MEMORIES OF EASTER SUNDAYS
When I was a child, Easter Sunday always began in darkness. And it always ended in sunlight.
My mother would awaken me dark and early on Sunday morning long before sunrise. I would put on the Sunday clothes she had laid out for me. A white sports jacket. White dress shirt. A colorful bowtie. Black pressed trousers and black shoes my father had shined on Easter Eve.
I would go into the kitchen where my mother would serve me orange juice and a cinnamon bun, often adorned with pink frosting to give it an Easter look.
My father would then come into the kitchen holding three small boxes. In one of the boxes was an Easter corsage for my mother. In the other two boxes were boutonniere carnations, a man-sized one for my father and a small one for me.
My father would pin the corsage on my mother’s Easter dress, and she would give him an Easter kiss. Mom would then pin my father’s carnation on his dark black preacher’s suit, and then pin the smaller carnation on my white Easter jacket.
Mom and Dad and I would then get in our Ford Fairlane and drive in the darkness to a nearby lake. There we would be greeted on the shore by the brothers and sisters from our church.
As the sun began to rise, my father would lead the church’s Easter sunrise service. The choir would sing Easter songs acapella. (My father liked to joke that the choir would sing the songs “Acapulco.”)
Dad would lead the lakeside congregation in prayer, and then deliver a sermon in celebration of the resurrection of our Lord and Savior.
By the time the sunrise service had ended, we were no longer in darkness. Symbolic of the resurrection itself, we were in sunlight and could admire the beautiful dresses worn by the church ladies and the dark, pressed suits worn by my father and the deacons.
After the sunrise service, Mom and Dad and I would drive back home where I would be treated to one more Easter cinnamon bun.
Dad would then sit at the kitchen table sipping his coffee, reading his Bible, and getting ready for his second sermon of the day in the upcoming church worship service. We Baptists pulled double-headers on Easter Sunday, with both the sunrise service and regular morning worship service, and sometimes even triple-headers with a Sunday night service.
Around 8:30 a.m., Mom and Dad and I would get back in the Ford Fairlane and head for church for Sunday school followed by the Easter Sunday worship service.
At the service, the choir would sing again, this time singing neither acapella nor Acapulco. They were accompanied by my mother who was the church pianist and Dr. Fred Jones, who was our church organist.
I confess that as a little boy, I sometimes got impatient with the morning worship service, especially on Easter Sunday. Dad would get wound up and preach for 45 minutes. After all, it was Easter Sunday, and Dad wanted to give the congregation their offering’s worth.
I was impatient on Easter Sunday mornings because I was anxious to get to my grandmother’s house. Grandmother always hosted Easter Sunday dinner at her home, and it was a mighty special event.
When Mom and Dad and I would arrive at my grandmother’s house around 1:00 p.m., we were greeted by a capacity crowd. There would always be uncles and aunts and cousins and sometimes other members of our church whom Grandmother invited to be a part of the festivities.
Easter dinner was a culinary tour de force. We usually had fried chicken for Sunday dinner, because we were Southern Fried Baptists and that’s what we liked to eat. But on Easter Sundays, Grandmother would prepare roast beef along with potatoes and carrots and corn-on-the-cob and a variety of casseroles straight out of the Lions Club Cookbook.
And then for dessert we would enjoy an assortment of Easter treats including cakes and pies.
My father and my uncles did not want to disappoint Grandmother, so they would not eat just one dessert. They would have a regular dessert smorgasbord.
I do not recall ever going to a restaurant on Easter Sunday. Why would we? We didn’t have a Cracker Barrel in Memphis during my childhood, but if we had, no one would have gone there. Grandmother would have put them out of business.
After a memorable Easter dinner, it was time for the annual Easter egg hunt. This was directed by my Uncle Billy who apparently got out of bed long before the sunrise service to hide brightly-colored Easter eggs throughout Grandmother’s front and back yards. Grandmother had dyed the eggs in her kitchen on Easter Eve.
Uncle Billy did a fabulous job of hiding the eggs, surreptitiously placing them in shrubs, bushes, low-hanging tree limbs, and behind garden hoses and lawn utensils.
My cousins and I would be given straw Easter baskets and line up on Grandmother’s driveway to begin an Olympic-like sprint-and-search-event. My Uncle Billy would cry out, “On your mark! Get set! Go!”
My cousins and I would then race around Grandmother’s yard in search of Easter egg treasure. After a half hour or so, we would gather on Grandmother’s front porch to admire our Easter basket treasure trove. Uncle Billy would inspect the winnings, and if either I or one of my cousins had obtained more than our fair share, Uncle Billy would redistribute the Easter egg wealth.
It was then photo-op time as we would pose for pictures that my mother took on her Brownie Starmite camera. No one took a picture from a phone, as there was only one phone at grandmother’s house, and it was not a camera. It was a large black object that looked like a bowling ball with ears. It was attached by a cord to the wall in grandmother’s living room, and if you wanted to call somebody on it, you had to sit in the chair right by the phone. You would often have to wait to make a call as the phone was on a “party line”, which meant that Mrs. Coscia next door might be calling her relatives to wish them a happy Easter.
After all the photos had been taken, Mom and Dad let me get out of my stiff Easter clothes and put on comfortable play clothes. I would then spend the rest of glorious sunny Easter day playing with all my cousins.
At the end of the day, Mom would announce it was time for me to put my stiff, fancy Easter clothes back on and head for the third church service of the day, the evening worship service.
Lord forgive me, but by that time I was always Easter tuckered-out.
I would invariably beg my parents to let me skip the Easter evening worship service and spend Sunday evening with Grandmother. Grandmother would always come to my rescue and urge my parents to grant my request.
And then, after Mom and Dad had left, I would curl up on the couch with Grandmother, munch on one more Easter cinnamon bun, and watch “The Ed Sullivan Show” on TV.
It was Grandmother’s favorite show, and mine as well. Ed Sullivan had absolutely no talent. He couldn’t sing or dance or tell a joke. But as the emcee of his variety show, he would introduce lots of people who could sing or dance or tell jokes. “The Ed Sullivan Show” was like a one-hour long circus on Sunday night TV. One of my favorite performers who regularly appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show was a man who would spin plates on sticks. Not just one plate but several of them, spinning them all on sticks at the same time. Somehow he kept all the plates spinning on all the sticks without a single plate crashing to the stage floor and breaking. It was incredibly entertaining. I never tried it in Grandmother’s kitchen or dining room.
I was also a fan of Topo Gigo, a small mouse who often appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show to my absolute delight.
This coming Sunday, I will attend just one Easter service, not three. There will be no Easter egg hunt as my children are all grown and scattered around the world.
I will not watch Ed Sullivan on Sunday night, as his show disappeared from my TV screen decades ago. Besides, Grandmother is in Heaven now, and I have no interest in watching Ed Sullivan unless I’m curled up beside her.
I do plan to give my wife a corsage and pin it on her before we head to church. And I’ll be wearing my best seersucker suit.
And throughout the day, I will be filled with memories of Easter Sundays long ago that began in darkness and ended in light.