Once you've lived or worked among different textiles and fabrics, you develop a talent for recognizing them by scent. Organza, while very beautiful, has an olfactory sensation slightly different to Organdy, both of which sparkle like magical gossamer wings in the sunlight. The faint smell of Organdy, daffodils, natural straw, patent leather, powder and Arpege signaled a very special, but familiar event. In the distance, was always the distinct savory aroma of roasting lamb. This was the scent of Easter Sunday Morning as I remember it growing up. To this day, the fragrance is like comfort food to my nose.
Nana was born early on Easter Sunday Morning in 1896. That year, Easter fell on April 5, as it does today. Easter always comes on the first Sunday after or on the first full moon after the spring Equinox. According to Nana's (Episcopal) Common Book of Prayer, it has only occurared on April 5 five times since then. But my grandmother insisted that our family celebrate her birthday twice, on both April 5 and Easter Sunday. We indulged her this accolade because it humored her and, well, we liked a reason to celebrate.
A few years back, I started to pen a fictitious autobiography titled, “Queen Irene – A Garden of Easters.” I say fictitious, because I embellished it with all sorts of madcap events that never happened. Some of the stories, however, were true, and each of these had some sort of right of passage for me. Such as the absence of my birth father for several years, and his unexpected arrival one Easter morning before church, brandishing a huge Pepto-pink bicycle, and a hideous brown plaid cotton dress that would fit a 40 year old matron. I was only 9. It was the worst dress ever, and I glanced at the beautiful powder blue Organdy confection my Nana had made for me that hung on my bedroom door. Did he really expect me to wear this – on Easter Sunday? It wasn't that I was spoiled or felt I was too good to wear the brown plaid dress on Easter. No, I believe it was what that dress represented to me at that time; a person who felt entitled to walk in and out of my life at will, simply because he was responsible for making half of me. My father was someone I resented horrifically for many years thereafter.
Sensing my dismay and making no effort to hide her own outrage, Nana explained to my father that the dress was “too big” for me, but once I grew into it, she would see that I wore it proudly. After he left, she carefully folded the brown plaid nightmare, muttering something about it being made for a god horse, and not a little girl, as she put it in her cedar trunk. I never saw it again.
|Me, in my Nana's Garden 1963|
The Easter prior to my mother and I moving to Indiana, she and I had walked home from church. I was upset because that morning, I discovered a baby robin had fallen from its nest and I tried to comfort it by placing on the Easter grass inside of my basket. I didn't realize that the mother would not approach the foreign object that held her young one. When we got home, the baby was still lying among the purple grass, candy eggs and jelly beans (I had salvaged the chocolate cross my aunt had given me), but I had hoped it would feel well enough to nibble on the candy and get well. Surely I was old enough to know better. But there is a side of me that remains to this day, that thrives on the hope of things not likely to ever happen. Gramps came out of the house and quietly took the Easter basket and baby bird to a small grave he had dug in the back garden of our house on 118th Avenue.
Birds have a way of reminding you of certain things. My family always associated the presence of a cardinal with a deceased loved one. Gramps died at Easter in 1985. I remember his home going service was more of a celebration of the Resurrection. It seemed to make perfect sense. Upon his death, we brought his body here to New Castle for burial, and that was when my grandmother and Aunt Thelma moved here and made this their home. Whenever Nana saw a cardinal, she swore it was Gramps. I never had the heart to tell her that it was our state bird, and they were everywhere.
Then, about 25 years ago, doves built a large nest at our backdoor on top of the electric meter. Every Spring, my step-dad, Lewis, would remove the nest; and the doves would rebuild it. He too died at Easter (1998), and upon his death, I decided to leave the nest alone. The doves continued to use it for many years. Mom developed a relationship of sorts with “Mrs. Dove,” as she called her. Interestingly, about 10 years ago, robins began to show up and they would fight the doves for residency. Usually, the robins win. It's still there, and has become petrified. The year my mother went into the nursing home, a robin built another nest at our front door on top of the porch light. I removed it, and they rebuilt. This went on for a week. As usual, the robins won. So, Thursday, I watched the robins battle with the doves in the front lawn – along with some other “odd” activity I won't describe here. They made a ruckus! And lo and behold, during the deliberations, a small sparrow perched herself on the ready-made nest, and has been there ever since.
This made me think of a lot of things. Easter is the season of change and transition. Through it all, we continue to move on and hopefully grow and thrive. This is my first Easter without my mother, whom I lost in February. The numbness is as bitter as ever. However, in the midst of my pain, I was contacted by ABC Studios about featuring some of my artwork on an upcoming episode of “Criminal Minds.” I almost missed this opportunity, because in my grief, I was not reading emails. They selected a total of seven of my paintings, with the hopes that they will air on CBS (not ABC – confusing; I know) April 8, and possibly the 29th. I was reminded that there is a possibility that my work could very well end up on the cutting floor and not be seen at all. I don't care! The fact that the network was interested enough to even look at my art, let alone choose some is validation enough for me.
This is bitter sweet. In my grief and sadness, this ray of light, which in all honesty is HUGE (for me) has reminded me that there will always be change – and New Beginnings.
First Published, Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015, by The Courier-Times, New Castle, IN