On this, my 16th Easter in Vermont, I find myself driving around in the blinding snow as I rush around to buy last minute candy for my eleven year old son’s basket. No, he no longer believes in the Easter bunny, but I will continue to make up a basket for him, probably until he’s 45. There’s something about the ritual beyond the religious implications, or the commercial ones, something that harkens back to a simpler time for me, one of the few from the short time when we were a complete family of seven before my father’s death.
My childhood memories of Easter in our small 1960’s New Jersey town are so vivid they are in Technicolor. My mother would spend weeks sewing a holiday outfit for me. The coordinated outfit was completed with a straw hat, a pair of white gloves and shiny patent leather mary-janes. I would endure church with my parents and four older siblings, restless throughout because after mass we would participate in the community Easter egg hunt. I can still see the green field now, with the brightly colored eggs peeking out from behind the trees and shrubs. It was always a sunny day with blue skies and moderate temperatures. Then we would return home and the sugar bacchanalia would commence. I would spend the rest of the afternoon trying to protect my chocolate bunny from my three greedy brothers. Usually my father would be the one to bite its head off. Despite the gluttony of the men in my family, the warmth of those Easter Sundays is what I recall first.
Years later, with these pleasant memories of my childhood in mind I looked forward to sharing these rituals with my own child one day. A year after my arrival in Vermont I married a native Vermonter and settled down in this great state, two years later our son Carlos was born. On Carlos’ second Easter I dragged my husband away from his Sunday coffee and loaded our son into the car for his first Easter egg hunt. I focused on the rare sunshine, ignoring the bitter cold wind and straw-like frozen fields, and threw a cute beribboned basket into the back seat for him to collect candy and eggs in. As we drove up to the Trapp Family Lodge, my husband grumbled about the cold weather as I cheerfully reminded him that this was Carlos’ first Easter egg hunt and I wanted it to be special. We stepped out of the car and were walking toward the field when Carlos let out a blood-curdling scream. I looked down at him certain that his life was in danger when I noticed him pointing ahead with a look of abject terror on his face. I followed the line of his chubby finger to see a young woman in an Easter bunny costume. I knew right then and there that it was not going to go as I had pictured. I scooped him up and made a wide turn around the evil Easter bunny woman and we gathered with the rest of the parents. You could tell the experienced ones as they had a look on their faces similar to my husband’s. The look said, “Let this be over quickly so I can go back to my warm bed!”
As the hunt commenced I felt the first drops of precipitation. In that moment I realized just how cold it was. Soon the sleet started to come down in earnest. There was a quick grabbing of eggs and candy (with the parents helping out in a hurry to get it the hell over with). My husband returned with Carlos on his shoulders and they were both shoving candy in their mouths in an attempt to derive some pleasure from the experience. At that point our hosts began serving the free Ben & Jerry’s ice cream with polar fleece gloves on. As we stood there in 30-degree weather with sleet pounding on our heads and shoveling ice cream in our mouths with gloved hands, Carlos began to cry. In my disappointment and disillusionment I suggested we head for the car and on to home. That was the first time I saw my husband smile that day.
After so many years of holidays spent in the great white north, I’ve finally accepted the weather piece of it. The days of green, sunny egg hunts are probably behind me now: they just don’t seem to come that way here. (I should have known when during my first spring here I heard about the sunrise Easter Sunday service on Mount Mansfield where the congregation skis down the mountain at its completion). But I’ve never stopped enjoying putting together the Easter basket, and the egg hunts (only now they are often on a white background instead of green). For some reason it is on this day that I miss my father the most, gone 37 years now. Easter was important to him, I don’t know why. Maybe because unlike me, he was a religious person, but perhaps, like me, the day represents a return to a childlike joy. That’s why we looked the other way when he raided our candy. It was fun to see him shoveling chocolate in his mouth and searching for brightly colored eggs in the bushes. It was indeed, joyous. And though right now Carlos’ favorite part is that it is one of two days a year I allow him to eat candy in the morning, I hope there is more he will remember. A day of bright colors and sweet tastes. A day of rebirth and new promise. And the gift of another day our little family can celebrate together. And perhaps in loving memory of my father, I will bite the head off of Carlos’ chocolate Easter bunny.