My keenest early memory of Easter Sunday is not about jellybeans or hand-dyed egg hunts. Instead I picture our family sitting in the back right pew of the Central Valley (New York) Methodist Church — four squirming siblings, aged 8 to 11, bookended by parents who tolerated no “hacking around.”
We lived in an old rambling farmhouse in an unpretentious village 45 miles north of New York City. A two-tone green Desoto sat in the crushed red shale driveway. “IN THE CAR!” my Dad hollered ten minutes before church began. We raced outside, pushing and shoving so two of us could win a back window seat and not get stuck on the hump. (“Hey, I got here first!”) Church began at 11.
My sister and I wore handmade dresses created by our grandmother and sent by mail from her home near Philadelphia. I remember Mom opening the package and spotting the pink and green polished cotton dresses with round collars and lace-trimmed cap sleeves. To me, Cinderella’s gown paled in comparison.
Old black and white photos reveal that my twin brothers wore identical suit-like outfits, probably purchased at Sears and Roebuck, and by today’s standards, truly dorky. Ross remembers being especially proud of his new Buster Brown canvas shoes. (“I’m Buster Brown, I live in a shoe. That’s my dog Tige, he lives there too!”).
Inside the white clapboard church with its simple but towering steeple, our family trooped one by one to “our” back right pew. Even sitting that far from the pulpit, we could smell the blooming hyacinths and lily plants lined up on the front altar railing. Sunlight streamed in through pale stained glass windows. We all stood for the opening hymn, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!”
Then the long service began. My older sister recently told me that “going to church was an occasion for which we kids were trained to hold our water, and NOT go to the bathroom.” (We didn’t dare.) Brother Ross remembers playing the alphabet game with the printed program, trying to find every letter of the alphabet. (Thank you, Zaccariah!).
I recall getting sleepier and sleepier as Reverend Brown droned on. I treasured the warmth of my Mom’s arm wrapped over my bony shoulders. I was also happy to be sitting three kids away from Dad who, when we fidgeted too much, thought nothing of bonking us on the head. We learned not to fidget.
After church, we returned to a house fragrant with the aroma of roast lamb baking in the oven. Our Easter feast included fresh asparagus, “Camp Orange potatoes” (peeled and cooked in the roaster with the lamb, and named for a dish my brothers had eaten at summer camp), plus a red jello salad. Then big fat marshmallow Easter eggs!
Life in the early 1950s was simpler than now, and our family was not unique. My sister, brothers and I learned early in life to tell the truth and give back to our communities. We were raised to respect our parents, teachers, town and church— and despite the sibling rivalry, also each other. We still do.