Memories of Easter Sunday
One of my prize possessions is a family photograph that was taken back in the 1950s when I was just a preschooler.
The picture shows my father and mother and me on Easter Sunday morning, circa 1956.
While I have no memory of the event, I can tell from looking at the picture that it was indeed taken on Easter Sunday morning as my mother and father and I were headed to church.
Dad is in his "preacher suit," a dark blue business suit. ("I can be either married in it or buried in it," my father used to quip.) On his suit jacket lapel is a white boutonniere carnation. He has his right arm around my mother's shoulder, and in his left arm he is clutching his Bible.
My mother looks so young and so beautiful. She is in a white Easter dress with a matching bonnet, and she is wearing a corsage. Her right hand is touching my shoulder. In her left hand, like Dad, she is clutching her Bible.
And in the front of them is little Billy Haltom. I appear to be no older than four or five. I am wearing a white sports jacket, with a white shirt, black bowtie, and black trousers. I look like I should be waiting tables. Better yet, I resemble a very tiny Humphrey Bogart from Casablanca. ("Here's looking at you, kid!")
Like my father, I have a small white boutonniere carnation pinned to my white jacket. And in my left hand, I am holding my Bible.
We were Southern Baptists, adorned with flowers, dressed for church.
Easter Sunday was always a special one for me. Like Christmas morning, it began with gifts, although they were delivered not by Santa Claus, but by the Easter Bunny.
The Easter Bunny always brought me chocolate. Sometimes it would be a small chocolate replica of the Easter Bunny himself.
And believe it or not, on some Easter mornings, the Easter Bunny also delivered livestock. I am not making this up. One year the Easter Bunny brought me a chicken. Another year he brought me a duck.
The chicken and the duck resided together in harmony in our backyard for many years along with my dog, Skippy.
On another Easter Sunday morning, the Easter Bunny delivered me two turtles. My mother expressed concern over this particular gift, claiming that turtles often carried a disease called "salmonella." And so, I named the two turtles "Sam" and "Ella."
Yes, thanks to the Easter Bunny, our household was populated by a dog, a chicken, a duck, two turtles and. . .oh, did I mention the parakeet? I named him "Pinky Lee," after one of my favorite TV characters.
I am surprised my father was not arrested for running a zoo without a license.
I remember that the church on Easter Sunday morning was always packed. My dad would always laugh about the "efficient Christians" who managed to get all their worship done in just two services each year - Easter Sunday and Christmas Eve.
But Dad would always welcome the Easter Christians to church on Easter Sunday morning, saying with a smile, "We sure hope to see all you people back here next Sunday!"
After church, my mother, father and I would always have Easter Sunday dinner at my grandmother's house. (It wasn't "brunch." It was dinner.) Grandmother prepared the same Easter dinner each year: roast beef, potatoes, corn on the cob, a Jell-O salad and for desert, banana pudding. It was the same menu each Easter. Thank God it never changed. I wish I could eat it again this Sunday.
After dinner, my forty-eight cousins and about a hundred or so other kids from the neighborhood would join me in my grandmother's yard for the annual Easter egg hunt.
On Easter Eve, my grandmother would spend hours boiling eggs and them dying them all the colors of the rainbow.
And then, early Easter Sunday morning, before she herself headed for church, Grandmother would hide the colorful eggs among the azalea bushes and in other spots in her front and back yard.
And then, at the appointed time, I and another hundred kids from the neighborhood would frantically dash around Grandmother's house, locating the colorful eggs and putting them in Easter baskets.
I am not sure why we regarded the Easter eggs as treasure. As I recall, I never ate one. As colorful as they were, the Easter eggs paled in comparison to chocolate bunnies and live chickens, ducks, and turtles.
But my friends and I scoured Grandmother's countryside in search of these eggs as if we were involved in the California Gold Rush of 1849.
When evening came, my mother and father and I would return to church. We Baptists always had doubleheaders on Sunday, experiencing both Sunday morning worship and Sunday evening worship.
After the evening worship service, I would dash back home in hopes of catching the last half hour of TV's "Ed Sullivan Show." It was a variety show featuring incredibly talented people who could sing, dance, tell jokes, and simultaneously spin hundreds of plates on the tops of sticks. Now that's entertainment!
My father and mother and grandmother are all in Heaven now, where I hope they are joined by Sam and Ella the turtles, as well as my dog, Skippy, a chicken and a duck.
The Easter Bunny will not be visiting me this Sunday. No animals, either chocolate or live, will be delivered to my house. But my wife and daughter and I will get all dressed up and head to church.
I am going to buy corsages for both of "my girls." I will not be wearing a white jacket like I did when I was a very dapper four year old boy. Instead, I'll be wearing a dark blue suit, like my father did on Easter Sunday mornings over a half century ago. But I may wear a white boutonniere carnation.
And I definitely intend to pose with my wife and daughter for a photograph.