Saturday, April 29, 2017

My Easter Dress

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.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Little White Donkey

Once there was a little white donkey who lived with her mother in the village of Bethphage, not far from the gates of the great city of Jerusalem

Her mother, an ordinary brown donkey, worked hard grinding corn for the miller, walking around and around in a circle, pulling the heavy millstone.

But the little white donkey was much too young to work, so she would watch the road as she followed her mother and dream about the great things she would do when she was older. Both her mother and the miller had told her that as a white donkey, she was very special. The miller would not let her carry any loads, for he had plans to sell her for a great deal of money. It was rare that a white donkey was born.

So the little white donkey watched the road leading to Jerusalem and dreamed about what she would be when she was grown. Once she saw families laughing and singing, coming to the great city to celebrate the Passover. With them were strong mules, carrying food and clothes for their journey.

The little donkey ran to her mother and cried out, “When I grow up, I want to be a strong mule, surrounded by happy families, rejoicing to come to Jerusalem.”

The mother smiled patiently as she pulled her load, “Who knows, my little one, what your role will be. You are a little white donkey, and you will follow the path for you.”

The mother was very proud that her little donkey was pure white.

Another day a great merchant’s caravan passed with tall haughty camels.

“Oh mother,” the little white donkey cried. “When I am grown, I will be a tall camel. And I will carry shining boxes of jewels and ointments. I will carry bolts of bright silks. I will proudly carry the most precious of precious things.”

Mother would smile and say, “Who knows, my little one, what your role will be? You are a little white donkey, and you will follow the path for you.”

Another day, trumpets sounded and a marching of soldiers filled the road. Behind the soldiers came a great man on a tall stallion. The man wore bright armor and scarlet robes, sitting high on the horse and looking down on the poor people who hurried out of his way on the road to Jerusalem.

“Who is that?”

“That is the great ruler of Palestine, the governor chosen by Ceasar, all the way in Rome.”

“When I am grown, I will be a stallion, snorting and stamping. I will carry a great ruler.”

 “Who knows, my little one? You are a little white donkey, and you will follow the path that is right for you.”

A day or two later, two poor men came to the miller of Bethphage. Their robes were tattered and dusty. The little donkey could see they were used to walking and carrying heavy loads.

The little white donkey heard one of the men greet the miller kindly. “Is this your little white donkey? What a fine beast.”

“Yes,” The little donkey was glad the miller was so proud of her.  “This little donkey is pure white.” The miller put his arm around the little donkey’s neck. “Look closely, you will see no mark or blemish. I am saving her for something very special.”

“She is a very fine white donkey indeed,” said the stranger. Then he looked serious.

“Good miller, may I take your donkey, the mother at the mill, and her little white colt, on which no man has ridden?”

The miller tightened his grip on the little donkey’s neck. He was angry now. “Why should I let you take them? Who are you to ask this? I am saving that white donkey to sell. Why should I let you use them?”

“The Lord has need of them.”

The miller stopped. The little donkey noticed the miller looked at the men carefully. He seemed to know them. He said, “The Lord? He who has taught in the temple?”

The little donkey heard the miller’s voice grow quiet and solemn. “He who stays with Lazarus of Bethany? Lazarus. He who was dead and now lives?”

The dusty men stood tall and gravely nodded.

The miller then unharnessed the mother donkey, and prepared both the mother and colt to go.

 The dusty man took the lead of her mother, and the little donkey trotted along behind, wondering about this strange thing. Before long they reached a group of men and women, clustered around a tall man, listening to him.

As they approached, the little donkey and her mother stopped and the tall man turned toward them. “Ah,” he said as he bent down to rub the mother’s soft brown nose.

Was this the man they called “The Lord”?

“So, mother, is this your little colt? She is white and beautiful. Will you let me ride her?”

The little white donkey trembled just a little as the kind man stroked her back.  “Do not fear. I will not hurt you.”

Though she was just a little white donkey, on which man had never ridden, as this man stroked her back, she knew she could carry him.

“Jesus, we will prepare this white donkey for you.” A woman near the Lord spoke gently. She and other women standing there came forward, robes in their arms. Smiling, they lay the soft clothing across the little donkey’s back.

Then the man, this man they called Jesus, the Lord, sat upon the little donkey, his long legs dangling.

Someone cried out, “Behold thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt, the foal of an ass.”

The people cried out in joy. “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

The mother walked proudly beside her little white donkey.

“Mother, this is better than being a sturdy mule, surrounded by families walking to Jerusalem. I have never seen such joy as this.”

“Yes, my little one.”

The little donkey watched as more and more people joined the throng. They cut branches from the sides of the road and laid them out, so that the little donkey’s feet did not even touch the dusty road.

“Mother, this is better than being a merchant’s camel. I think I carry something more precious yet than all the jewels and silks.

“Yes, my little one.”

The crowd sang, and called out, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.”

“Mother, this is better than being a great stallion carrying the proud ruler.”

“Yes, my little one.”

“Mother, who is this man I carry?”

“I hear the people say, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.’”

The little white donkey felt the goodness and power of the man he carried. The people sang and cried. Proudly, the white donkey carried this Jesus through the gates of the city.

“Yes, mother, he is this and more. I think he is the very God of all.”

“Yes,” the mother answered. “And you have found your path.”

“Hosanna! Hosanna!” The people cried, as the little white donkey carried the Lord, the Prince of Peace, the Savior of the world.

Matthew 21: 1-11
And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples, saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them. 

            All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.