Traditional Fields Family Easter Protocols: 1985

Family History / Nostalgia / Personal History

5:30 am: Wake from dream about playing mini-golf with friendly monsters. Tremble at the sound of the “creepy bird,” whose song signals the arrival of the evil zombie Easter Bunny doppelganger who rises from the dead every Easter Sunday to abduct over-eager, non-sleeping children and fly them away to a dusty fairground populated by the dead. Quiver under the covers, as terrified of being discovered by the evil rabbit as you are terrified of being discovered terrified by your still-sleeping mother, whose habit of explaining away childhood fears by brain chemistry and behavioral psychology, is so effective you come out the other side feeling both comforted and completely ashamed of yourself.

5:45 am: Satisfied the demonic rabbit has moved on to the Orr’s house up the street, you crawl out of bed making as much racket possible. Stomping across the landing, slamming the double doors, messing with the toilet seat and opening and closing the radiator cover cleverly disguised as a shuttered cabinet. Recoil in horror at the sight of a giant spider trapped between the actual window and storm window. Contemplate the mermaid shaped bathroom toys. Braid their hair. Investigate the contents of the medicine cabinet. Make flowers out of toilet paper and bobby pins. Wonder what would happen if you sprayed the entire can of bathroom cleaner into the toilet bowl. Pretend to be the long-suffering prisoner of a despotic regime and deliver a rousing, if whispered, gallows speech to a crowd of demoralized populace, encouraging them to fight on for another day. Flush toilet to punctuate. Flip the light switch off and on several times.

6:05 am: Begin waking people in earnest now go about waking people in earnest. Go first to your parents’ room and say “mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, mom,” until she rolls over, groans and tells you to go back to sleep. Calmly inform her that this is not possible. Scoff and walk across the hall to wake your three-year-old sister. Tell her if she doesn’t get up the Easter Bunny will steal her candy and return who to her actual parents, who are monsters in another dimension. Do not acknowledge that she will one day use this against you as evidence of childhood torment.

6:08 am: Return to parent’s bedroom with the enlisted support of your sister, her security blanket and your own stuffed raccoon (named Violet DuBois). Stand perfectly still with stare at your mother with the most puppy dog expression imaginable, trying to create the illusion that you are one of those sickly, yet saintly Victorian children from the most boring books in your library , instead of the Machiavellian tyrant you know yourself to be. Sniffle a bit. Let your sleepy eyed sister say something treacly like “Do you think the  Easter Bunny brought something for Daddy?” Try not to roll your eyes, because parents just eat that shit up. Listen to mother groan. “All right. All right. Go put on your slippers and give me a few minutes.”

6:10 am: Sit crouched on upstairs with little sister, awaiting the green light to go downstairs, as Mom puts on bathrobe. Wonder at the amount of noise coming from Dad’s study. Secretly hope the Easter Bunny has brought you a Walkman.

6:12 am: Enter den, where two large, elaborately beribboned wicker baskets sit atop the gate-leg table infront of the window. Outside the sun has just cleared the tops of the mountains and you feel like you need to squint. Dash over the soon-to-be completely refinished floor to gape the mounds of chocolate rabbits, jelly beans, egg shaped petit-fors, sour candies, gummy bears, white chocolate lollipops, tiny pastel stuffed animals and one of those imitation Faberge eggs made of sugar with a tiny confectionary vignette inside. Wonder if it would be satisfying to eat. Know you will not.  Trade sister a bag of gummy bears for all of her petit-fors. Thrill to discover, at the bottom of the basket, a cassette copy of Wham!’s “Make It Big,” but no Walkman. Your cousin once got a Walkman from the Easter Bunny. Your cousin also got one of those fancy pre-made playhouses from the FAO Schwartz catalog. You spend a lot of time trying not to think your cousin is an asshole, even though she makes you play a game called “Interior Decorator” every time you visit, which involves her locking you in her bedroom closet with a wallpaper book, while she goes downstairs and flits dramatically around the adults until they tell her how pretty she is. The last time you were locked in her closet for an hour. Your grandmother found you, said you were being dramatic when you cried and then gave you a sip of her Gin and Tonic. It is possible your grandmother is an asshole. It is also possible your cousin is an asshole. “So why did the Easter Bunny bring her a Walkman?” you ask your mother on the way to the kitchen, as you lick marzipan frosting off your fingers. Your mother explains that life isn’t fair. This will continue to be an unsatisfying response for the rest of your life.

6:35 am: Coffee is made. You request a cup. It is served “Nana-style” with a lot of milk and at least three heaping teaspoons of sugar. Mom sticks a pan of hot cross buns in the oven and requests that you stop tormenting your sister. Which strikes you as typically unjust, as your sister has been trying to bite your arm for the last half hour. Your father emerges in a threadbare brown terrycloth robe  that makes him look like the only monk in the frat house, and  sits down in the den to delve into “The New Yorker”. He may opine that “Maybe we should go to church” This discussion will continue, in fits and starts, in the background, for the next 3-4 hours.

7:30 a.m: You are nominated to call Nana. Nana tells you she loves you and wishes you a Happy Easter as you jerk the cord away from your sisters grasping fingers. Before handing the phone to your mother, you tacitly suggest that Nana is infinitely cooler, more loving and more generous than either one of your parents. Nana has a pillow on your bed at her house that says “If Mother says no, ask Grandmother.” You point blank ask Nana for a Walkman before your mother grabs the phone away from your and tells you to play with your sister.

8:00 a.m: Dressing begins. For you, this involves dress (sometimes with pinafore), white tights and white leather Mary Janes that your mother special orders from the shoe shop downtown because they often only carry white patent leather and “everybody knows white patent leather is tacky.” When you were little sometimes you had a hat (once an actual bonnet), but it is the mid-eighties which means you’ve moved on to the on-trend oversized pastel hair ribbon worn on the clip you’re using to grow out your bangs. Your Mom thinks the bow is kind of French. You think the bow is kind of Madonna, but you’re both delusional.  Your sister’s dress is in a complementary color with a French lace collar and satin sash. Your mother takes you outside to pose you in front of the forsythia and pink dogwood so she can get a few snapshots before you get grass stain on your tights and chocolate all over your dress. Your sister gets a speck of pollen on her dress and starts to cry. You take off running for the swingset deaf to your mother’s appeals, promptly fall and get grass stain all over your tights.

9:30 am: Your father has yet to shower, but your mother looks like she’s ready to go to a yacht party in Monte Carlo with Cary Grant. Her high heels precisely match the indigo of her low cut, full skirted linen dress. She wears a shiny gold choker and matching earrings, and you think she looks quite fabulous, despite the fact  that if she’d asked,  you would have gone with something with a bit more pizazz (ruffles, feathers, sequins), but no one ever asks. She taps her heel against the floor of Dad’s study and suggests that he might hurry up if you’re going to have a prayer (no pun intended) of finding a seat. Dad sits in a leather chair of roughly the same color and condition as his bathrobe. He looks irritated at having been distracted from a book about either golf or Kilimanjaro or maybe both. You cross your fingers and hope your father ignores this request. “I, for one, don’t need to go to church,” you say, in your best approximation of a world-weary thirty-six year old. “I mean, don’t we all know the story?” Your mother warns you against blasphemy and shoots your father a “see, this is why we should take them to church” look. Your sister asks for some orange juice. Your mother sighs. Your father tells you that Hemingway once climbed Kilimanjaro and he was a master of concision. “Have you read A Moveable Feast, bud?” You haven’t. You are nine. Your mother sighs like her last nerve has finally given.

9:55 am: You sit on the sofa in the den with your sister, disappointed that there are no cartoons, only church programming, which is boring and weird, though sometimes they wear interesting costumes. It is clear you will not be attending Sunday School, which is fine with you, because Sunday School is always boring. A few months ago,  you spent the night at Kristina’s house and went to her Sunday School class at the Lutheran Church where you learned two important things: 1) Martin Luther was not the biological father of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.and 2) Palm Sunday has nothing to do with Jesus taking the disciples to Miami beach for a little r&r. It’s hard to say which of these realizations was more disappointing to you. After you told her about it,  your mother took you to back toSunday School at the evangelical church she grew up in  for a few consecutive Sundays because she thought you might learn something about the Bible. But really all you did was memorize the titles of the books of the Old Testament with the promise of a prize. So you did, thinking that prize might include a Walkman, but after you rattled them off, the Sunday School teacher told you the prize was Jesus’ love and the promise of everlasting salvation, which sounded like bullshit to you, and because you mentioned it to the Sunday school teacher, you’ll never return to Sunday School again. You wrangle the remote from you sister and manage to catch the conclusion of Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher” on Mtv.

10:10 am: The airing of Madonna’s “Material Girl” video prompts a frantic dance party. Your three-year-old sister knows all the words. You indicate that you have a personal relationship with Madonna. Your sister appears to believe you.

10:35 am: The entire family loads into Dad’s sputtering Saab. Your grown-out  bangs have liberated themselves from the bow. Your mother tries to correct this as you fiddle with the rapidly expanding hole in your tights. The backseat is cramped, and feels more so because the red felt upholstery covering the ceiling sags like an old lady’s panty hose and threatens to engulf you.. Your mother reminds your father that there will be neither parking nor seating still available at the church. Your sister breathes. It irritates you. You ask her nicely to stop breathing and she takes the opportunity to smack her lips in your ears. By the time you get to the expressway, you’re hitting her and she’s biting you. Both of you insist that the other one started it. Your mother threatens punishment if the violence continues. Your sister keeps slurping. You raise a hand as a warning. Your sister screams that you hit her.

10:52 am: A parking space is discovered in the drive-thru lane of the Biltmore Village branch of Wachovia. You hustle over the green in front of the Church, where two ushers try and direct the bottleneck of tardy parishioners. Inside they’re already vamping on the pipe organ and some guy with a French horn,  and you hope maybe this year you will get a seat with a decent view of the stage. But of course you don’t. You’re directed to the furthest back corner of the side arm of the cross-shaped sanctuary, which pretty much guarantees you will see nothing but the procession and recession. Once seated you crane your neck, see a few of your friends and try to get up and go see them, but are directed to sit down or else by your mother who mutters that she needs a cigarette and a Bloody Mary.

11:00 am-12:00pm: Stand up. Sit down. Kneel. Stand up. Kneel. Sit down. Sit down. Stand Up. And also with you. Scoot the embroidered prayer bench back and forth using the heels of your shoes against the stone floor. Pick up the Book of Common Prayer. Put It Back. Pick It Up. Skim the Text. Add “in the bedroom” to the end of every sentence. Giggle. Ask your mother for a mint. Flip through the hymnal. Add “In the Bedroom” to the end of every title. Tilt your head back to look at the people in the stained glass. Try to figure out which one of them is supposed to be Jesus. Ask Jesus for a Walkman. Ask Jesus for a copy of “Like A Virgin.” Think about being a nun. Wish you were Catholic so you could be a nun. Figure you’d make it in a convent about a week, but at least you’d figure out what kind of underwear they wear. Twiddle your thumbs. Mess with the hole in your tights. Wish your guardian angel still brought your presents. Listen to your mother explain, again, that all the flowers in the front of the church came from the Biltmore Estate. Find the choir sort of boring. Sit down. Stand up. Ask if you take communion because you’d like a snack. Get denied. Go with your Dad while he takes communion and kneel beside him on the bench. Get blessed by the priest, who is wearing a fabulous sparkly gold poncho. Mention this to the priest. Get blessed again.   Go back to seat. Be bored. Try to make faces at friends across the church. Stand up. Ask if it’s almost over. Thrill at the recession. Watch an acolyte stumble while carrying a candle. Wonder if you’d survive if they had to evacuate the church in a hurry.

12:05 p.m: Help yourself to iced butter cookies from central table in fellowship hall. Find friends. Ignore little sister. Tell your friends that the Easter Bunny brought you a Walkman. Pretend not to hear when little sister calls you a liar. Walk outside and try to enter as many closed doors as you can. Get shepherded back inside by your neighbor, who teaches your gifted class at the  elementary school. Ask her if it’s true that the Episcopal Church only exists because Henry VIII wanted a divorce. Glow with praise that you are precocious. Figure being called precocious at church means that God wants you to have a Walkman. Think that all the cool people you know have divorced parents. Wonder how long it will be before your parents get divorced (four years).

12:30 p.m: Drive to the Biltmore Estate, access using Dad’s pass, which he has because he does all the advertising. Listen to your mother ooh and ah over the spring greening of the grass. Wonder why there’s so much bamboo on the estate and no pandas. Ask to go to the house. Get told that you’re just going to the gardens to take pictures. Sulk because the gardens are boring. Walk through greenhouse. Get posed with your little sister. Ham it up for photographs. Try to appear as if you are a glamorous movie star. Get annoyed when your father does not take a picture of every single one of your practiced facial expressions—furious, distraught, sultry, tragic, “Starring Linda Carter as Wonder Woman.” Run out through the tulips, imagining that Han Solo or ideally David M. from your gifted class will pop out of the jonquils to receive your theatrical embrace. Imagine that you are a princess. Imagine that you live in the house and all the other people around you are peasants. Call someone a peasant under your breath. Feel bad. Know that as princess you would abdicate to lead the peasant revolt. Ask your dad for fifty cents to buy a Fresca from the vending machines. Wish you were in the throes of an epic romance. Make plans to call David later and ask him if he likes you and then hang up before he responds. Complain that your father is wasting all his film on your stupid sister.

1:45 p.m: Arrive at  Club. Immediate take off for Ladies Lounge to lounge on the sofa for a little while, pretending that every woman that comes in is a guest at your Parisian salon. Make rounds through dining room, greeting all your friends. Brag about your haul from the Easter Bunny while finding some way to highlight the tragedy of not receiving a Walkman. I mean, I got a Wham tape, but what does the Easter Bunny expect me to play it on? The Fisher Prince tape player. God, I think not. Get called out on having previously lied about the Walkman.  Get told by at least six people that the Easter Bunny isn’t real. Explain that you know that, but that your three-year-old sister does not and so you have to go on pretending. This is absolutely true. Explain to no one that you are terrified of an evil, Easter Bunny doppelganger that haunts the pre-dawn hours of Easter morning. After all, that one might be real. You don’t really have any hard evidence one way or the other. So better safe than sorry.

2:00 p.m: Order a Shirley Temple and join the Easter buffet line for large helpings of some sort of casserole, chicken salad, overcooked scalloped potatoes and whatever seafood options are available. Avoid the beef for fear that it might be too chewy. Excuse yourself to return to the Ladies’ lounge at least three times during the meal. Practice an English accent. Practice an Irish accent. Practice a Russian accent. Think your French accent is pretty believable. Elect yourself chair of an imaginary committee. Try to replicate the opening dancing sequence from “West Side Story.” Perform a “Camelot” medley. Pretend to be imprisoned. Practice your swoon. Think you have tremendous natural talent as a tap-dancer. Flush a bar of soap down one of the toilets. Try to hide in the lobby. Run into Teresa in the hallway. Encourage her to play Cabaret Singer by Day/ Spy by Night in the bar. Discourage Teresa from inviting Erin, your nominal best friend to play along. Erin will want to add babies into the mix. Everyone knows that a glamorous spy would have nothing to do with a baby. War is hell. Tough women have to make sacrifices. Dodge the Gestapo all the way back to the dining room.

2:30 p.m: Convene outside the Pro Shop for the Annual Easter Egg Hunt in and around the tennis courts and the eighteenth hole. Listen as some guy in a green golf shirt with David Cassidy hair  who looks like he’d rather be tokin’ up for topless coed volleyball explain that there will be prizes for the most eggs collected. And one lucky person stumble upon the Magical Golden Egg that contains a magical prize for one very special little girl or boy. This last bit is delivered in a monotone. Look at Erin and roll your eyes. The countdown begins. Three. Two. Egg Hunt.

2:35 p.m: You’ve been shoved, elbowed, trampled and roundly inconvenienced. You’ve crawled through pine mulch to retrieve two or three empty plastic eggs under a buggy rhododendron. You’re too short to reach the high places and too tall to crawl around under the shrubbery, and you do have some dignity, not to mention three new holes in your tights and a lot of pine needles stuck to your pinafore. Erin has managed all the same things without getting one single thing on her pink smocked dress. Which defies logic. Likewise the fact that what’shisface has found the Magical Golden Egg for the second year running. Amy tells you that what’shisface goes to Asheville Catholic and has a real Pac-Man machine in his house. Also he breakdances. You are so over breakdancers. You tell Amy he’s probably lying about the Pac-Man machine. And you should know. You’ve absolutely told that lie before.

2:38 p.m: The magical golden egg is not magical at all. It’s a plastic pantyhose egg spray-painted gold. Contained inside, however, is a ten-dollar bill which pretty much the most magical thing you can take to the mall. What’shisface walks through the crowd cradling his prize with a smug grin and as much swagger as a four-foot tall third grader with a clip-on tie can muster. That guy is a dork, says Amy; because dork is about the worst thing you know to call someone. I don’t like him, you say. One of the boys flips him the bird and gets in trouble. You have no idea what flipping someone the bird means and are terrified of appearing uncool so you do not ask. It will take another three years before you figure it out.

2:55 p.m: Your mother takes a million years to finish talking and leave. You try to get Kristina to invite you back over for a sleepover at her house, despite the fact that you were there the weekend before. Kristina has a laundry chute large enough to crawl through, a Persian cat and a large, round sunken hot tub. Last time you stayed over at  Kristina’s you kept her up all night to her parent’s great consternation and taught Kristina and her seven year old brother the word “motherfucker,” which you’d recently learned from your neighbors, who are all gross boys, but useful in small doses. It does not cross your mind that you’ve done anything wrong. Even after you are never invited to Kristina’s house to spend the night ever again.

3:15-9:15 p.m: Return home. Eat candy. Sit in the kitchen hallway eavesdropping on your mother’s telephone conversation while your sister falls asleep on the sofa to HBO. Later your dad will play a Miles Davis record and you will eat a grilled cheese. “The Sound of Music” will be broadcast tonight on one of the networks and you just can’t get enough of the nuns. You will be made to go to bed just after the wedding, but before the Von Trapps must run from the Nazis. You will be unable to fall asleep and sit up reading one of the four books you have squirreled away beneath your covers the light of the streetlamp. You have survived Easter.

The Author

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