Averyell A. Kessler
My Easter memories are especially strong. I remember a Saturday morning when Mama allowed me to spread discarded sheets of the Clarion Ledger over the kitchen table, drop Paas tablets into coffee cups filled with vinegar and water, and dye dozens of hard-boiled eggs, many of which would never be found or eaten. I was helping the Easter bunny. What could be better? I recall the Easter morning my grandfather rowed me across his Avery Garden’s pond to find eggs tucked into the grass on a small island in the middle. And always, a rainy Easter when a vicious thunderstorm forced Mr. Bunny to hide eggs inside, and I found all but one. Luckily, it turned up days six later, but it took weeks to banish the smell.
I usually had a new Easter dress, purchased to last all summer, as well as a tiny purse with lacy socks. I recall Daddy trying to refresh my scuffed white Mary Janes by scrubbing them with saddle soap and finishing the job with white shoe polish. Hats and I were not friends, so Mama completed my outfit with a perky bow surrounding my ponytail. There was a festive family lunch featuring baked ham, glazed sweet potatoes, homemade yeast rolls, and whatever vegetable I decided was edible that year. Also, a traditional gelatin salad. It had a cream cheese center, but no one told me. Dessert came from my Easter basket, Goldbrick eggs, jelly beans, and Mama’s favorite, Heavenly Hash. Daddy chose peppermint patties, my grandfather liked horehound candy – a bitter concoction we ordered from Vermont. But he also like turkey gizzards.
Mama’s Easter orchid is my favorite memory. I spotted it in Morgan & Lindsey, a bustling 5 and 10 cent store near our house. The orchid was displayed among a variety of stuffed bunnies, ribbon decked Easter baskets, and a jumble of Easter candy laid out like squares on a patchwork quilt. “Easter Corsages” the sign read, “$1.50” Big words for a third grader, but I got it. The orchid was a small, pink and white replica of an exotic bloom somebody stamped out of plastic, tied with a purple ribbon, and enclosed in a sealed plastic box. “It’s beautiful,” I thought. “I want to buy this for Mama so she can wear it to church on Easter.” When I returned home, I went slipped into my room, emptied my bank, a bronze replica of the Stature of Liberty, and counted my assets. I had five quarters, seven nickels and a solitary dime, plus a silver dollar my Grandfather had given me. More than enough. I asked Daddy to help me with the surprise.
When Easter Sunday arrived, our church was transformed into a flower garden by an abundance of graceful Easter lilies, pastel picture hats and little girls in fluffy dresses and shiny shoes. The boys had new shoes too, also jaunty bow ties and maybe a blazer in miniature. My mother walked in with a plastic orchid pinned to her lapel. It didn’t quite match the color of her suit or the elegance of the congregation, but she wore it proudly. A few heads turned when Mama and I settled into our pew, but no one said anything. Finally, an inquisitive chatterbox leaned forward, arched her eyebrows, and asked “My goodness, Paula, is that a plastic corsage you’re wearing?”
“Yes,” Mama answered. “My daughter gave it to me. Isn’t it beautiful?”
My mother wore the orchid only once, but she kept it in her jewelry box. It was a heart gift she chose to keep. As I grew, I forgot about it. When she moved into my home during her last years, I did not find it among her treasured possessions. It was an out of sight, out of mind object lost in the past. But wonder of wonders, I found it last week, hiding under a pile of napkins in an unopened dresser drawer. I hadn’t thought about it in years, but I recognized it instantly. Its pink petals had faded to gray, the white ones were dull and dusty. The purple ribbon was shredded, but it was intact and whole, just as it was on the day Mama wore it.
It’s in my jewelry box now, safe and secure, a tiny trinket of little cost, but infinite worth. I’ll tell my children about it, the grands too, so they’ll know why I’ve saved this bedraggled relic. It reminds me that the best gifts, no matter how small or inconsequential, are those given in love. Big gifts too. Perhaps that’s what Easter is all about.