I love Easter, and it started right here. Right here with one-year-old Baby Jenny, her proud papa, and a bunny named Thumper. You know you have parents who want to give you the world when they gift you with a live bunny for Easter. I love the look on my face in this picture. It is a look of pure, unadulterated joy and intrigue, mixed with maybe even a little bit of disbelief. Family legend is that Thumper peed on Dad's lap when the flash of the camera went off to capture this photo. Thinking about the chaos that ensued one second after this picture was taken makes it even funnier.
People talk a lot about Christmas spirit, and that's all well and good. But in my family, Easter spirit was a pretty big deal too. Easter was always a time of laughter and love, of togetherness and affection. It represented an appreciation for doing the same old thing, year after year, and knowing that sometimes that is precisely all you need.
The Easter festivities always began in the same way on the evening of Good Friday. Pot after pot of eggs would be boiled, leaving each and every kitchen window covered in unrelenting steam. Never ones to scale things back, our family would set out to color a good six or seven dozen eggs. The air in the old farmhouse will fill with the smells of sulfur and vinegar, smells that repelled and attracted us simultaneously. I distinctly remember sitting at our old rickety kitchen table, newspapers laid out and every mismatched coffee mug in the house filled with a different color of dye. And there we would sit, for hours, talking and laughing and doing pretty much the same thing we did every year prior. There was the compulsory "watermelon egg" and the never-ending pursuit for Dad to perfect his "two-tone egg." The last two dozen eggs were probably colored in disinterested haste, but even that was part of the tradition.
Easter Sunday always brought about a new set of delights. We girls would don our Easter outfits, usually something pink and frilly and a little on the scratchy side. Leaving the house practically in the dark of the night, we would head to church for the sunrise service. We loved the sunrise service because instead of a traditional communion, we got donuts and pastries. From there we would head to "the big city" to visit our Uncle Alan and Aunt Pat, where our cousins and grandparents would be waiting for us in eager anticipation.
Now one thing I can say about Aunt Pat, she knew how to do it up right when it came to Easter. Long before our arrival, the adults in the family would hide dozens and dozens of plastic eggs out in the expansive yard. When we "country cousins" arrived, the annual Easter egg hunt could begin. We would run through the yard with our Easter baskets, breathlessly exclaiming another round of excitement for each egg found. When the last of the eggs had been retrieved, the family would gather round to see what was inside them. Many of course held jelly beans and malted milk balls, and a few held shiny coins. Others held tiny slips of paper commanding us to do one thing or another, and our favorites were those that included these explicit instructions: "Go get $1 from Grandpa Swearingen." Year after year, Grandpa would make a long, drawn out scene of shock and dismay at having to part with his $1 bill, and year after year, we grandkids would belly laugh at his feigned misfortune and fussing. It was the family joke that never got tired.
There's a reason we all love tradition. The customs we create as a family ground us and give us something to hang onto when times get tough. I look back at my childhood, and I know it wasn't always easy. There were hardships and worries that sometimes came in tidal waves. But when I think of my childhood, I really don't think about the hard times much at all. What I think about is Easter: doing the same things over and over, and loving it every time. Sometimes, it seems, knowing exactly what to expect is the most exciting thing of all.