Monday, April 25, 2011
Walking around this morning, I found yesterday's snow was mostly gone and the air was filled with promise and possibilities. Instead of eggs I seemed to be on a flower hunt, discovering snowdrops and crocuses that had pushed their way through last Fall's leaves. Many of the daffodils were making appearances, and the buds were finally beginning to show. The lilac leaves are starting to appear as are the ones on the rosebush. With the sun shining it was easy to remember the Easters of my childhood--there were new dresses, ribboned hats and always the traditional photo moment as the three sisters posed in front of the tree at my grandmother’s house. There was most certainly a feast to be eaten after church on that holiday. I seem to remember fried chicken, potato salad, and several varieties of pies being on the menu. We all gathered in our finery, happy that Spring was finally upon us.
The weeks leading up to Easter were a solemn time filled with solitude and introspection. Not only did we have to give something up for Lent that we truly could not do without, we were expected to attend church every Friday evening for the Stations of the Cross. During that time the priest and the altar boys would stop at each picture that adorned the church walls. The priest read passages and in the pews we would kneel and respond. As a teen I had no desire to spend my Friday evenings reciting scripture verses when all of my friends were out and about; but some of my friends were the altar boys who accompanied the priest around to each station. Often I would catch the eye of one of my friends and we would exchange a knowing look, wondering how we ever managed to be inside reciting when the rest of the world was wild and free.
Those evenings the priest would have certain robes to wear; but on Easter Sunday, after so many weeks of sacrifice, his attire was resplendent. The way I remember him best though is not dressed in robes, but rather in a black short sleeved shirt, black pants and a clerical collar. And though he lived in the rectory next to the church and I would often see him around our small town, how I think of him now is at the roller skating rink. Several times a year our catechism class would have an outing to a rink in a nearby town. Our priest had the merriest time on his skates going round and round without a care in the world, or so it seemed. In some ways it was very out of the ordinary to see him there, as many of the kids here are shocked to find that I do indeed go to the grocery store and I do not live at the library. Yet I think it showed me at an early age that you can do what you love no matter your constraints. By working within those boundaries, and upholding your commitments there is still some time to (rock and) roll along to the tunes.
T woke to a basket of candy this morning , including a chocolate bunny with tremendously long ears. As he opened up the Laffy Taffy he started reading us some of the jokes on the wrapper. If I closed my eyes I could almost imagine a younger son immensely pleased with the finds from his Easter hunt instead of the teenager in front of me. I reached for a taffy, wanting to taste the days of my own roller skating youth. Back then it was my absolute favorite candy to buy at the snack bar, strawberry, grape and watermelon. I used the money my grandmother gave me to buy one long piece and then saved the rest of the coins to fund some fantasy or another. But before I opened a piece today, I stopped myself, for that was then and this is now. I knew my teeth wouldn’t appreciate the stickiness. So I reached for a peep instead. And then quite possibly, another.
I've been to New Orleans twice. Once for New Year's Eve with an old boyfriend (it rained) and once with M to his uncle's wedding. We'd only been dating for a few months and were still in the early stages of infatuation, and while it was thrilling to meet his extended family, it was also excruciating. I'm shy, and thirteen years ago I was even more shy. Enough to render me mute in the face of decent people. But smiling graciously comes pretty easily, so I did that whenever I couldn't speak, and it all went just fine. It was a Catholic wedding, my first ever. It was long and lovely with an abiding sense of formality, and M's family was so warm that I, with my lingering nontheism, never felt too much out of place, even when the strangers next to me gave me hugs and shook my hand and told me how glad they were for my very existence.
"The priest is a good lesson for me," M commented once, during the reception. The priest was not very old but had to have an oxygen tank on a leash wherever he went. M was in the process of trying to quit his smoking habit. Which he'd had for twenty or so years. But fear of lung cancer didn't work. A new girlfriend (me) didn't work. Later, a new baby didn't work and then another new baby didn't do the trick either. The habit stuck, not for lack of effort on M's part to shake himself of it.
What did work was the sight of his little boys sucking on twigs and leaning against the car, one hand tucked into a front pocket in that classic smoker's pose. Nothing warned M of the effect of his actions on his boys like seeing influence in real time. After that it was easy. Well, he made it look easy. He threw away his last pack, circled the date on the kitchen calendar and sighed. Turns out that quitting a lethal habit can really become just another mundane task we perform for the sake of our children. Like changing bed sheets, filling out school emergency forms, grilling hamburgers to the right shade of pink. The boys still pretend to smoke, especially in winter chill when their breath produces real puffs of white. But they do it to get a rise out of us, to get the lecture they know is coming. They are not boys trying to be like dad through pursed lips and lightly clutched twigs.