I remember the Easter of my youth with great, gleeful, pleasure, although I suppose most people would say that it was all quite bizarre….

        Easter in our little Catholic family, was a very special, hectic, and holy day, that everyone of us, looked foward to for very different reasons…. As the oldest boy, with 2 brothers and 4 sisters, I was expected to guide my younger siblings (especially my brothers) through the choppy waters that always accompanied a holiday in our little house…

       The celebration always started the night before, when all the preparations got under way. Each of the older kids was responsible for some facet of the prep work that was necessary to pull off a Happy Easter, in our house… My job always seemed to grow from the chore of shoe polishing for the family (yeah, all the shoes- 9 pair, 18 individual shoes!), to picking up the slack for a younger, sleepy sibling that couldn’t quite finish his/her job before the arrival of the ‘Sandman’.

       Sometimes, it would take me an hour and a half to shine all the shoes, pass inspection from an overtired Mom, and then a good half hour of soaking and scrubbing my hands and fingernails, to remove the last traces of the different polishes that I used to make all those shoes sparkle!!

       While I labored over the pile of shoes in one corner of the kitchen, my oldest sister boiled a huge pot of water filled with white eggs, the rank smell of sulfur filling the kitchen and permeating the rest of the house like a giant fart, that left the kids holding their noses and teasing each other with “Who cracked one?” comments and the like… Year after year, the same smell, the same, lame, jokes!!

       At the other end of the kitchen, 2 of my other sisters, folded the freshly washed and air dried laundry, and then set up and utilized the ironing station… Every item of our Sunday best was ironed, the white shirts starched and hung on hangers- lines of clothes hanging from the tops of door casings, and then shuttled to various rooms for distribution, like our own little UPS terminal, kids going one way and the other, stepping over my shoe station, dodging the steamy scoops of boiled eggs that were carried to the kitchen table to cool in another huge pot of water…
About 8PM , the kids would all gather at the kitchen table, the little ones, valiantly trying to keep their sleepy eyes open, and the egg decorating would start… The kitchen table was covered with little bowls of colored egg dye, and  large containers of crayons, and various devices to imprint patterns on the surfaces of the newly dipped eggs… It was quite a spectacle- kids trying to outdo each other using self devised, ‘secret’ techniques to come up with the most beautiful Easter egg for that year…. The only thing missing was a trophy!! Every kid remembered who won the year before!!

         Well, by 8:45 or so, it was off to bed, for the younger kids, and the older of us were left to do the final cleanup in the kitchen so that Mom could start her baking for the Easter feast… All the kids were officially in bed by 9:30, at the latest, that year….

        Easter Sunday that year  started with a freak snowstorm that ended just before we all piled into the family station wagon to go to mass… I was fit to be tied, trying to carry the younger kids to the car, so their freshly polished shoes would still look nice by the time we got to church… All the kids were neatly dressed, the girls all wore their frilly dresses, the boys had suits and ties, the little guys had clip-on ties… I was old enough to have a ‘real’ tie (my only one) and tied it and wore it as a status symbol….

        I don’t remember the services much that year, only that they lasted a LONG time, and that my youngest brother got very fidgety, and that it was my job to keep him in line through the whole mass…It was quite a feat, and this is probably why I got so good at working with kids- I became an expert at an early age!!

       Somehow, we made it through the mass, our family filling almost the entire pew in the new church that had been finished the year before… To my amazement, when the doors to the church were opened, liberating all the energetic, caged children, the snow that fell that morning had almost vanished and the sun was bright and quickly pushed the thermometer to 60 degrees!!

       That year, like every other year, we then made our pilgrimage to Elizabeth Park, where the promise of Spring was on vivid display, in the form of blooming daffodils, tulips, crocuses and every bulbed plant you could think of, and then some!! Even though we were all in our best clothes, the kids could run a bit, and wander around in groups with other visiting kids, all dressed for Easter… It was quite a sight, and I remember it fondly.

        By noon, everyone was getting hungry, and we reloaded the ‘Country Squire’ and headed home, the giant station wagon lumbering around the winding roads, the lucky kids in the rear ‘jump’ seat, riding backwards, gesturing through the rear window at the cars in back of us, laughing and wrestling(much  to our parent’s consternation). I swear that when we took a corner in that grand old lady, the front of the car went around 2 seconds before the back did!! Well, it seemed like it, anyways!

       Easter dinner was a grand feast, that rivaled Christmas in our family. There was the giant baked ham, glazed and covered with succulent slices of pineapple; mashed potatoes, butternut squash, creamed onions, green beans and almonds, fresh baked rolls, and homemade desserts… All of these things now covered the kitchen table with the freshly ironed, patterned linen table cloth…

         Perhaps, I should explain something here… You see, we never really had a good dining table at this time in our family- the table was a kind of hand-me-down from my Dad’s side of the family, and was really too small for all of us to eat together so… Since we didn’t have the money for something new, and the chairs were falling apart anyways, Pop decided to turn the table into kind of a hybrid picnic table, with 2 integral benches, complete with little folding metal legs under them, for stability… You see, without the folding legs in the down position, the table was essentially a seesaw on steroids! Pop had decided that the folding legs were necessary so that it would be easier to clean under the table after each meal… I remember Mom rolling her eyes at this ‘great’ idea, and muttering something about a better job that would let us get a ‘real’ table, but, I digress…

        Oh, and I should also mention that our little home was built (by Pop, a carpenter, by trade) across the street from the local golf course, and at the bottom of the hill from the 5th tee … It doubled as the PRIMO sliding hill, during the winter, and all my friends were jealous of me because I could ‘slide whenever I wanted!’ Sure! They didn’t have to live there…

          Back to Easter, 1967…. We’re all finally seated at the table with this wonderful feast in front of us, and I start to say Grace, as was the custom…. CRASH!!!! Suddenly the kitchen window explodes, sending shards of glass all over the place, ricocheting off Pop’s back and then there is a golf ball rolling around on the table!! My sisters that are across the table from me leap to their feet screaming (Ahh  girls!), and with that singular movement, I am sinking towards the floor, the table rising in front of me like a ship sinking by the bow, and the beautiful Easter ham and all the trimmings is sliding off the table and into my lap, in a giant, rolling wave, table cloth and all!! We had forgotten to put the folding legs down….

        I caught the ham… My brother caught the mashed potatoes (his favorite). The rest, cascaded to the floor, as my mother screamed in dismay, the china breaking at random, and the rolls surviving, by riding the tablecloth down and maintaining their exact positions in the rattan basket that contained them…

       It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what we ended up eating that Easter… Actually, many of the kids weren’t too disappointed to see all the vegetables on the floor, for obvious reasons!

         Oh, yeah, the golfer that hit the ball through our front window- a real stand-up kind of guy!! He disappeared over the back of the hill, apparently thinking that there would be hell to pay… There was…Most of my uncles were avid golfers and well known State champs… They knew just about everyone on that course that day, and the guy that didn’t want to pay for damages, never stood a chance!! We knew who he was within the hour… Don’t feel too sorry for him though; He eventually became a state representative and was caught in some kind of political corruption, many years later… Who would’ve thunk???      Amen…

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