Easter Envy

Better colors than Xmas to my 6 year old eye
On Good Friday in 1969, I was almost 6 years old and my mother took me for my first visit to a beauty salon. I had long, thick brown hair and up until this day my mother had always been the one to trim it, outside on the brick patio, with her large, black handled, metal sewing scissors. My mother would yell at me regularly about the squirrel’s nest in my hair, but the squirrel’s nest wasn’t there; it would have been too wonderful for words to have my own squirrels. This day, Good Friday, 1969, my hair was gathered into a ponytail, secured with a rubber band, cut off, and handed to me. I sat in the salon chair, swinging my legs and holding my hair, stroking the long straight brown ponytail like it was a pet. I shook it like a whisk. I held it up so it could cascade out around my hand like a fountain. I brushed my face with it. When the stylist was done cutting my hair I had what my mother called “a pixie cut.” I thought it looked terrible and I cried silently all the way out of the salon, back to the front seat of our Ford Falcon.
On the way home I slid very low on the seat so the backs of my legs would not burn on the car’s hot, black, vinyl upholstery.   “What is Good Friday?” I asked.
“It’s a religious holiday. When Jesus Christ died,” my mother said.
My childhood was filled with mysteries; “Jesus Christ” was something my parents shouted at each other when they were very angry.
“Why is it a holiday if Jesus Christ died?” I asked.
“It’s part of Easter,” my mother said.
 I did not understand.
Easter was not one of the holidays we celebrated. We had Christmas. We put up a tree, made lists, and Santa brought presents. As far as I could tell, only the Presbyterians who went to the church across the street from us had Easter. They wore fancy dress-up clothes, the little girls in smocked dresses and white tights and shiny Mary Janes, the boys in seersucker sailor suits and saddle shoes and little caps with white piping. I wore my brother’s hand-me-down Optimist Baseball League t-shirts and cut-off jeans, and ran around with no shoes most of the time so my feet could take the hot pavement in summer. I spied on the Presbyterians lying on my stomach on the cool tiles of the side porch of our house. When the church bells were done ringing and the last of the church-goers filed in the door, I might go crawl around our suburban yard to see what the cat was doing or look for a long line of ants.  
I wanted the Easter bunny to come and bring me a huge Easter-colored basket filled with green plastic grass and stuffed rabbits and ducks and plastic eggs filled with jelly beans. I wanted to dye eggs with a Paas kit and hide them for my little brother, pretending that the Easter bunny had done it. It would have been like a second Christmas, with prettier colors. 
In the family photo album there were pictures of my older brother at an Easter egg hunt at my father’s parents’ house when my brother was 3. By the time I was 3, and I was old enough to ask for one, but there were no more Easter egg hunts. By the time I was old enough to wonder about religion or Jesus or Easter, my parents had stopped going to church and stopped sending us to Sunday school.  I was pretty sure maybe I wanted parents who would dress me up in a new dress with little ducks appliqued on it, who would buy me white tights and shiny new Mary Janes, and we would walk into church with my brother Clark holding my hand. Well, maybe I hated wearing dresses or any shoes at all, and my brother punched me, and church was very boring and Sunday school smelled like paste, but I still wanted that basket. I really wanted my own Easter basket.
Clark still likes to tell a story about our cat Sugar killing baby bunnies on the front lawn one Easter while the horrified Presbyterians (who were our enemies because of their poor parking manners) filed by on their way to church, stifling their screams, and hiding their eyes. Sugar was a prodigious hunter, able to catch a mouse in the ivy as casually as Clark would toss a baseball into his glove. Sugar did bring us a litter of screaming baby bunnies one day, one at a time, all in various stages of shock, but I think it happened on an ordinary quiet day in spring. My mischievous father was the one who suggested that Sugar should have done it on Easter, and gleefully described the parade of traumatized Presbyterians witnessing the slaughter.  My family was the kind that laughed at church-going-people, holding hands and wearing matching outfits, singing about Jesus’ love and yet parking so they blocked our driveway.
Many years later, when my own children were small, my old-world mother-in-law would send us tiny fancy Easter outfits, complete with matching socks and small caps with white piping. Sometimes we had to wait a year or two for the one-piece sailor suit to fit one of our boys; other times we might wait a whole year for an occasion worthy of stuffing our wild toddlers into dress-up clothes. If the outfits were worn, they were worn once; some went to Goodwill without ever being taken off the plastic hanger or coming out of the sealed, clear plastic bag. For many years, this Hungarian grandma, known as Nagymama, would send lavish Easter baskets, with huge chocolate bunnies and jellybeans and stuffed animals. Usually the package would take us by surprise because we never paid any attention to the arrival of Easter.

Noob York

Today was Friday. A maintenance team of fellows speaking all manner of languages (save English) was expected at one to take another crack at the stopped toilet.  The dogs needed to be out of the way. We needed to be out of the way.
We walked down to West 25th to drop the dogs at doggy day care, and stopped nearby at a forgettable corner “coffee” shop for a late breakfast. It was not Starbucks, which is only for true, on-the-road emergencies. I was served a delicious bagel and cream cheese and fresh squeezed juice, which was nearly ruined by the presence of dreadful see-through tan beverage known in this city as “coffee.” The “coffee” in New York is so consistently bad I have nearly given up the stuff, having gone now from a connoisseur to a sad, furtive junkie.  
After a hurried meal where I growled unnecessarily at my companion, I let him choose the destination: a museum from the list of larger museums we had not visited yet. I am not a fan of the biggest museums, finding their bigness too big to take in, and their sprawling labyrinth floor plans unnavigable. No museum can display everything related to a subject, yet the larger and more grandiose the institution, the greater pretensions of completeness. I might find the gray squirrels entombed in their taxidermed glory, lifeless, dusty but where are the red or the black? The sugar gliders? Chipmunks? Maybe they are there, too. Maybe we just missed them. A frantic search ensues. But the Italian tourists are taking photos of themselves posing in front of the jaguars, and we are in their way. We always move along.
My son picked the American Museum of Natural History, in theory a nice change from the art and antiquities we have already seen at the Morgan, the Guggenheim, the Whitney and the Frick. I knew we could take the subway there: the B (or was it the D?).
We got on the subway at 23rd and 6th, headed uptown. This was a Bronx-bound train, the M, so we would have to change to the B (or was it the D?) in a couple of stops. We hopped off, and on again, making the switch to the D without missing a beat. Just as the doors were closing a young guy with chin-length black wavy hair and a black guitar got on our car and began to sing and play.
He started with the Flaming Lips “Do You Realize?” which he played serviceably despite his insertion of his own harmonica bridge, and moved into “Rocky Raccoon” for which he got a dollar from us and one from another rider. Then he moved down the car with “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right.” It was at this point that we realized the train had gone express, and we were roaring through subway stops without doing the thing that trains are supposed to do at subway stops: stopping.  72nd, 81st, 86th, 96th, and 100th had already flown by.  Before it was over, we would be at 145th, where we would go up and down another flight of stairs to the downtown B and travel another five stops to 81st as intended. 

Our favorite thing at the museum was the skeletons. My son complained that the place smelled of babies. We left after not that long, and by the time we were three blocks from home, I felt the unmistakeable feeling that I was coming down with the strong and sudden virus that knocked my husband out last night in the middle of dinner. Today’s lesson: it should have been the B.


One of the ways the College of Wooster deals with the anxious parents of its new students is to include them in a two-day registration event, held in late June. While students take placement tests and register for classes, parents are shepherded to a sequence of speeches and presentations on academic expectations and student resources, mostly unnecessary information from the perspective of the parent of a pretty independent kid, but reassuring nonetheless. I did point out to one of my fellow parents that the main point was “purchase confirmation:” private college today is incredibly expensive, and we have signed up for at least four year’s worth, so it’s a good moment to remind us what we’re paying for. Of course, this aspect was unmentioned so far today and is simply my interpretation. 
My analysis won me a friend, though, who joined me at the end of the day at the parents’ wine and dessert mingle for some pleasant conversation and helped me find my rental car in the dark. 
Regular readers know that we are in the process of cleaning up, packing up, and moving out of our house of almost 18 years, in anticipation of a move to New York. The timing of this short trip to Ohio falls awkwardly in the midst of one of the busiest few weeks of my life, but the worst thing that might happen is that I will run out of time, they pack my things in a disorganized state, and I deal with it at some future date in an as yet unknown location.

On the way here this morning I missed a turn toward campus, but as a reward for taking the (smaller) road less travelled by, we encountered a frolicking pair of (living) black squirrels. One of the recurring jokes of the movie “Up” is that dogs are pretty easily distracted, especially when it comes to squirrels. I have been known to interrupt conversations to notice unfortunate body language, remarkable spiders, or a particular kind of tree, so throwing my car into reverse to get a better look at black squirrels is not an usual thing for me. The neighbors seemed a bit puzzled by our behavior, but puzzling Ohioans has become a daily event now.
One thing that still puzzles me is that I have observed the squirrels in this town, both the special black ones and the ordinary gray, walking a slow, four-beat walk: step, step, step, step.  I do not ever remember seeing squirrels do anything but hop in that distinctive arcing motion.  I guess I usually walk with dogs, which inspire more motion from squirrels. I have also noticed that these squirrels seem willing to pose for photographs.
My grandfather struggled with squirrels, who waited until his tomatoes were nearly perfect and then ruined them all, taking bites out of every last one.  His solution was to trap them and take them to a park about a mile away and set them free.  There were so many squirrels in his neighborhood, this remedy did not seem to have an effect, and somehow my grandmother argued that the squirrels were not taken far enough away. My grandfather answered this question by spray-painting the tails of his trapped squirrels green before taking them to the park and releasing him.  No green-tailed squirrels ever returned.
One day, in about eight weeks, we will drop our middle son at college for his freshman year.  He is a tomato-lover himself.  We certainly hope he does return to us, even though we will have moved.

An Incident on Sunday

I believe that spiders lead short, furtive lives and should be left alone whenever possible. I like to let the big fat ones build webs on my front porch in the fall, but then when I try to take a picture I remember that I am not patient enough to be a good photographer. Sunday morning I uncovered a spider in the basement when I was doing laundry. I stood and moved away so it could scramble to safety. About an hour later, I was driving on Avondale Road in Redmond, and a young squirrel panicked in my lane as it tried to cross the street. I hit it with my left rear tire, and flattened it. I have never killed a squirrel before and a day or so later I still feel terrible about it.


There must have been a lot of squirrel-killing on Sugar’s part, because hanging on a nail in the garage was a tool known officially as the “squirrel-tongs.” These tongs were for putting dead squirrels in the trash. A better descriptor would be “barbecue tongs,” for they were the sort of large-scale tongs. As an adult, I tend to refer to all tongs as “squirrel-tongs.”