When I was growing up, Easter was a special time for myself and my four siblings. We were all able to choose a spanking brand new outfit.
My mother would never have been able to afford this on her own. But my grandfather, who owed a small barber shop in California, would send her money through the mail. She’d rip over the thick envelope and a wad of bills came flying out.
And I got to go shopping.
Of course, I wanted to dress in the latest style, which would mean a circle skirt with a tight waist, and a voluminous petticoat underneath. Pastels were the rage and so difficult to choose - lemon yellow, pale pink, sky blue, mint green. I thought it was best to wear as many colors as I could at one time. I remember choosing a powder blue button down blouse, a seafoam green skirt and a lilac purple petticoat.
I carried a carnation pink pocketbook.
My mother was dead set against me wearing stockings, even though I was already in the sixth grade. But when my Aunt Grace (who was a worldly woman – she actually worked outside the home) allowed my cousin Marilyn to wear nylons (and even a garter belt), my mother partially relented. She bought me a pair of knee highs. The heavy suntan nylons stopped right above my calves, making my knees appear fat and flabby (which they might have been anyway).
I thought I looked beautiful.
Right down to my toes. In those days colored shoes were mostly unheard of. You had four choices – black, brown, navy or gray. I choose one inch black Mary Janes, peep toes, my thickly stocking toes exposed.
Finally the best accessory of all was – the hat. High Street in our small town was littered with hat shops and no lady would ever consider going to Sunday Mass without covering her head. But Easter was a special time because that was when the newest styles arrived from New York.
The hats came in brilliant colors, cherry red, sunshine yellow, emerald green, royal blue. They were adorned with silk flowers, with feathers, with veils and beads. They were shaped like saucers and pill boxes, and buckets, beanies. turbans, wide brimmed and made of straw.
I remember wearing one which covered my entire head with different colored flowers. I felt as if a garden was growing on top of me (probably looked like one also). But I wore it proudly to church, even if I felt rather bloated after stealing candy from my sister, Betsy’s Easter basket, which was chock full of chocolate eggs, and jelly beans, sweet tarts, fireballs and marshmallow rabbits.
The culmination of the day was the Easter Parade. Northampton Street was a buzz with vendors on every corner. Stuffed animals, balloons, pink carnations were all on sale. And if you had enough chocolate, you could buy cotton candy, or flavored ice, freshly popped corn and wash it all down with a 7 Up or a Hines Root Beer.
The only problem was it could be awfully cold, especially if Easter fell at the beginning of April. I didn’t have enough money to buy a spring coat because I spent it all on an outfit I would never wear again (after all everyone saw it). Also, I wasn’t used to walking great distances. It didn’t take long for the bottom of my toes to blister where the leather cut across my foot. The knee highs shut off the circulation in my legs and my tightly fitted flowered hat gave me a headache.
I soldiered on.
I still buy a brand new outfit for Easter and my sister, Martha, hosts Easter dinner and an Easter egg hunt for our grand niece and nephews. We nab chocolate from their baskets, hoping they won’t notice (they do) and we take lots of photos of them in their Easter finery.
No one wears hats. And Easter pastels are a thing of the past. In New York City where I live now, if you don’t dress in black from head to toe, everyone assumes you’re a tourist.
But as an adult I’m aware of what Easter really means. It’s a holy day that goes beyond pretty clothes, jaw dropping hats and delicious chocolates.
And that’s a good thing.