I suppose that some holidays have more familial connotations than others. Thanksgiving seems more family oriented than Valentine’s Day and Christmas ranks much higher on the family scale than the Fourth of July. In my youth, however, any holiday counted as a family holiday. Bake a cake, pack up the kids and head to a relative’s house.
Easter was particularly fun, in the big histrionic family way. We’d gather at my grandmother’s house, everyone bringing more than enough to feed twice as many people (which meant we’d all eat too much and swear never to do it again, at least until the 4pm munchies hit). The warm weather meant we kids could escape outside, although we usually ended up on the porch swing until the aunts ambled out and ejected us to play hide and seek around the yard.
We all brought our dyed eggs to show off our handiwork (my cousin always had the most ornamental eggs and it bothered me no end that she was so artistic). After lunch, we took turns hiding them around the yard (and it never failed that someone’s favorite egg was the one that got cracked in the process, producing overwrought tears and recriminations). The big kids hid them for the little kids, then the aunts hid them for the big kids, and everybody took pictures as proof of the festivities.
After I moved away from home, Easter was probably the first holiday to lose its importance. When you stop going to church and your family lives halfway across the country and there aren’t any little ones with baskets to guide around the yard, there isn’t much impetus to notice where it falls on the calendar. The seasonal candy became my clue that Easter was on the horizon but I wasn’t much interested otherwise.
This year, however, I’m sitting in a hotel room in the next state over, having spent most of the day with Niece #3. I’ll spend most of tomorrow with her, too, before making the 5-hour drive back home in the evening. I’m here because N#3 looked at a calendar and picked out this weekend for me to visit, not because it’s Easter, but serendipity means that we get to be together for a holiday that’s steeped in family for both of us.
Once upon a time, she was one of those little girls, running around the yard with her blond hair flying, looking for brightly colored eggs to toss into her basket. Now, she’s living in a clinic for adolescents with eating disorders.
She’s still that little girl to me, even though she’s taller than I am now. I used to hold her hand as we went around the yard, encouraging her to investigate the suspicious clump of grass with a bit of pink peeking out; now I hold her hand to prevent her from biting her nails to the quick. She used to show me the goodies in her Easter basket, her sweet tooth ensuring that she had a rim of chocolate around her mouth for most of the day. Now, she tells me that she’s envious of the emaciated girls in the clinic because they’re skinny and she’s not.
But you know what? She’s here. And so am I. And we had a good day. We went to a movie; we picked up a few necessities at the drugstore; she got a quick haircut. We sat in my hotel room and talked while she knitted, the latest attempt to keep her hands busy in a non-destructive way. Tomorrow will probably be much of the same: errands, perhaps a brief walk in the local park, definitely some time in the bookstore.
Whatever Easter means to me in my old non-religious age, it does still mean family. So, however heart-wrenching the circumstances may be, I’m lucky that I get to spend the weekend with someone I’ve loved since the day she was born.