For reasons I have never entirely understood, Easter remains a powerful holiday for me: regardless of what I am doing, I’m aware that it is Easter, which leads to memories of growing up in Indiana, in a family mix of Episcopalians and Catholics, warring for the souls of the grandchildren. Easter is the smell of incense in the church and the organ roar of the recessional hymn—which led at last to going home to the egg hunt, of course. Some years the grass was still a damp, icy crust, or occasionally full-on snow, but more typically it was a cool, humid spring morning. There was something specific in bloom—a tree or a shrub that when I smell whatever it is now, instantly transports me to those back yards and my very small childhood—and the agitated, edgy feeling that comes with it tells me I have probably suffered most of my life from undiagnosed allergies.
This year I was invited to join a friend and his family for the complete celebration: egg hunt and large group meal. Instead, I followed my own inclinations and kept things simple.
In the morning I went in to the wildlife shelter as I usually do on Sundays, to feed and clean the animals we use for education programs. Preparing quail for a red tailed hawk, I remembered an Easter when I met friends at a fashionable Seattle restaurant for brunch, which came with hard-cooked quail eggs as a flourish. I opened the bird to clean it, and found eggs—I put them aside for a kestrel, who would shortly take them from my fingers, she loves them so.
Which led for some reason to thoughts of the soft forms of my great-aunts from southern Indiana. Some years they made it up north to where we lived, in their flowered dresses, bearing trays of deviled eggs. Those Easters the big meal would be a brunch after church, with a lot of delicacies they’d brought with them: sausage my great-uncle made from pigs he’d raised and slaughtered, which he then was not able to eat; eggs, homemade biscuits, succotash, and pies–the heavy, rich, and starchy foods of people who appreciated holiday feasts as the exception to the rule.
I had a boyfriend in high school who became what we then called a Jesus Freak. He joined a radical Pentecostal church, had seen through organized religion, and he wanted me to come with him. So he very deliberately deconstructed my family religion to the point of ridiculousness. I dutifully followed his logic but could not follow him to the next step. He is a fundamentalist missionary in Africa now, still fighting Satan and saving souls for Christ; all these year later I remained deconstructed.
Which is why it’s all the more surprising Easter strikes me so regularly and profoundly. I can go right to part of me that still feels the connection to my family—the love between those aunts and grandparents and my parents, the intention from my mother, ushering us into the pew in church. I can still sing the recessional hymns.
Resurrection of course is the main theme to this all, but maybe renewal is more in line with how I am feeling at this point in my life, and stewardship of the things that matter. We had a ward full of orphaned baby animals at the shelter this morning, squirrels and possums and bunnies, along with the raptors and the other education birds, and the high school and college-aged volunteers bustled around preparing formula, cleaning cages. There was a cool, Easter blue sky through the window of the mews as I watched Remington, the turkey vulture, delicately eat a mouse I’d given her the way a child might eat a chocolate bunny: tail first, then the feet–then she goes for the head.
I came home to meet my also deconstructed friend, Eddie, for a walk on the beach. Our conversations are always personal and global and complex, followed by talk about music. Today Eddie had a bunch of second hand, hand knit sweaters in his back seat, and he insisted I take one: pulled out an absurd blue and white triangle print and draped it over my shoulders: “It’s Easter!” he said.
Walking back, I met the neighbor with the Westie named Poppy, contemplating pilfering a bit of rosemary from another neighbor’s landscape, where we were standing. It’s a huge bush; I’ve been admiring it and it’s made me think I needed to plant my small container rosemary into my own landscape. I reached over and cut off a branch for the neighbor, with the pocketknife I still had from my shelter shift this morning: she was surprised I was so open about it. “I’m going to go roast a chicken,” she said heading off, waving the rosemary at me, “and maybe drink a beer….” I tried to imagine if I’ll care if anyone takes a branch or two from the shrub that will grow in front of my house. Herbal karma.
I adjusted Eddie’s sweater, and came home to grill a fresh lamb chop and some asparagus, replaying conflicting, amazing thoughts and memories, shot through with gratitude.