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Easter Thoughts: Memories of holiday of Vermont childhood

The church was glorious on Easter morning. Her mother's hand on the ivory keyboard of the pipe organ joined the splendid choir to make spirits soar. But Easter came through more forcefully on a walk in the still snowy woods with her father, where, in nature, there was an affirmation of spring and of the resurrection
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By Sharon Whitehurst

The Easter Sundays of my lifetime have seldom been blessed with blue skies and gentle breezes. Early spring in the Champlain Valley of Vermont is a capricious season of grainy snow sulking in smeared swaths along muddy roadsides, of robins huddling against blasts of chilly wind, children squelching across soggy brown lawns.

The weather aside, my mother always saw that the budget was stretched to include an early March trip to Shapiro's Dept. Store where her three little girls were outfitted in pastel dresses with stiff skirts of polished cotton or dotted swiss, enhanced with dainty ankle socks and patent leather sandals.

The Easter bonnets on offer were tried on, gravely chosen after due consideration of their charms: a pale straw with a garland of fuzzy-centered fabric daisies for my blond sister; a flat-crowned affair bedecked with red poppies and blue cornflowers to match my red "topper"; pink rosebuds for my darker-haired baby sister.

Easter Sunday usually broke cold with a drizzle of rain or even a splatter of wet snow. My conscientious mother ruled out the ankle socks and in spite of our grumbles, we were hustled into winter underwear and the tired white knee socks whose weary elastic tops were determined to sag. "Your new hats and dresses are just as pretty," Mother insisted, "and I don't want you catching cold."

The Easter bonnets were carefully perched on our well-brushed heads and we lined up, shivering, on the front steps for my father to take our picture.

Our church on Easter Sunday made up for the defects of the weather. The broad polished rails which separated the front pews from the space before the podium were lined with potted plants; Easter lilies shone in waxen green-white purity, their heavy scent nearly over-powering the more delicate fresh-earth odor of potted daffodils.

Here and there flaming tulips rose from a container wrapped in silver foil. Some years there was a lone hydrangea, its weighty blue-cream blooms more imposing than the headgear of homely Mrs. K.--a lady known for her extravagance in hats.

Each floral tribute had been brought to the church in memory of loved ones; the list of names was read with appropriate dignity prior to the pastoral prayer.

For me, as a small child, as a 6th grader in the Junior Choir, later as member of the Senior Choir, the penultimate moment of each Easter Sunday service was the announcement of the closing hymn, Christ the Lord is Risen Today.

I remember the look of my mother's slender fingers on the ivory keyboard of the pipe organ, the rustle and creak of a congregation rising, the splendid harmony of the choir; the split second pause before the final verse while the tip of my mother's shoe touched the pedal at the right of the console and the tiny whoosh as all the stops were opened for full organ, the renewed burst of voices--"Soar we now where Christ has led--Alleluia!"

Easter Sunday dinner, no matter how fine, was outdone by the morning. My Father took over for the afternoon, perhaps taking us, still nicely togged, to visit his mother in town.

Cherished in my collage of memories is the chilly Easter Sunday when he bundled us into winter clothing and drove us to a neighbor's woodlot where he knew the downy-leaved hepatica were in bloom.

I knelt in the rustle of autumn's fallen leaves while wind rattled the branches of still bare maples above me. The tiny blossoms, pale pink, delicate lavender, shy white, were somehow more precious than the hothouse plants of churchly splendor. As their frail stems warmed in my hand, their scent was released--clean, cold and sweet, an affirmation of spring and the resurrection.

This story was posted on 2011-04-24 15:42:35
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A Kentucky garden for Easter

2011-04-24 - Old Gradyville RD, Gradyville, KY - Photo by Sharon Whitehurst.
A flower garden in Kentucky still holds the message of Easter for essayist photographer Sharon Whitehurst, just as it did as a child going on Easter Sunday afternoon walks with her father in Vermont. About the garden above, Sharon Whitehurst writes, "The blue flowers visible in my garden above are salvia, with spice pinks behind them. Clump of penstemon in the right foreground, also Siberian catmint, tight woolly heads of yarrow and just plain old weeds--because it's too wet to work the soil!"

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