GHOSTS OF EASTERS PAST
Let’s start with the one Suzanne is dying to tell you about me: when I was sixteen, I sat down after Easter Sunday mass with my Easter basket and proceeded to eat all of my Easter candy. Yes, all of it. It was probably 10:30 or so, and right there, in front of her and probably several of our brothers, before lunch, I ate it all.
She tried to stop me. She stared, incredulous, as likely did anyone else who was watching, and tried to talk me out of it.
“You’ll get an awful stomach ache,” she said.
“I know I will. I’m going to eat it all anyway,” I said. “And don’t try to stop me.”
“Don’t do it,” she said. “You’ll regret it.”
I did do it, and I did regret it. My only excuse/explanation was that I was a teenage hormonal and premenstrual mess, so chocolate—a hollow bunny, chocolate eggs, malted milk eggs and likely Peeps—was the only elixir I thought might make me feel better at that moment.
For just a moment, it did make me feel better. But not for long.
The memory of that morning lasted much longer than the gut ache, obviously the memory is alive and well in Suzanne’s memory. She loves to remind me of that story, so I won’t likely ever forget it, either.
Speaking of Easter gut aches, I’ve got another story, and this one was out of my control.
When my firstborn was almost two– 21 Easters ago—we went to the farm for Easter–Mom and Dad still lived there. Suzanne and I decided to travel to nearby Hays on Saturday before Easter. I felt a twinge of something in my gut early in the afternoon, but I dismissed it. As the afternoon wore on, I couldn’t ignore it: I was getting the stomach flu.
I remember sitting in the car outside Wal-Mart as Suzanne went in; I knew I’d better not try to make it work. I think we came home after that, cutting the trip short. As the stomach flu does, it progressed slowly throughout the day, until the inevitable was unavoidable. You know how it ended.
The only thing I remember eating that entire weekend was one bite of something mild like mashed potatoes. Certainly, no candy.
I missed Easter Sunday dinner, made it through the afternoon and made the 80-mile trip home. My stepson was with us that weekend; he was fifteen. He had Monday off, so we were to meet his mother Monday evening, two hours away in our usual spot.
Come Monday, I felt a bit better as the day progressed, and my husband began to feel like he was getting the flu. Around five in the afternoon, when it was time to take my stepson back, I decided I felt good enough to make the four-hour round- trip drive, because my husband continued to feel worse. To give him a break, I took our son along, who was almost two.
About fifteen minutes into the drive, I wished I hadn’t volunteered. I’m going to be okay, I thought. I have to be, I have these two boys to take care of.
I wasn’t alright. The flu came back with a vengeance, again building slowly. My stepson was too young to drive, but I seriously considered putting him behind the wheel anyway. (I didn’t.)
I made it two hours down the highway, dropped him off, and knew I couldn’t stay on the road. I rented a room at The Pheasant Inn, went in with my son, and curled up on the lone bed. He thought it was cool to be in a new place, he jumped on the bed and entertained himself for a while. I couldn’t do anything but lay there. After a while, he seemed confused, and didn’t think it was so cool anymore. I tried to entertain him with cartoons on TV with limited success.
It took about two hours, but finally the waves in my stomach rolled into a productive end. Again, you know what I’m saying.
I packed us both up and made the two-hour drive home, pulling in the garage about 11:00. I was sick off and on all week.
I observed my 21st birthday on Good Friday. I would say I celebrated, but there wasn’t much celebrating on Good Friday. Adding to that, I seemed to be the main character in the movie Sixteen Candles, as many people forgot it was my birthday. I drove home after college classes in nearby Hays that afternoon, stopping in Osborne to see Gail. She was at work capably managing the Pizza Hut as she always did. I chatted with her for a bit, then she let me know she was pretty busy, and needed to get back to work. So, she did, and I left—without any birthday greetings. Suzanne was sixteen, and likely didn’t care that it was my birthday.
I had talked to a friend earlier in the week who would be home from college, and we decided we would meet for a legal beer on my birthday. I called her when I got home, but she decided she was too tired, and didn’t feel like going out. Again, no birthday greetings.
I ended up going out to the small watering hole in our hometown, meeting another friend, and being serenaded by her, and a group of guys we knew, with with their heartfelt rendition of Happy Birthday.
I remember the beer tasting really good.
I spent Easter 1990 in Philadelphia as part of my one-year nanny commitment. The family I worked for was Jewish, so there were no Easter celebrations. I did learn about Judaism, and I got to participate in their Passover Seder supper. I remember Easter Sunday was a beautiful day, and I met my nanny friend Amy for lunch and a long walk. Her host family was Jewish too, so we were on our own.
Most importantly, Suzanne sent me a stuffed Easter bunny with a note that read “Now you won’t have to spend Easter alone.”
Despite (apparently) forgetting my 16th birthday too, she was thoughtful then, too.
Before Suzanne moved to my small city, she was our Easter hostess for many years. I told this story in Happy Birthday Suzanne—Be Careful What You Wish For (August 13th, 2017), but it bears repeating, especially in these times of toilet paper madness. She has no recollection of these words coming out of her mouth, but I was right there, I heard them, and I tucked them away to get them out in preparation for her next birthday in August.
Most of our siblings were there with their respective families, so our crowd likely numbered over twenty-five people. She was replacing another empty toilet tissue roll in one of her two bathrooms, and she spoke these exact words: “For my birthday, I wish everyone would get me toilet paper.”
A million-watt light bulb lit up in my head. “We can and we will do that,” I thought. I told Gail what she had just said, and we hatched our plan right there.
Four months later in August, Suzanne’s wish came true. Gail, who had lived in her town for years, and still knew most of the people there, organized a gift drive via e-mail, instructing everyone she knew to shower Suzanne with toilet paper for her upcoming birthday. It was delivered to her workplace at the small-town bank she worked in, it showed up on her step, it was delivered in person to her home and even came through the U.S. mail. Over three hundred rolls later, Suzanne’s birthday was one she would never forget. All because of that comment she made on Easter Sunday that she still doesn’t remember.
She told me last week she wants toilet paper again for her birthday this year. That wish might be a little harder to fulfill this year.
I just finished Easter Sunday lunch with my family. There were four of us. It was a nice gathering, but not the large, extended family dinner I am used to on Easter Sunday, with most of my siblings and their families. We had plans to spend it on the farm, hosted by our brother and his family. Like the rest of the world, our Easter plans changed. We will gather and celebrate at a later date. I am grateful to have a warm home in the wintry, un-Easter-like weather, and plenty of food to enjoy with my immediate family. I know I am fortunate.
Easter promises hope every year, and especially this year, the promise cannot be overlooked. There will be better days ahead. Hope sustains us in times like these, even if we have never before experienced times like these.
Suzanne’s daughter and my firstborn hunting Easter eggs. Note my mom pants in the background. That’s ghostly.
Suzanne hunting Easter eggs in our grandpa’s yard, likely 1973.
Suzanne sent me these memories while looking through pictures yesterday. In this last one, I don’t look very hopeful that this drastic change in my life will ever be a good thing. Even if I gave up hope then, this change in my life in the form of a new baby sister turned out to be an incredible gift.
I doubt Gail batted an eye when I arrived. Perhaps she rolled her eyes, thinking “Great. Another baby I have to help take care of.” But like she always did, always does, and probably always will, she rolled up her sleeves, and accepted the challenge. She did her part; did the hard work she was expected to do.
And hope prevailed.
As we all do our parts in this time of crisis, keep the spirit of Easter alive today, and throughout this challenging time. Take care of yourselves, which, in turn, takes care of everyone else.
And despite the fact that this Easter will be stand out in our memories as a ghostly one, hope will prevail.