In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it,
You’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade!
I’ll be all in clover when they look you over,
I’ll be the proudest fellow in the Easter parade.
On the avenue, Fifth Avenue, the photographers will snap us…
I don’t remember photographers but I can definitely tell you I was always a grand, grand lady at Easter.
There were very specific elements about my family’s Easter traditions, beginning with the shopping trip. Mama and I would get in the car on a Saturday two weeks prior to Easter. Destination: find, and purchase, my Easter outfit….an entire ensemble for a fashion conscious four year old, with a mop of Shirley Temple-curly hair. A straw hat, usually with a ribbon tied around the crown, holding a nosegay of Spring flowers in place. A tiny, matching, straw purse. A dress….the frillier and the lacier, the better. White gloves, reaching to my wrists. Lace-trimmed socks rising from my Vaseline-polished, patent leather shoes. And, for the piece de resistance, a confection-like, pastel-colored “topper,” which was the back-in-the-day name for a soft-as-a-tissue, short jacket. After all, it could still be quite cool and the lightweight piece of cotton candy was just enough to put a shield between me and the early Spring reading on the thermometer.
Oh, was I ever decked out….not just physically but emotionally as well, since this was long before I knew the endless variety of hypocracies grown-ups could harbor. At four, and even at the more advanced ages of five and six, I thought everyone not only said nice things but….actually meant them.
I was raised Catholic and, back then, our rural community’s parish existed on very little money. (This was also prior to my learning about loans from the archdiocese for projects such as church-building. Such loans, of course, were followed by those little envelopes everyone tossed onto the collection plate.)
Our church was what they referred to as a “storefront,” but even at four, I puzzled over that designation, since it was the back of the building that served as our church….not the front. It was such a cramped space that the priest donned his vestments at the altar. The front, the real front, was a country grocery store.
We went to church and I absolutely reveled in all the “Oh, isn’t she precious” comments. I accepted the adulation with a beaming smile.
We went inside and entered a pew. I really can’t remember how the church managed to have pews in the back of a grocery store, but we did. On this particular Easter Sunday, the store must have received a large delivery of fresh onions the previous day because the church reeked. Not even that little, gold thing swinging from a chain with incense puffing out of the tiny holes could conquer the smell.
I always stood on the kneeler that was hooked to the back of the pew in front of the pew my family occupied. I know. That’s a lot of pews and, considering the onion smell, the pun was intended.
The reason I stood was because, if I knelt, I was too short to see over the next pew.
So, there I stood in all of my finery; gripping the handle of my beautiful straw purse with both hands and hanging it over the back of the wooden seat in front of me. The Mass began and proceded a bit more quickly than I thought it would, catching me somewhat unaware when it was time to sit. I was just stepping back off the kneeler, bringing my purse with me, when the broad back of the very portly woman in front of me descended into her seat. I could see the writing on the wall as those broad shoulders fell like a sack of soft lead against the back of her pew. She crushed my gorgeous, white, straw purse. I watched in desperate horror as it squashed; part of the little pink and yellow and green nosegay peeping sadly from the confines of that woman’s heaviness. She seemed to neither feel nor hear what was happening behind her.
I threw my gaze toward Mama, who stood there, shaking her head at me in the unmistakable side-to-side movement of NO.
I didn’t care. I yanked my purse, trying to rescue at least a flower or a straw. The handle tore off. There I stood….holding the handle and staring at it like a dog who catches a lizard only to have the creature’s tail break off….leaving the confused dog to wonder what happened to the rest of the body.
I could not believe the unfolding horror story. I felt Mama’s hand on my shoulder. Again, I didn’t care. I yelled, “Get off my purse,” and shoved the big back with both hands. The lady’s head, topped with her own Easter bonnet, swiveled around….allowing her to stare at me with a gaping mouth.
I was angry….oh, so angry….so angry that I began bawling. Loudly.
That lady had managed to rain (a thunderstorm, actually) on my private Easter parade.
I wasn’t happy. Mama wasn’t happy. The lady wasn’t happy. And there, in the middle of it all, stood my laughing, 14-year-old brother. Daddy took care of him.
I have remembered that Easter for all these years. And you know what?
I still have that bonnet.