Today I woke up thinking about Easter dinner. I don’t celebrate Easter in the traditional sense; it is just another reason to cook a nice dinner and share it with friends. It’s a celebration of spring and everything waking up from winter. This morning I was thinking that I’d be by myself and wasn’t planning a special dinner. I did make some candied lemon and orange peel and am making hot cross buns for Good Friday. This isn’t any kind of family tradition, just an excuse to bake something I love.
I spent a couple of hours at my garden this morning, planted some onion sets and peas and as I was leaving, I had a text from my dear friend Julie Keefe. She said she was looking forward to seeing photos of my Easter dinner and she sent me a link to an NPR All Songs Considered special, “John Prine’s Life in 10 Songs.” I have to admit, I have been inordinately affected by John Prine’s death. I have seen him perform many times and have always loved the way he related to the audience and how his songs are stories that you really need to listen to. It also made me think about Maureen; she took care of my children for years after I went back to work. Maureen had seen John Prine and Steve Goodman perform together in the 70’s (what a concert that must have been!). Years later, in the late 90’s, she reconnected with an old friend that she had known in high school, Bud. At a garage sale, Bud found an old poster from that concert and bought it and had it framed and gave it to Maureen as a gift. Then, not sure what year it was (early 2000’s?), John Prine played at the Paramount in Seattle. Maureen bought a big block of tickets and a bunch of us went. There were a couple of generations in that group; the multigenerational appeal of John Prine was well summed up by Seth Meyers in a very heartfelt tribute on Late Night from his attic. I have been listening to John Prine’s music almost nonstop for the last two weeks.
Anyway, thinking about that Easter dinner again, and I thought about what I had that I could make that would be a little bit special since I was not planning to go to the store again for some time. I remembered that I have a whole, bone in, skin on, chicken breast and some bread ends in the freezer and I thought I could make chicken and stuffing. This made me think about Easter dinner at my Gramma’s. I remember celebrating many Easters at my mother’s mother’s house in Buffalo, NY. I used to say that the Italians made a bigger deal out of Christmas and the Poles made a bigger deal out of Easter which made more sense because Christianity is about the resurrection, not the birth…not sure if that is really true, but it always seemed that way to me growing up.
(I don’t have a lot of pictures of my gramma)
We’d have pierogies for dinner on Good Friday at Gramma’s. I remember that whenever we visited her, she’d let us have a cup of tea with a splash of brandy in it. On Holy Saturday we’d go to confession. We’d put all the food for Easter Sunday in a basket and take it to St. John Kanty Church (where my parents got married and my sister was baptized) and after penance, the priest would bless all the Easter baskets. There was a tomb set up in the front of the church and you could see Christ’s body in the tomb. When our whole family visited Gramma there were only enough beds if someone slept with Gramma. Whoever slept with Gramma that weekend went to sunrise service with her on Easter Sunday. I don’t know if no one else wanted to get up so early, or if it just made me feel special, or what, but the way I remember it now, I always wanted to sleep with Gramma so that I could go to sunrise service with her. I remember loving the pageantry of that mass. The special purple robes the priests wore – all the priests participated. Back then each church had several priests, now many parishes are lucky if they have one full time priest. The procession, the flowers, and although I knew it was a statue in the tomb, it still made an impression that Jesus’ body was gone on Easter Sunday!
After mass, we’d go back to Gramma’s and she’d cook kielbasa and potatoes and we’d have borscht with the kielbasa, potatoes, beets, sour cream and, of course, hard boiled eggs for breakfast. My gramma would always make a lamb out of butter. She’d push softened butter through a sieve to make the wool and use peppercorns for eyes and a piece of red thread for the mouth. (All these things had been in that Easter basket that the priest had blessed the day before.)
After that, Gramma would cook Easter dinner, a roasted chicken. Was there stuffing? I don’t really remember the dinner all that well…that breakfast, though…I do know that there were a lot of Sunday dinners at Gramma’s. Mid-afternoon. Uncle Teddy always came. So did Uncle Frank and our cousins Laurie and Tom. Usually there was a rummy game, penny a point, nickel a hand. Sometimes they let us play. I loved hearing them talking in Polish, an occasional English word (or one of our names) thrown in. I loved hearing them calling each other their names in Polish: Tadeusz, Franek, Zuza. I wish my memories were clearer.
Decades later. My children were seven and nine. We were in Antigua, Guatemala three weeks before Easter.
There were daily processions through the streets. These processions involved as many as fifty men all dressed in purple carrying platforms upon which there was Jesus, carrying the cross. There were also women carrying platforms with Mary on them. Nick and Miranda had had a secular upbringing, none of this made any sense to them. We watched, and they had many questions. I was completely unprepared for this. There we were, in a crushing crowd on the street thousands of miles from home and I was trying to explain the crucifixtion to them. They listened, took it in and we watched. Over the next couple of weeks, we saw many such processions.
We were there for Palm Sunday and saw a play of Jesus’ return to Jerusalem enacted at the cathedral. That trip was probably the most exposure that my kids had to religion. Just now looking for a couple of photos to post, so many wonderful memories from that adventure. Sadly, Nick and Miranda’s memories are probably the same sort of snippets that I remember from going to Gramma’s at Easter.
There are lots of other Easter memories, garden parties, pot lucks and turkeys cooked on the BBQ, but these are the most vivid. It is spring and the sun is shining.
So, Julie, thanks for getting me to sit down and spend the afternoon writing and sifting through old photos. And everyone else, Happy Easter, whatever it means to you!