Throughout the years, I’ve been lucky to have a number of wonderful Easters, some with family and some with friends. I think back to the Easter I spent in Palm Beach, sipping mimosas while tanning by a pool next to a golf course. That was lovely. I remember going with friends on numerous occasions to brunch after church. Those were fun. I smile reminiscing of the Easter sermon I attended with my mother once in Hardy, Ark., when the minister spoke of tomato aspic and his disdain for the salad. Because he said he’d had a misconception of it and actually liked it, I too, tried it. And liked it.
But the Easter memories I appreciate most are from my childhood.
When people separate and divorce, it is always very difficult. The late ‘70s were a different time than now, there wasn’t as much acceptance towards divorced women. And that my mother had divorced an Episcopalian priest, well, I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult that was. I’ll simply say that to make a decision like that, with young children, one must have a strong backbone, which my mother did.
When the separation was announced, my mother moved us from the rectory (the house where we lived, that the church owned) before the divorce was completed. My mother, who had been home with us, had a degree in fine art, painting, no less. So we had to move to another house, she had to find a job and get us a housekeeper or someone to help take care of us.
I remember the first housekeeper well. Maya was really nice, very young and a great cook. When we would come in every day from school, dinner would be waiting for us. My mother planned it that way, so that later, we could have a snack, but that when we got home and were really hungry, we’d have the main meal. Dinner would be fried chicken or gosh, I don’t really recall, except the time when my mother asked Maya to make meatloaf for us. She told Maya that we liked eggs in the meatloaf. Sure enough, upon slicing, there were hard-boiled eggs perfectly set inside.
I think it was because Maya didn’t have a lot of life experience that she didn’t always see things the same way we did. Perhaps it was cultural. Maybe she was afraid to ask questions, for fear of losing her job. Whatever it was, my brother and I liked her. She was fun, as in naturally quirky.
Maya had a thing with eggs. There was an Easter egg hunt at the church, and our friends, Heather and Heath Nash, and my brother and I were to go. Each one of us was to take a dozen eggs, so my mother handed Maya the four cartons before rushing back to work. After playing for a while, the four of us happily colored and markered the eggs Maya had set out for us. They were beautiful and looked so pretty as we placed them in the baskets for the hunt.
Mrs. Nash picked us up for the hunt, and we skipped along to the car.
The hunt was fantastic, the best ever, with one exception. Can you believe someone brought raw eggs?
Yes, Maya didn’t know you were to boil the eggs before coloring. My mother didn’t know Maya didn’t know. I can still see the moment of realization inside my head: the four of us huddled together beside the car door, looking at the yolky mass on the cement ground and Mrs. Nash calling to us from inside the car, “Is everything okay?”
I raised my eyebrows while looking at the others and took the leadership role.
“Yes, I’m just tying my shoelace.”
Interestingly enough, none of those eggs made it home with us that day.
The other cherished memory of Easter is a collection, really. They say that in hard times, you really discover who your friends are.
There wasn’t a lot of money, then, which I was even more aware of because I attended one of the top private schools in New Orleans. Many of those schools are Episcopalian, and with my father being a priest, we received a nice discount. But, when your peers are the Goodyears (as in the tires) or have mansions on St. Charles, it’s easy for a kid to feel out of her league, especially when your mom is worrying if the lights are about to be cut off.
The Palmers, Bob and Patti, were friends of my mother’s. They met because Stony, Patti’s son, was in school with me, and he and I quickly became good friends.
I don’t remember exactly when we began going with them to Navarre Beach for Easter, but I must have been about seven years old. The entire Palmer family would be there, and by entire, I mean Bob had eight siblings and they were Catholic, so about 50 or 60 people, and most of those were children. There would be two, three or four houses rented for everyone, one right next door to the other. We would scuba and swim and play out in the sun, collecting seashells and walk the beaches. Stony would run after me, calling me “France,” as only a few people did back then, and I would run away, pretending we were in some romantic movie.
Sometimes in the afternoon, we’d walk down to the Holiday Inn Holidome, where the movie Jaws 2 was shot. We’d swim in the pool and play air hockey in the game room. Anne, Stony’s older sister, was fascinating to me, because she was six years older but still let me be her friend. She and I bought Rose Milk skin care lotion, in pretty plastic pink bottles and I also purchased some Dr. Pepper lipgloss, which tasted like it on your lips, but not when you bit into it.
On Easter Sunday, we’d go to church and afterwards, there would be stuffed bunnies and Easter candy. Then, we’d swim again before we had to return home. In the course of a few days, we’d be all dark tan and bleach blonde, rested and happy.
I don’t remember us ever going out for a meal, in fact, I think we ate hot dogs on the beach. One time, Bob and Patty had a huge fight over heating syrup for pancakes; Stony didn’t like his syrup heated and there in front of everybody, a fight ensued. It got pretty out of hand and Stony and I thought it very funny, so we taped the entire thing with a new cassette player. I wish I knew where that tape was now.
We were family. Maybe we only went for four years, before we moved to Tennessee, but their kindness has stayed with me always. I loved them so.
Stony was diagnosed with leukemia when we were 12. He went into remission several times, but died three years ago. Six months to the day of his funeral, we were laying Patti to rest. Bobby, Andy, Anne and Lee (Stony’s siblings) and I are still in touch. The family, who, as a child, I thought of as like the Kennedys, has had as much tragedy and loss as that family. It is their faith that has kept them together.
Heath and Heather no longer color eggs, although Heath must have appreciated it- he is now a curator for an art museum in Washington, D.C. Heather has a farm and collects eggs. My brother John eats eggs and I can only hope that Maya has learned to cook eggs. And as for me? Well, I write about eggs. Or at least I did today.