Once Upon a Many Years From Now…

My mom is 89 years old and mostly in possession of her wits, but she neither hears nor sees well, and her memory is getting a bit dodgy. Dad, at 92, has good and bad days. He can walk short distances with a cane, sees well, hears well, and knows the songs of most birds in the eastern United States but naps frequently and may not recall at lunch what I discussed with him at breakfast.

woodthrush11What we discussed at breakfast does not matter as much as those song birds. My brother’s cell phone has the wood thrush as its ring tone. Dad got it in one, and hearing that song, I’m sure he was transported back to birding walks with his Uncle John, to evening strolls with my mother when they lived in Pennsylvania, and to quiet mornings as a boy in East Aurora.

Memories can terrify so powerfully, they obliterate reason, but I hope, increasingly as we approach the end of life, memory becomes our best comfort, and eventually, our reality.

I have many, many wonderful memories of Easter, in particular.

eggs in trayFirst, on Saturday we’d die eggs, at least two dozen. Why so many, you ask? Not because we wanted egg salad sandwiches in our lunches for the next week, but because with seven children, two dozen eggs meant we’d each find at least several in the household Easter Egg hunt. From year to year, some hiding places remained the same, but others… yes, there was the occasional orphan egg, founds days later, and taken straight outside to the garbage cans no matter how badly I wanted to know exactly what a rotten egg smelled like.

black jelly beansThere was also a dish of jelly beans. In good years, they were the spicy kind, with clove, cinnamon, licorice (my fave), and peppermint, but more often, they were the really sweet, fruity kind that is mostly useful for wrecking teeth and pitching at siblings.

There were Easter baskets stored in the Christmas closet, and a bit mildewy as a result, but we each had our own, specific, don’t-you-dare-touch-mine basket, and mine was one of the largest.

cakeFinally, there was Easter dinner, which might have involved ham, ranch dressing mashed potatoes, and green beans almondine. I forget the meal (please don’t tell Mom), but I recall in scrumptious detail the coconut cream cake made with whipped cream and Jell-O. Mom ONLY made this cake on Easter and there was never a single piece left over.

Not one. Be nice to me, because I have the recipe.

When I’m old(er) and my memory is a bit (more) dodgy, when I’m reduced to teetering short distances with a cane, don’t worry about me too much. Aided by my memory, a part of me will be skipping through the house, hunting Easter eggs, picking out all the black jelly beans, and savoring a piece of Mom’s Easter cake.

How about you? What memories will comfort you and make you smile? What memories are you making for your children to bring them comfort and cheer when you no longer can?

To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of “Darius,” due to hit the shelves on Tuesday!

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39 comments on “Once Upon a Many Years From Now…

  1. Happy Easter to you, Grace.

    We don’t do the coconut, but it just isn’t Easter without a Jell-o cake. That also used to be my birthday cake of choice growing up. We dyed a few eggs each year but my parents always used the “fill n thrill” plastic eggs for the egg hunts. It was just me and my older brother but my parents made everything fun for us. They hid the eggs outside and of course, there were some hiding spots that were the same each year and we had some eggs that were just for me or just for my brother and those usually had money in them or just the candy we liked. We used the same Easter basket every year as well.
    Of course, being a girly girl growing up one of my fondest memories is getting my new Easter dress and it was the one Sunday of the year I always wore a bonnet to church. I still like to get a new dress or blouse for Easter every year and a lot of times, anymore, it is the only new dress I buy during the year.
    As for my boys, we really don’t have anything specific we do on Easter with them. We go to church, but we do that every Sunday, and then we go to my parents house. Their memories will hopefully be of going to their grandparents’ house on Easter for the egg hunt and all the yummy food, they mostly eat the sweets.

    • Now here we have what’s called your diverging opinions. My sister Maire is 2 years, 4 months, and 3 days my senior, and several inches shorter than me. She’s a girly girl, as is my mom, and nothing would do be Maire and I had to have complimentary Easter dresses.
      As a girl, I loathed dresses, and they were mandatory for school. I loathed church. I loathed having my hair done, Wasn’t I a delightful child?
      Maire, by contrast, reveled in all of that. My poor mother…

      • I never had to do the matching dress thing, thank goodness. I wore dresses and my mom curled my hair or I slept in pink spongies until about the age of 10 when I got fed up with it and decided I didn’t like dresses anymore and I wanted my hair cut. I still had to wear at least a skirt to church, though. I was lucky enough to attend a parochial school that did not have a uniform or make the girls wear dresses. When I hit the mid teen years I rediscovered my love of dresses and let my hair grow long again. Since my early 20’s I have been a t-shirt and jeans kind of girl who occasionally likes to play dress-up.

  2. Happy Easter to you Grace . I can’t help but smile when you say that you ate interested to know the taste of the rotten egg. I did the same as a young kids ;). I beg my mama to let me taste it much to her own chagrin . Of course she won’t let ne do it . My grams always bought a basket of sweet candies for me during Easter . She never fails to produce a basket of sweets through the year even when I am no longer a little kid and was a girl of 18 years old. Then she died but since then I always remembers to buy a basket of sweet every single year just to preserve my memory of her 🙂

  3. Happy Easter! I have fond memories of Easter egg hunts, my father sneaking candy out of our baskets and chocolate bunnies. Had I been your sister, I would have initiated a level of trade never seen on world markets to unload every jelly bean I had (not just the black ones!) for anything chocolate or chocolate-covered.

    • Wendy, we did trade and my brother Tom was the shrewdest at it. He was also full of bright ideas about what I might want in exchange for my Maple Sugar candy at Christmas, but nuh-uh! I have my priorities straight.

      • I did forget to mention (or did I purge the memory?) of wearing matching Easter dresses with my sister who was exactly one year and one week younger than me (me Dec. 18th, her Dec. 25th). My grandmother was a tailor and made us matching dresses often…sometimes it would be the same dress, different colors. The women in the family were want to dress us like twins. I have a series of pictures of my sister and I in Easter dresses with matching bonnets and gloves. Christmas/birthday gifts are a whole other discussion 🙂

  4. The Easter Bonnet! Of all the memories I have of Easter, one particularly comes to mind. I must have been 7 or 8 years old. So this goes back nearly 50 years. My bonnet that year was a lovely pink confection, that wrapped from ear to ear (almost snapped on), and had one long, equally pink string that went from one end of the bonnet to the other, to be tied underneath your chin.

    Our family had gone to church to celebrate the season. My older sister, older brother, and myself had thundered up the stairs to the balcony, while younger brother was firmly towed by the hand to go sit with mother downstairs. Mass had begun, and the priest was speaking, when my siblings and I played a game of torturing our little brother by tossing what was at hand down upon his head below. Unfortunately, my bonnet slipped (whilst hanging over the balcony) and fell to the pews below. Horrors! I carefully slunk down the stairs and crept up the aisle to where my mother sat, while the service progressed. I managed to get the hat and began to sneak back up the balcony stairs when my mother realized that the entire church was silently watching my antics. Grabbing my little brother’s hand, she stood and proceeded to march up the aisle, up the stairs, and dragged all of us out of the church. I am sure she hasn’t any fond memories of that day, but all of my siblings like to roast me about the event, and to this day Easter has always been to me about family, church, and of course, that little pink Easter Bonnet.

    • In the interests of full disclosure (since I am the aforementioned older sister), what was mostly at hand was spit. Yes, we were spitting on our younger brother’s head and hit our target as confirmed by said younger brother years later. I am laughing now as I type and remembering this 50 years later.

      • Have to ask if this is a denomination that was big on confession? And how many other families at church that day are still recalling the darling little girl who tried to bonnet her little bro in the middle of the Easter service.

  5. Happy Easter and thank you. Your blogs are always amazing. This one was wonderful, but made me cry (good, healing tears). I am off to see my mom and sister in a short while, although the day will be nearly over before I reach them. We will have some wonderful ‘do you remember?’ conversations like “remember the year it SNOWED for Easter in APRIL??” and then celebrate our coming April birthdays together. My copy of Darius will arrive on Tuesday already, but if I am lucky enough to get another copy I will SHARE it and open the wonderful world of your writing to someone else.

    • Polly, my family has reunions about every three years, and it’s usually several straight days of do you remember. The little kids love hearing those stories, and I think one of the best parts of holidays is that they give a chance to trot out the family stories.

    • Snowing for Easter in April? That’s what Easter was like here in Germany this year. But still, we could do our egg search outside…

  6. When it comes to Easter, hands down the memory that stands out is my father’s long standing Peeps addiction. 🙂 It’s become the family joke and now with Facebook I can pass on all those cool Peeps ideas to him. And while they now have multiple holiday Peeps, and lots of colors, his preference is still for the yellow chicks.

    With my own boys, I’m stashing away many, many memories that hopefully will last me a lifetime. Though in some ways, I do think the incredible busyness of our lives today takes away from the slower pace and more ingrained traditions of my childhood.

  7. Memories that comfort
    As a child – attending church in an extravagant Easter dress made of white dotted swiss, pastel yellow, as light as lemon meringue. The secret thrill of swishing layers of crinoline petticoats beneath. The liquid inky shine of patent leather shoes. The lesson of ‘beauty requires suffering’ learned from raw skin scraped around armholes and waist by seams of stiff fabric, and blisters from tight, seldom worn shoes. The pride and pleasure of swanning around in finery, matched by the relief of taking it off. The comfort and familiarity of everyday clothes; a soft, worn tee shirt that didn’t have to be kept clean, hand-me-down shorts and bare feet.
    The afternoon spent in rough and tumble play with cousins in the backyard. The uncles and aunts who discreetly monitored the egg hunt, making sure the youngest found something for their baskets. Falling asleep in the backseat of the car on the drive home at dusk, listening to my parents sing ‘Shine on Harvest Moon.’

    As a parent – taking the girls shopping for dresses with sashes, lace-trimmed socks, and velvet hair ribbons. Surreptitiously checking to make sure the seams didn’t scratch or itch. Permitting the indulgence of chocolate bunnies for breakfast, and shifting the blame onto the Easter Bunny. Afternoon with crowds of extended family, watching my three children perform impromptu versions of fairytale stories for the adults. The shrieks of playing tag with their boisterous cousins. Driving them home in the twilight, sticky and sleepy, listening to a tape of Greenday singing ‘Time of Your Life.’

    • And there was probably some harmony for that rendition of “On Harvest Moooooooon.” I think you should print that post, Virginia, and save it to share with your family. You’ve caught the day more effectively than you might have with a Kodak collage.

  8. I haven’t done Easter egg hunting in a long time. I really don’t have any memories of child memories of Easter. However, I believe any time spend with the family is priceless no matter what you are doing.

    • Ninoskasua, if you read Eloisa James, you’ve gone Easter egg hunting. I love the way she hides little references and snippets of coincidence for the reader to connect between books.

      I do believe she’s the author or pioneered this pleasure.

      And I agree with you: Family is the heart of most celebration for me, whether it’s family of origin, family of choice, or family of the book.

  9. My Easter memories involve shopping for a frilly new dress each year and making up Easter baskets for my mother and sister full of chocolates and small gifts. Also, my mother always had this big blue vase that she filled with branches of pussy willows. She then hung a couple of dozen of brightly painted wooden eggs from them on gold strings and for about a week before Easter and through the day itself, this vase decorated the dining room. And I LOVE the sweet sugary jelly beans the best, not the black ones!

  10. My young years never included the Easter bunny but the years of my children did. We always, weather permitting, hid Easter eggs outdoors. With four children, coloring eggs and decorating them was always filled with laughter and fun, as well as competition. The one with the best all around Easter egg was given a special treat. Mom made the golden egg, which when found, garnered the winner $5…a lot at that time. This was done on Saturday so we could concentrate on Jesus on Sunday.
    Sunday dinner was filled with all kinds of foods (we had a large garden and canned every year) and a special dessert. The child that found the most eggs got to choose their favorite dessert. We did a lot and maybe I went overboard to make up for the memories not made in my childhood but I wouldn’t trade the ones we made for anything!

    • Seems to me, JOY, there’s no such thing as going overboard when the agenda is family celebration. Then too, part of what I’ve loved about parenting is re-casting some of my childhood in a happier mold for my daughter. Based on the posts above, I’d say we’re not the only moms to do this.

  11. For those who haven’t come across it, the wood thrush sounds like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-22ZuQyAJ4

    Thoreau said about this little fellow:

    Whenever a man hears it he is young, and Nature is in her spring; wherever he hears it, it is a new world and a free country, and the gates of Heaven are not shut against him.

    For the duration of a ring tone, my 92-year-old dad was young.

  12. At three months old was adopted on Good Friday, making it my family birthday. In my 20s it became my day to thank my parents for choosing me, take them to dinner, and celebrate the gift of having a family. In 2004 the Easter weekend was our last holiday together with Dad choosing to spend it at home in hospice. A favorite cousin is a retired Lutheran Minister, and he joined us that weekend to feast, remember, and give us a private service. As a pagan my Easter observance is a bit early, a bit different, but attending to my cousin’s Easter communion in a small Nebraska town is one of my most cherished spiritual activities. Disparate memories, sweetened by being the only black jellybean lover left.

    • Not the ONLY one Larisa. You have already learned what some of us never quite grasp: Doesn’t matter if it’s family of origin, family of adoption, or family of choice. Family is family is family, and there’s nothing like it.

      I’ll be in Denver in mid-June. What say we go on a black jelly bean hunt?

      • Licorice/Black Jelly Beans is on my top ten need-to-recreate-because-I-can’t-find-them. Grace, you may have just volunteered to be a taste tester!

  13. Eggs were never hidden when I was a child but we would get a basket until we got “too old.” So of course when my children were young I hid eggs – the plastic kind filled with all kinds of goodies. Some eggs had clues. One of my best memories is my husband actually getting into my youngest daughter’s crib and laying down because it was soooo early lol. I would sneak into their rooms and hide eggs while they were sleeping and then fall asleep trying to remember where I hit them all lol. And they always got at least one book in their baskets!! My girls are grown now so no more easter hunts or egg dying but maybe one day if those grandchildren ever come lol.

    • Those scavenger hunts with the Easter Egg clues are a baaaaad idea. Once you do one, the plain old “go look for it” kind won’t do. I made my life even more complicated by putting the clues in rhyming couplets. WHAT was I thinking?!

  14. Happy Easter, Grace!

    We never hid eggs, but I remember dying a dozen eggs per child…and their were 5 of us! We each had a candy filled basket. The bunny ears were always the first to go. LOL

    My boys are 16 & 17 and were never into dying eggs. Today I still gave them a chocolate bunny and a peeps sucker inside a microwave popcorn bucket in place of an Easter basket. They were happy.

    • Yes, eating the ears and the tail first! Some years, because my grandmother owned a candy store, we’d get a solid chocolate egg… if I ever approached having enough chocolate, that would be the occasion.

  15. I can smell the vinegar in the PAAS easter egg dye…I can see in my mind, in blue melamine coffee cups lined up on the kitchen counter, all the pretty colors. My grandfather was the official “egg dyer with the grandchildren”, and he was the best!! I also had to suffer through Dippity-Doo and pink sponge rollers. The pictures are blackmail material for me and my cousins. We were surrounded by love and laughter, and were so secure. Sunday School and Church, huge gracious lunch, egg hunting…I have the sweetest memories. Thank you for reminding me of them today.

    • Oh the Dippity-Doo, I forgot about that. Every Saturday night and some nights in between I had sit in front of my mom and get the pink sponge rollers and now I can almost smell the dippity-doo. The joys of having straight as a board hair.

    • Told my mom the thing I missed most about being a grown up at Easter was her coconut cake. When I’m out there visiting next month, I intend to make it… for my parents, of course.

  16. We had seafood on Good Friday and we dyed Easter eggs on Holy Saturday. As a family, we went to early morning mass on Easter Sunday. The gals always wore white shoes for the first time of the season. As kids, we gave up candy for Lent, so we couldn’t wait for Easter morning! Mom and Dad used to let us have one piece of candy in the morning, but we had to wait until after our large Easter family lunch before we could have any more. Brach’s Fiesta Malted Milk Eggs and Elmer’s Gold Brick Eggs were my favorites.

    • I’d forgotten that rule about white shoes–from Easter until Labor Day, right? (Does anybody wear white shoes any more?) And we didn’t get malted milk balls, we got Milk Duds, which to this day, I can cheerfully pass up.

  17. The first Easter after I bought my house I hosted dinner. I had to work that day so it ended up being late afternoon before everyone arrived and since it was a townhouse with no yard, my egg hiding was limited. There were the dozen candy filled plastic eggs and each person got a mini basket of goodies and a gift certificate to a favorite place.

    It was a small gathering, just my Sister, her then Fiance (now Husband) and the Parents. I had spent a good part of the afternoon at work painting a large plastic egg. I painted it gold. And instead of candy, it housed the PRIZE: $50. Needless to say, my poor little townhouse was turned inside out by Sister and Fiance as they pushed, shoved and locked eachother out of rooms searching for the golden egg!

    Now that Sister and Husband are expecting Baby this summer, Easter (and Halloween and Christmas) will have new meaning as baby discovers the joys of Family Time. I can’t wait to teach Baby about Golden Eggs, or that when you plant jelly beans, you get to pick lolly-pops on easter morning. And if you’re good the Easter Bunny will leave basket of treats for you at Auntie’s house.

    I’ll let Sister and Husband torture the poor child with dressing up Easter morning. He or She will come to my place to celebrate and make memories!