When I was a child, Easter was all about the dress. Weeks before the big day, my mom would go to the fabric store to buy a pattern and cloth for my new Easter dress. My sisters also got new dresses and sometimes mom even made one for herself. My sisters were much older than I and more sophisticated, so I don’t think we ever had matching dresses. But once at least Mama made matching dresses for her and me—a lovely chartreuse check. I remember asking mom what “chartreuse” meant and her explaining as she held up the yellow-green fabric.
My mother was very frugal and we didn’t spend a lot on clothes, but she always made sure we had complete new church outfits for Easter, which would become our summer Sunday clothes. The days before Easter were busy for her as she sewed in the evenings and on the weekends, in her spare time when she wasn’t teaching school.
The Saturday before Easter we would die hard-boiled eggs. We would put a color tablet in each cup (or sometimes drops of food coloring) and add vinegar and hot water. The sharp smell of vinegar still makes me think of Easter. I loved the colors, especially the deep robin’s egg blue.
Then, sometimes, that Saturday afternoon, we would go for an Easter picnic on a sunny spring day. Daddy would say, “Mommy, make us some samwiches and we’ll have a picnic!” So Mama would quickly mix up a can of tuna fish for sandwiches, find a half-eaten bag of chips in the cupboard, and maybe a sack of homemade, possibly stale, cookies. When my mom made tuna fish sandwiches, they were mostly mayonnaise. She could make a can of tuna go further than anyone could imagine.
Then we would load the food and the newly died eggs into the car, and dad would drive off into the country. I don’t think we had any particular destination. He would just drive until he found a likely destination—a place with a big tree for shade and some flat ground to spread the old green plaid woolen picnic blanket. Sometimes it would be a pasture, and we would hope there wasn’t a bull in it. I seem to remember that once there was—and we had to make a run for it.
After eating our tuna “samwiches,” we would have a little Easter egg hunt, taking turns hiding the eggs, finding them, and then hiding them again. Hiding eggs was as fun as finding them. Since they were just hard boiled eggs, it was all about the game, not the what was in the eggs. We would egg hunt all afternoon on Sunday too.
Saturday night was always bath night, and we made special efforts to make beauty preparations for Easter Sunday. After my bath and shampoo, Mama (or sometimes one of my big sisters) would wind my hair around the curlers. My hair was stick straight and I usually wore it in braids, but for Sunday we would make heroic efforts to get some curl into it. The curlers were hard metal, with a spring clip to hold the hair in place as it was rolled, and then a metal fastener that swung over to hold the hair securely.
These curlers were hard and they hurt when I tried to sleep. But we must sacrifice for beauty, I learned.
Easter morning, when I awoke, there by my bed was my Easter basket. I don’t remember ever believing in the Easter bunny, though of course he was a character in the Easter festivities. I knew the basket was from my parents.
Right on top of the basket were the accessories for the dress—which was, as I said, the big event of Easter. There were new white socks with lace around the top and white gloves, of course, because every young lady had new white gloves to go with her new Easter dress. A lovely Easter bonnet was essential. Sometimes there was an actual hat, made of straw with a little elastic attached to hold the hat on my head. Most often it was more like a headband with flowers glued on. Another favorite accessory was a real purse, maybe white shiny plastic, with a latch that fastened with a twist. New shoes were also included, usually white leather mary janes with a strap. The white shoes would be polished many times over the summer to come with the chalky white polish that was more like paint to cover over the inevitable scuffs and grass stains.
Also in the basket were a couple of simple toys. I remember play-dough as being a regular toy and sometimes a little plastic chick you could wind up to make them hop. On rare occasions, there was even a stuffed rabbit.
I suppose candy was also in the basket, though I don’t really remember much about the candy. I know some of the eggs I had colored the day before would be in the basket.
I don’t remember a special breakfast, though maybe that happened. We would be busy that morning getting ready for church, getting into our Easter finery. At long last the beautiful new dress would go over my head and Mama would fasten the buttons down the back and tie the big sash. A big “stick out slip” would go underneath, to make the full skirt stand out in a wide circle from my waist. I would twirl to make it even fuller!
I would put on the new lacy socks and the new white shoes, which maybe pinched a little, but that was OK because they looked great. At the very last minute, Mama would take the curlers out of my hair, in hopes that the curls would last until we reached the church building. She would carefully brush out my hair and position the new Easter hat or headband in place.
Now it was time for that most important of occasions, the Easter photograph. My dad would get out his old Brownie box camera, which probably still had the same roll of film in it he had used to capture the Easter photos. The girls would line up in front of the house, squint into the sun, my dad would hold the box in front of his chest, look down into the viewfinder, click the shutter, and the glory of our Easter finery would be preserved for all time.
Finally, we piled into the old blue Buick for the ride to morning Sunday School. There were no seatbelts, of course, and we were careful not to muss or wrinkle our lovely dresses.
At Sunday School, as we all gathered for opening exercises, we craned our heads to look at our friends’ Easter outfits. All the children looked clean and shiny and beautiful in their new clothes. I remember once a family who had recently moved from Utah showed up in matching dresses and all the girls even had shoes that matched their dresses: blue shoes to match their blue dresses. That seemed just a little excessive to me. I was happy with my white Mary Janes.
In Sunday School, we learned about Jesus, how he had died, was buried, and came forth the third day, alive again, with a resurrected body that was new and fresh. Sitting there on the pew, in my new, fresh Easter clothes, I also felt resurrected and new and filled with anticipation.