Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter among the heathens

It's Easter, a holiday that slips by without a lot of hoopla in our house, since the three of us who live here are all, to varying degrees, heathens. One definition of "heathen," according to my rather outdated American Heritage Dictionary (it was a high school graduation present from my mother, and it contains no modern words like "megabyte," "laptop," or "locavore," but I like it because it's worn and familiar, and because I take a certain perverse pleasure in using a dictionary whose entries skip directly from "internee" to "internist") is "One who is regarded as irreligious, uncivilized, or unenlightened." (That's the definition I'd apply to Tony and Will.)

As for me, I'll take the description offered by Wikipedia (now, there's an entry not found in my dictionary, either). When you enter "heathen" in a search of Wikipedia, it takes you directly to the page for "paganism." The word "pagan" comes from the Latin word "paganus," which means "rural," "rustic," or "of the country," which sounds quite pleasant and not at all pejorative, although I suppose the term, like "heathen," has always had rather negative connotations among Christians.

Anyway, paganism, or at least neo-paganism, from the little I've read about it, sounds like a very loose, free sort of religion, and one that doesn't ask a lot of its adherents...a little like Unitarian Universalism, only more so. So if I'm out for a walk on Sunday mornings, counting the hooded mergansers in the open water of Round Pond or playing Stick with Remy, instead of sitting through a church service, I'm just being a good pagan.

It was about ten years ago that Caitlin decided that Easter Sunday would be a good time to announce to my mother that I had become a pagan. My mother was a very good church-goer all her life, and very active in her church as long as I can remember, and she never quite came to terms with the fact that I pretty much stopped going to church once I had kids and jobs and more things to take care of than would fit into just Saturdays.

I remember the exact moment that Caitlin made her announcement, because it was a very painful moment for me, although not in the way you might be thinking. I was standing at the stove, making Easter dinner, and my mother had just arrived at our house from church. Just as I reached over a tall pot of something simmering on a front burner to stir something on a back burner, Cait piped up with, "Mom, have you told Gramma you've decided to be a pagan?" My mother said, "What?" just as I dropped the spoon into the pot on the back burner. I reached into the pot to get it, and as I did, I nudged aside the lid of the pot on the front burner. My sweater had ridden up as I stretched to reach the back of the stove, and steam from the pot scalded an inch-wide stripe across my stomach.

Fortunately, my ensuing yelping prevented me from having to discuss paganism with my mother, and she never brought the subject up again.

Anyway, Easter in our house has always been mostly about egg hunts, chocolate bunnies, and ham. (That, and trying to keep the cats from eating that nasty green cellophane Easter grass, which always makes them throw up.)

This year, with our finances rather strained and postage going up all the time (and chocolate and jelly beans being awfully heavy to mail) I seriously considered not sending Easter packages to the girls, but tradition won out, and I packaged up bunnies and jelly beans and Tony lugged them to the post office for me (and was shocked that postage for three little packages could, as they say around here, "ruin the looks of a $20 bill").

I even hid a few eggs around inside the house for Will (yes, I know he's 18, but when you're the youngest child and the last one left at home, you have to put up with some small indignities while your mother clings to the vestiges of your childhood), but with the wind blowing hard and the temperature hovering in the high 20s this morning, I was very glad I didn't have to take part in the annual outdoor hunt that was always a tradition when all the girls were home. (The photo above is probably from about 10 or 11 years ago, and it looks like Easter was warmer that year, but I remember some pretty torturous egg-hunts that took place in the freezing cold at barely dawn [thanks to Caitlin, who could always be counted on to get us all up early on holidays if candy or presents were involved] around piles of dirty snow and patches of frozen mud.)

I did cook ham for dinner, and even got some asparagus, because it seemed springlike, and ours won't be up and ready to pick for another month. I felt a little bad about not making my traditional bunny-shaped yeast rolls, or a special dessert, but I'm on a healthy-eating kick, which I'm trying to turn into a permanent healthy-eating lifestyle, and I didn't want to jeopardize it. (I didn't make any hot cross buns this year, either, even though I love them, and even though they have true pagan origins, with the cross symbolizing the four quarters of the moon.) So I made purple and green Jello instead, and cut it into little cubes and mixed the colors together, and except for the fact that Tony doesn't really like Jello in general, and the fact that grape Jello in particular (despite its wonderful color) is a nasty, nasty thing, it made a fairly festive Easter dessert.

In past years I've made Easter cakes, starting with this one, which I made when I was about 14, when we came to Maine from Connecticut to spend Easter with Steve and Peggy at the Inn. On the back of this photo, my mother wrote, "Easter at Sunday River--before Isaac ate the cake!" (Isaac was my brother Andy's yellow Lab, and I think that's about all I need to say about the fate of that particular Easter cake.)

But I never attempted an Easter cake as impressive as this one that my mother made the year I was two:I have a feeling she probably also made this Easter coat and whatever dress I had on under it, probably something painstakingly hand-smocked. And years later she made these smocked Easter dresses for Annie and Cait:

Hmm...Annie's dress seems a bit on the short side...perhaps it was made for the previous Easter?

When I went for my walk this morning, in the cold, cold wind, I saw that, even as cold as it is, the ice is starting to go out of North Pond already, and I thought about how my mother would have liked to see that, and to think that in just a couple of months, she could get down to camp and wage war on the mice and spiders who have had the place to themselves all winter.

Five years ago on Easter, my mother died, and I have to admit that, for me, Easter is now more about remembering her than anything else. But that's OK. When you're a pagan, Easter can be anything you want it to be.


  1. Have you read The Shack? Very powerful book that helped me see my religion more clearly.

  2. I bought it for her for Christmas, she better read it!

    Nice post, Mom. Thank you for not getting any more embarassing with the easter pictures - I think there have got to be some of my chubby eight year old butt in sweatpants, charging into the yard to get all the eggs before everyone else. Or are those all on video....