt carried with her all the 90 years of her life and fortunately, passed along to me.
I don’t know whether my mother enjoyed making those large Easter dinners, or getting up early so that the meal would be ready by the time everyone assembled around the table, but I know that she enjoyed our sitting down together to share the holiday meal. The meal wouldn’t begin until someone had said the blessing, usually my father or my Uncle Joe who was particularly eloquent. I remember the first thing that I would reach for was one of those deviled eggs. Our plates would be carefully handed to whomever sat closest to the sliced ham, now steaming warm, so that it could be lifted off the platter with the big sterling silver fork. I smeared my hot roll (the second thing that I reached for) with butter and grape jelly before biting into the soft, white bread.
The conversation would be grown-up and continuous. My younger brother (I only had one at the time)and I could contribute but we were too busy eating. I can’t remember what they talked about, but the symphony of their loving voices–my uncle’s deep bass, my aunt’s Swedish lilt, my other uncle’s mumble and my other aunt’s melodic alto–was music to me. I forgot that my new frilly, fancy dress or black patent leather shoes that my mother insisted I wear to church scratched my legs or pinched my feet. I was surrounded by those I loved and who loved me all partaking together a simple, but sumptuous meal, that would finish with the wonderful pineapple upside down cake made from scratch by one of my two aunts. Ah, what could be better.
Last Easter we repeated this tradition at my father’s home one last time. My father had passed away the week prior. His funeral took place on Good Friday. I was staying, with my sons and my husband, in his home still surrounded by his things he and my mother had so lovingly collected together over the years. Our family portraits still hung on the wall, including the one of me taken in the studio many Easters ago when I was child. (You can read about that in my Easter post from March 2013: https://cherylcrooksphotography.wordpress.com/2013/03/30/in-my-easter-bonnet/) Despite the sad events of the previous few days, I felt we must have one last supper to celebrate Easter in my father’s house, if nothing else but to honor the memory of both my parents and the families from which they came. Not everyone from the family who attended my Dad’s service was still in town. Two of my sons had to leave shortly after his funeral and my brothers couldn’t be there. But my husband, my cousins, nephews and nieces that were present was enough for me. It was family, gathered once more around the table. I had set it for one final time, with my mother’s good china on top of one of her beautiful tablecloths and placed flowers and candles in the center.
We didn’t have the ham, nor the creamed peas or even the pineapple upside down cake. In fact, the menu leaned more towards the brunch. But it didn’t matter. What mattered was that we were surrounded once again by family who shared a common history and love for those who had come before us and whose memory would live on long after us. While it was an Easter saddened by the recent passing of my father–the last of his generation– it was also a beautiful Easter.