Blast from the past: Post-holiday recollections of past Easter celebrations

I started talking about Easter in February. I had decided that I was going to reclaim the holiday as my own. The Easters of my childhood seemed to belong to the Lithuanian side of the family, with Episcopal accents.

Let me explain.

My family has a complicated religious history. My Swedish grandfather (a Lutheran) married a British citizen, and although my grandmother raised my mother in the Anglican Church, she was more or less a Lutheran. My father’s parents were not only divorced, no one would even speculate on what religion they had practiced — if there had ever been one. (I think that my Lithuanian grandfather’s spiritual practice was dance: the polka, in particular. My grandmother’s? To this day, I have no idea.)

My father found out at the age of 21 that he had never been baptized in any church, when he and my mother went to arrange their wedding. Dad had to take religious instruction and undergo baptism to marry my mother, as in 1951 the Episcopal church would only marry two baptized Christians. My mother told me that once when our minister as visiting, he met Grammie Lemen and asked her what church she was a member of, and she said to him, “I used to be Catholic, but then I repented,” which made everyone in the room gasp — and then more tea was poured and conversation resumed.

The deal between my parents was that my father would take us to church, but he would never go in. So, my mother and Uncle Al, a close friend of my parents’ who lived up the street from us, took the four little Rawlings and the four little Lemens to church every Sunday. And it was every Sunday. You had to be quite close to death not to go to church.

But Easter was my Lithuanian grandmother’s holiday. We dyed Easter eggs with her every year: not fancy Lithuanian ones like she had in her china cupboard, but loads and loads of the chicken variety. Purple and robin’s egg blue and yellow and orange and red and a bright grass green. Liz and I loved doing it: watching the dye tablets fizz away in the water and vinegar mix until we reached the perfect tint. We usually did an extra dozen to donate to the church, even though I never saw Grammie go into a church, and she never took us to church when we stayed with her. Everyone had an egg as their place card, and there was always a bowl of them on the table.

Grammie Lemen loved Easter hymns. We sang them for her. She seemed to like hearing me sing them, but that could have been grandma love.

We had fabulous Easter baskets. We had chocolate bunnies from Hebert’s Candy Mansion and enormous coconut cream eggs. My Auntie Norma (wife of Uncle Al) made each us a decorated hollow sugar egg with a viewing window. Inside were tiny scenes. Works of art, they were.

Easter has never really been the same without my grandmother. This year I decided to reclaim the holiday: I planned on having the entire family up for dinner. We planned what everyone would bring. It was going to be a magnificent meal: I was doing the ham; creamed spinach with jalapenos; deviled eggs; and Lucy was making a lemon and raspberry checkerboard cake. Pat would bring a cold salad as well as asparagus and Hollandaise sauce; Liz was bringing macaroni and cheese; Rachel and Scott were bringing their own homemade bread; and John, my brother-in-law’s brother, was going to bring the wine, even though I was planning on serving Remembrance cocktails, too.

I cleaned my dining room and unpacked the tea set my mother gave Lucy and put it on display in the china cabinet. I got out the Easter decorations — even the silly ones — and had started arranging them.

Then the call came.

My mother needed surgery, suddenly. Before Easter. There were tests. There were consultations. My sister Liz spent most of her week at her daughter Rachel’s house to be close to my mother, and then we started re-planning the meal because there were certain things that Mom could not eat. The spinach became green beans Almondine; the mac’n’cheese became baby roast potatoes; and I started researching mocktails.

Then it became apparent that Mom would not get out of the hospital until Saturday. Pat made the eldest sister decision and canceled the holiday. No one really wanted to have dinner without Mom being there to enjoy it. And Liz was exhausted from traveling all week.

So Pat and I went to spend Easter morning with our mother. She cannot eat chocolate, so I brought her a treat: a new Mitford book that she had not read yet. We told her that we’ll have Easter soon, and we will.

The sooner the better.

June Lemen is a freelance writer from Nashua. Her column appears the second and fourth Tuesday of the month. Email her at june@junelemen.com.