Good Friday, overcast and chilly. Appropriate weather, I think. I remember a Good Friday growing up that was a sunny day and suddenly around 3:00, a storm blew in and it grew dark and thundery. I, a good Catholic girl, took it for granted - didn't it do this every Good Friday at 3:00?
Too many Good Fridays have gone by unmarked by weather theatrics and I have lost my innocence. But never discount a little drama to aid in faith formation and the rendering of a young soul.
Growing up and attending Catholic School, what I remember most about Lent is:
- Mite boxes - saving your pennies in a little cardboard purple box the size of a juice box, to donate to the poor.
- Statues clothed in purple damask cloth (which they stopped doing after Vatican II and now have begun again - theatrical faith formation is good for the soul.)
- Stations of the Cross - most Catholic churches have an area where the walls of the sanctuary are hung with plaques commemorating the La Via Dolorosa, which depict in 13 plaques the final hours of Jesus's life as he carries the cross to Golgotha, where he is crucified. It is a very long devotion, which much standing and kneeling. And much yawning and staring off into space, and the poking of classmates, the snickering if someone nodded off or passed gas, and then the swift black-hawked repercussion of a smart rap from a nun or for serious offense, almost always by a boy, being dragged out of a pew by the collar of their school blazer and deposited in the principal's office waiting for detention or suspension and at the least, a conference with furious and ashamed parents, and the afternoo is truly transformed into a Passion Play.
- The inevitable "what I gave up for Lent" internal drama as the six weeks dragged on and you became obsessed with the desire to stuff your t your mouth with cookies or candy or watch TV into oblivion. Thus, the capacity for great buckets of blackened guilt, the mental imagery of the whiteness of our souls being steadily erased day by day as we cheated and snuck around our Lenten commitment. Thus, great liars and sneaks are born, all well-suited for life as police officers and politicians, and repressed housewives and fathers whose tempers rivaled Mt. Etna.
Ah! The good old days when discipline, corporal punishment, and righteous anger was the norm in schools filled to the brim - imagine at least 3 if not 4 of each grade, each class averaging around 30 students. What did we learn? Timetables and catechism; diagramming sentences and reading out loud; the the taste of warm milk on our lunch trays and boxball on the playground. Afternoons long and dreary with spelling bees and math drills, both making my brain freeze and mouth stutter.
Holy Week, the lead up to Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday did not have the same tremulous stomach churning excitement as the week before Christmas. There was, however, the total frivolity of dyeing Easter eggs that involved the house smelling of boiled eggs and the vinegar that is added to the water to cut the waxy finish of the eggshell to allow the dye to permeate. Little glass Pyrex bowls filled with a hard tablet of concentrated dye in pastel colors and a flimsy copper egg dipper shaped in a hexagon. There was a waxy crayon that worked as a resist and we tortuously tried to replicate fancy patterns or writing that never came out as we expected. As we grew and life became more consumer oriented, there were kits to marbelize the eggs and tie dye, or the use of multiple rubber bands to make patterns, and little punch outs or stickers to stick on the eggs.
My favorite was and still is just the clear, lovely colors of robin's egg blue, rosy pink, and the magical combination of the two into purple. We didn't keep the eggs around for days, either, as everyone tends to do now. We made them on Saturday and by Monday, my mother had made them into egg salad. Our few attempts at blowing them out with a straw only led to popping eardrums and slimy messes of yolks and whites all over the table.
My youngest sister was talking about how much she hated the Palm Sunday ritual of going to the cemetery after Church with our palms and visiting the graves of my parents' relatives and placing a palm at each one. We had plenty of palms, all the dried fronds you would like. I never mastered the art of braiding them into a cross and envied those who would sit in the pew during mass and quietly work their wavy fronds into little works of art. The best I could do was peel it down the side, cross one end over the end and tie it into a cross with the stringy fiber.
This year, the palm crosses were hammered into the ground at all the graves - I understand that more than one at each as we sisters did not quite coordinate with each other this year.
Of course, Easter Sunday was all giant baskets covered in purple cellophane and filled with candy, hidden under tables and behind drapes and the awesome freedom to stuff myself with the head and ears of a solid chocolate bunny before Mass.
There were always dresses, whether hand me downs or new, tights, Mary Janes or the most envied Capezios as we grew older. I remember being in 9th grade and buying a lilac spring coat and a knitted cloche at Bloomingdales, inspired by Ali McGraw in Love Story. Does anyone take their children for new spring coats in pastel colors anymore? Even at Church, only the youngest children come in with straw hats and bright coats and little white purses. Life can be awfully drab these days.
Easter dinner is a blur. I'm sure it involved ravioli and homemade gravy, shrimp cocktails, and leg of lamb with mint sauce. The desserts were pastries and a cassata, which in our family was a plain cookie base baked in a tin, which was the top of a fish tin and as large as a pizza pan. It was topped with cannoli filling and dotted wtih halves of maraschino cherries that bled red into the sweet cheese mixture, and either sprinkles, candied almonds, or chocolate chips. Our modern ritual is the Bunny Cake, started by The Empress and carried into theyfuture by The Momma to Be and sometimes by the youngest
We're going out to dinner this Easter. The youngest doubts she'll get home since she has no school days off for Easter and a field trip on Saturday to a museum in D.C. (Thanks secular college for adding insult to injury). (Not to mention end of college projects as she graduates in 5 weeks!!) It will be just the Momma and Father To Be, Mystery Man, Mr. Pom and I. We are letting the restaurant make the meatballs and lamb and desserts. We will wander through the West Village, have some gelato, and sit under a glass-topped courtyard and admire the containers of roses that filled one wall.
May this weekend be filled with sunshine, family & friends and something sweet, even if you do not observe any holiday, religious or otherwise. We need some brilliant sunshine, warm temperatures, daffodils, blooming cherry trees, lilac spring coats, straw hats with fluttery ribbons, patent leather shoes, and linen shorts on little boys who climb under pews to find remnants of palms from last weekend that they will fashion into swords.
Happy Easter! Blessed Passover! May your life be blessed with the waters of renewal and the promise of yet another spring.