Re-post: Easter, Palms Down, the Best Time of the Year

I never thought much about whether or not I liked going to church when I was a little girl.  That would be like asking myself whether I liked to breathe or eat.  It was just something I did every Sunday; everybody went to church on Sunday.

Most of Mass was in Latin, the language that Jesus spoke.  I didn’t know Latin, so I just let my mind wander or said the rosary, which was about the same thing, ’cause after so many Hail Marys, my mind kinda drifted away from the words anyway.  Every once in a while, I had to stand up or kneel down, which jolted my mind in a new direction.

I thought Mass was a little bit like the football games Grandpa liked to watch.  There was a whole lot of boring at the beginning and at the end, but at half-time the band came out and that was terrific.  At church, half-time was when the stories got  told; those were in English.  Everybody marked their missal with the red string, snapped them shut like a joint period at the end of a sentence, and all rosary-sayers, like me, clamped down on one bead to hold their place, until Father started up in Latin again. Then we knew half-time was over.

First Father stood on the left side and read the Epistle:  that’s a letter some holy guy wrote  in ancient times telling everybody how Jesus meant we should live, like cover up our head in church, and women stay in the back, and never-mind the old rules, ’cause now that Jesus was around, new rules are here to stay;  before, no pork in the house, and now, no eating any meat on Friday, and before the Sabbath was Saturday and now it’s Sunday.

Father always started by telling us who wrote the letter and who got the letter.  It seemed to me that there were so many rules around, it was impossible to keep track of them all.  I guessed that’s why Purgatory was so darned crowded.  I liked Paul’s letters the best ’cause he mainly just said love everyone and that was pretty easy to understand.  Sister told us Paul was a bad guy before he got holy;  I liked Paul  ’cause I knew if a bad guy could straighten up and become a saint, there was still hope for me.

When the Epistle was over, Father walked to the middle, knelt down a couple of seconds, then walked over to the other side and read the Gospel.  That’s another rule, whenever you cross the middle, you gotta kneel, one knee was okay, but absolutely no skipping this part, even if you’re just in the church just to clean it, even if nobody is there to see.   Father crossing the middle was the signal to stand at attention, ’cause now we got a story about Jesus’s actual life.  He had a super adventurous life, better than Lone Ranger, and Cochise, and Davy Crockett combined.

After the Gospel, Father said, in his own words, what everything meant, just in case we missed it.  That’s about when my mind started wandering again.  I thought Father should have written it all down in a letter like those other holy guys, then I could read it later when I had nothing to do and I didn’t want to tell Mom I was bored for fear of what she might think up for me to do to cure the boredom.  If I said I was busy reading Father’s Epistle, she’d probably be really proud and brag about it to her friends.

Palm Sunday was super-exciting and sad.  First everybody in ancient times celebrated with a big parade and said how Jesus was the best thing since sliced bread, then everybody started turning against him; I thought they just couldn’t stand that Jesus was so darned good all the time.

For some reason, Jesus didn’t stand up for himself, when of course he could.  For Pete’s sake, he was out in the desert with no food and water for 40 days and 40 nights and still had enough energy to argue with the devil:  If I was Jesus, I’d have saved some breath and just told the devil, “Who put you down in hell, anyway?  My dad, that’s who.  So just leave me alone, or I’ll tell Dad.”

One candle in the desert

It probably made him saddest that people in his own town turned against him, and some of his best friends, too, and he just thought what’s the use, no matter how simple I make it…I even said just be like children, and everyone tried to make it more complicated. Jesus must have felt so alone. He got all beat up, and teased, and spat on, and then the king asked him to do some tricks to prove he could really do miracles. Bonita once said that Jesus should have just done one miracle and saved his skin.  But not Jesus, he was a little bull-headed, which I could understand, sometimes I dug my feet in, too.

I got a palm on Palm Sunday, and I kept it behind the crucifix hanging up above my bed for the whole year.  I had mixed feelings about that palm, ’cause first it felt like a celebration, then it felt like maybe I could be like the people turning against Jesus, ’cause I have to admit, there were some other pretty spectacular things about Palm Sunday:  First, because the story was so long, and we stood at attention until it seemed like our feet would go to sleep, Father gave us a break and skipped his talk; second, Lent was almost over, and I could almost hear the Easter Bunny hopping down the bunny trail.  That made me feel a lot like Peter, Jesus’s number one friend, the one he trusted so much he wanted him to build the first church, and even Peter turned his back on Jesus for a while.

This year, I’m all set with my new Easter dress and the house is decorated.  All the Easter treats are planned for the grand-children, and the church schedule is posted on the board.  For the rest of the week, I’ll be writing about my favorite time of the year, Easter time, with no particular lesson I’ve learned at the end, except maybe this invitation:  just be like children.

Flowers for Mother’s Day

One time Mom asked me who I would want for a mother if I didn’t have her.  Right off I said my best friend Connie’s mother, then I stopped and thought about it a minute.  Nope, I only wanted Connie’s mom so I could live with Connie.  Connie’s mom was terrible about putting pony tails in Connie’s hair; Mom could put my hair back in a pony tail neat enough to stay all day long.  Connie’s hair was always coming loose and sticking out all wild-looking.  Not Annette’s mom that’s for sure.  She was good at sewing and cooked food from the old country, like nobody’s business, but she was super strict, and probably would make me stop wearing shorts in the summertime; Annette never got to wear shorts.  Betty’s mom knew a whole lot about other people, but if I lived with Betty, I’d get a big sister and a big brother; one big sister was enough for me to keep up with.   I told Mom I guessed I better stick with her.

“Hmmm,” was all Mom had to say to that and she got a look on her face like she did when she was studying a new dress pattern and wanted to make sure she got it right, ’cause she hated to tear stitches out.

Sunday was Mother’s Day, and me and Bonita had our eyes on the lilacs.  Not full bloom yet, but about half-way. Close enough.  I got dressed fast and hurried up Bonita and Vickie, so we could get outside before Mom noticed.

“Where’re you going?” Deanna hissed at me, as she was brushing her teeth.

“To get some lilacs for Mother’s Day.”  I said.

“Mom said not to pick those flowers unless they were fully bloomed.”  Deanna shifted her weight to one side and put her hand on her hip.  She spit out her baking soda and salt solution like she was mad at the sink.  We didn’t use toothpaste ever since Dad said no matter what he did, us kids wouldn’t squeeze from the bottom, and toothpaste was too expensive to waste, and besides that, baking soda and salt are the best for teeth, which was probably true, ’cause my teeth really sparkled.  Anyway, Deanna sure did look like Mom standing there, looking down at me, like I already should know better.  That just made me more determined to get those lilacs.

I could smell lilac all around me as soon as I stepped out on the back porch.  The sunshine made the grass all dazzly and the dandelions looked just like baby suns, all shining and happy looking, so I sent Vickie to pick a bunch, while Bonita and I tackled the lilacs, and grabbed some mustard flowers from behind the Brooder House.  We had to work together to get the lilacs, ’cause the flowers were way up high; so I pulled the branches down, and Bonita ripped the flowers off.  That was pretty tough, but we managed to get a giant armful.  Mom was gonna love these.  Some of the branches stayed down, but the lilac bush had a lot of branches still sticking straight up, so I was pretty sure Mom would never notice.  Then we all went to the side of our house to top our bouquet off with some white quince.  Now that was super-fun, ’cause we called those bushes ‘snow bushes’.  The flowers were just right for shaking.  I got Vickie to sit underneath and Bonita and I just shook and shook, and made those flower petals snow down all around Vickie, sticking in her blond hair and all over her dress.  She looked up at us with her blue eyes dancing, reaching her hands up and laughing up at us.  That was keen as keen can be.  We almost forgot we were getting a bouquet for Mother’s Day.

“Bonita and Adela, where are you?” Mom called from the back porch.  Almost always when she called like that, it meant me and Bonita were close to trouble or already there, so we high-tailed it to the house.  For sure, Vickie was safe, she was too little and innocent to be in any trouble.

“Look at you,”  Mom said.  That’s when I saw those sick yellow-green dandelion streaks all over Vickie’s dress, making it look like she puked all over herself, plus her socks were all wet and muddy looking sticking out of  her pretty Sunday sandals, with  old flower petals stuck all over them and in her dress too.

Mom clicked her tongue in the back of her mouth, and she smiled at us, but it looked kind of like she  pasted that smile on her face, ’cause her eyes looked droopy like mine felt just before I cried after somebody hurts my feelings, and she moved around fast and jerky, like she did when she was a little bit mad about being late.  Plus, Loren lost his shoes again, and Deanna was scurrying around looking for them.  As soon as Bonita and I heard that, we started pulling toys out of the toy box, ’cause for some reason, Loren was always putting his shoes in there, and no one sat still when Mom was looking for something and it was time to go to church, ’cause any minute she might have one of her screaming banshee fits, and nobody wanted that, especially on Mother’s Day.

When it was time for Father Wishmaier to tell us what the Bible story meant, he changed up his mind, and just told us about how we should be good to our mothers instead.  Everybody in the world knew that, nobody needs to say it.  But that day, he said something that stuck with me.  Father said we should be good to our mothers, because if we don’t, we’ll have two kids just like us when we grow up. After church, I asked Mom if she was bad when she was a kid and if she thought I was her punishment, and if I was, did that mean I would still have two kids like me, or if I was off the hook.  She just rolled her eyes over to Dad and said, “I’d like to figure out how your mind comes up with the things you do,” and she pretended to be disgusted with me, but I could see by the way her eyes danced that she was feeling more like when I came home with my report cards and had all A’s.

By the time we got home, the lilacs were all droopy in the vase Mom put them in,  and the dandelions were hanging their heads down resting against the sides, looking sad and almost dead; only the wild mustard flowers still stood at attention, looking all happy to be in the house and where people could see them.  When Grandma got there, she said, “Look at these, don’t they just make the house smell so good.  I bet the Magpies picked those for you.”

“The loveliest centerpiece a Mother’s Day table ever had.” Mom said, and this time I could tell her smile was for real.

In the years since I’ve seen some Mother’s Days almost exactly like that one when I was a little girl.  The one that sticks in my memory the clearest is when my oldest plucked all my tulips and held them out to me with gleeful anticipation with dirt and bulbs still hanging from the limp stems.  If I could choose anyone in the world to be my Mom, I would still choose her.  If I was her punishment, I’m sure by now, she’s more than earned her way into heaven with her love, her restraint and her wisdom.  She’s the best Mom a little girl, or a big girl could ever want.

The Magpies

Wake up World, It’s Easter Again

When I was a little girl, waking up Easter Morning was the second best time of the year for me.  Right between Christmas morning and the First Day of School.  The night before, we put our Easter Baskets by the front door, and in the morning they were gone, hidden somewhere in the house.  Anticipation of the goodness waiting for me, if I just searched hard enough, made my stomach jittery like too much coffee does now.

Forty days and forty nights ago, all the statues and the crucifix got covered in purple cloth and the little bowls of holy water at the back of the church got emptied.  I thought I’d never remember to forget about blessing myself when I came in and out of church; no point with an empty blessing-cup.  Finally, no holy water was normal and then comes Easter morning:  Surprise, everything is changed again;  bright and wonderful.  At church, it was glorious ’cause everything was like brand new.

Easter was when I got to put on my new hat, and the brand new dress Mom made just for Easter. All the girls and women had on new straw hats, with flowers in the ribbon, and the dresses looked like a field of flowers: pink tulips, red roses, yellow daffodils, and purple hyacinths.  Starched stiff, with bows tied straight across behind all the girls dresses, just like we were freshly wrapped presents.  Even Father looked like sunshine with his white vestment embroidered with a crucifix across the whole front and back with golden rays of sun just a-shooting out of it.

The whole church was full of Easter Lilies, and the  two sets of three candles were lit on the altar, not just the one lonely candles on each side like all during Lent.  Most of the time, I held my breath when the my friend Mike’s big brother Bob, who was an altar boy, came out to light the candles.  Girls couldn’t be altar boys, ’cause only boys can get to be priest, that’s another one of those rules.  I guess when he was building the church and making up the rules about who could run things, Peter forgot all about the Marys and Veronica, who stayed right by Jesus when he got tortured and nailed on the cross and died.  Mom said that a smart woman lets the man think he’s running things, ’cause then his feelings don’t get hurt.  That was another one I had a hard time catching on to, like keeping my lip zipped.

All during Lent, just one candle on each side got lit, that was a low mass:  pretty quick.  If three candles got lit on each side:  high mass, never during Lent.  High mass meant gobs  of singing in Latin, on and on, Ed come spur tutu, oh and dominoes Nabisco, until I thought it would never end.  I thought it was polite how Bob sent out a little signal with the candles like that, then I knew whether I had to get ready for the long haul with a bunch of day-dreaming.   On Easter, right behind the gospel side of church, stood a brand-new-taller-than-me Pascal candle, which Bob had to reach way up on tip toes to light.

On Easter it was always high mass, except it seemed like it was so long ago that Father did a high mass that all that singing, one note over and over, then everyone changing it up a bit all at the same time like they learned to sing that way when they were still up in heaven before they got born, made my stomach feel all relaxed and happy, like after having a cup of hot chocolate.

The singing, all the hallalulias and hosannas, and the bell ringing  for the high mass just got me reminded how empty all of Lent was, and now it was like everything woke up and came alive, just like Jesus did.  God sure picked a good time to make the most super-duper miracle of all, ’cause the whole world was just like a big rock got rolled back and rose from the dead.

Happy Easter Everyone.