Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Memories Mother Memories

Spring Daffodils
It is Easter weekend and just over two years since my mother died.  I have been thinking about her these last few weeks as the daffodils bloomed.  Daffodils were my mother’s favorite flower – she carried them at her April wedding in 1946 and we decorated the church with them at her March funeral in 2012.  The sight of these bright yellow harbingers of spring remind me of what a wonderful woman my mother was.

My mother was a small and very energetic woman.  She was a born organizer with a never-ending ability to manage logistics no matter how complex.  If she had been born 40 years later, she probably would have been the chief executive of some large organization that did good works.  But she was born in 1923 and although she trained and worked in London during World War II as a nurse (and renewed her RN in her late fifties in California), after she married she never worked at a paid job again.  But that didn’t mean she didn’t accomplish a great deal in her life.  She did.  She was mother to six children, grandmother to seventeen grandchildren and a life-long exceptional community volunteer.  

When we were growing up, we moved from England to Canada and then to the east and then west coast of the United States – each time we arrived in a new city and a new culture but knew no one.  My mother never let this fact bother her.  She immediately made connections with the new community.  She joined the church, she enrolled us in school, she joined the parent teacher associations, she went next door and met the neighbors, she volunteered her help to countless community and charity organizations particularly those associated with her children’s activities and her husband’s medical career.  My mother was the president (and as she liked to say chief cook and bottle washer) of numerous parent teacher associations at the many schools my siblings and I attended; she was an officer, president and chief fund raiser of countless medical charities; she was the parental advisor for the youth church choir and church youth associations; she was my Girl Guide leader; she ran the youth programs at the local skating rink; she worked for more than forty years as a volunteer in endless hospital gift shops; she was president of her community association and successful advocate for preserving the beautiful hills and canyon around her home in Los Angeles from development; the list goes on.  But perhaps her biggest achievement was the extraordinary imagination and fun she brought into the lives of her children, their spouses and grandchildren, her husband, her friends and neighbors.  My mother was simply full of energy and imagination.  At holidays, it is hard not to miss this delightful lady.

My mother embraced the Episcopal Church calendar in an enthusiastic and liberal manner.  Many of the elements she emphasized had little to do with religious beliefs and much to do with pulling the family and extended community together.  Easter was no exception.  One of the traditions that I remember with a great fondness is the Easter outfit.  My mother thought it important to have a new Easter outfit to wear to church on Easter Sunday.   When I was between the ages of eight and fourteen, we lived in a small town in Canada on the shores of Lake Ontario.  Many years, spring had barely begun by the time Easter Sunday dawned.  Often there was still ice on the lake and remnants of dirty snow along the roadsides.  The air would still be cold and early crocuses might be just peaking out of the damp soil.  No matter.  My mother would marshall all six children the week or two before Easter.  Each of us needed a new pair of shoes and a new outfit, perhaps a new spring coat and for us girls a new Easter bonnet, a matching purse and a new pair of spring gloves.  I remember some of my Easter outfits to this day.  One of my favorites was a sailor style dress with a white collar and a loose red bow that tied in front.  I had a blue straw hat with a grosgrain ribbon band that matched the dress.  What I loved about the outfit was its classic look – it was not frilly.  Little did I know that I would become a professional woman and sport similar loose bow ties at work during the eighties!  I was just a young girl at the time but my goal was to look chic – well dressed and sophisticated – never showy or cute.  My mother supported me in this goal despite the fact that it was not the norm for little girls in our small town.  

On Good Friday my mother always had Hot Cross Buns on the breakfast table – white icing sugar crosses on soft sweet currant buns.  Now, fifty years later it is difficult to even find Hot Cross Buns for sale.  The best breakfast was definitely on Easter Sunday itself when we had soft-boiled eggs.  We dyed them red and blue and yellow and green and every color in between.  Invariably we mixed colors until we ended up with one cup of a dirty brown that no one wanted to use.  I don’t really remember what we did for lunch on Easter Sunday after church but I do remember we always had ham studded with cloves for dinner – ham and potatoes and inevitably frozen green beans.  In those days it wasn’t possible to buy fresh vegetable during the winter or early spring.  They just weren’t available and the crazy shipping and refrigeration systems that we depend on today to ship fresh food globally did not exist.  Somehow we were all healthy even though we lived on frozen or canned fruits and vegetables for more than six months out of the year.

Easter Sunday afternoon was reserved for the Easter egg hunt.  When I was young my mother hid foil covered Easter eggs in several rooms in the house, or if the weather was unseasonably warm, in the garden.  When I got older, my sister and I took on the role of egg hiders – that was almost more fun than finding the eggs.  Over the years we had to become increasingly tricky in our hiding places as our younger brothers and sisters remembered the clever places from the year before.  Everyone learned to leave the most obvious eggs for the youngest children and to search the most out of the way places hoping to get more eggs.  Invariably several eggs would never be found during the hunt and we would find them months later hidden between the cracks of a sofa pillow or balanced on a high, out of the way picture rail.

As the years went by and we all married and moved to different cities, my mother faithfully mailed Easter baskets to all her grandchildren.  The contents were delightful – a stuffed bunny; chocolate foil covered eggs; maybe a chocolate bunny or some marshmallow eggs; some seasonal jelly beans and festive stuffing – crinkly colored paper in which to nestle all candy.  My grown daughter remembers visiting my mother and father one spring vacation and helping package all the Easter baskets for her cousins.  I think there are still some little bunnies hanging around my house from those annual baskets.

While I don’t celebrate a traditional Easter anymore, and during my adult life I celebrated Passover with my Jewish mother-in-law as often as Easter with my mother, I love Easter as an enduring symbol of the annual celebration of spring.  Today my neighborhood was full of signs of Easter – cardboard cutouts of chicks and bunnies.  Brightly colored bouquets of balloons decorated doorsteps.  Spring flowers were in bloom.  It was a great day to take an afternoon walk with my brother and his family and share a delicious meal – and a chocolate egg or two together.  It was a great day to remember my mum and her lovely Easter traditions.  Happy Easter!

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