23 March 2008

Easter parade

My mother is a very devout Catholic, and saw it as her mission to raise a passel of the same. With me, she clearly failed. I left the Church at 15 after an argument on Good Friday with the priest who was hearing my confession. It was actually a small thing--Fr. J. didn't doubt my contrition, he just didn't like the formula I was using to discuss my sins and told me so--but it was the last straw for a bright kid who was questioning everything at that point and was tired of being treated like a second-class citizen because of her gender. I didn't exactly tell him to go to hell--I was only 15 after all--but telling him I didn't need him as the middle man in my confession, that I could just talk it over with God without him, was probably worse.

My mother was suitably outraged by this, of course, as she was suitably outraged by my refusal to be married in the Church and by my failure to have the kids baptized. She combats my lapsed state as best she can, sending rosaries blessed by the Pope and holy cards and children's Bibles and medals, but she's fighting her way up Everest there. I am comforted in the knowledge that every night when she prays for the conversion of China, she is also praying for the conversion of me, and that China and I are thwarting her with equal vigor.

For all her devotion, however, she was naughty on one count, and that was allowing us to go to Easter Vigil Mass on Saturday so we didn't have to go on Easter Sunday morning. The really religious ones will tell you that the vigil simply doesn't count. We knew better, though, because Easter morning was time for the real sunrise service: a trip to the mountains, the church of the great outdoors.

Our parents would drag us out of bed while it was still dark, and pack us in the car with our Easter baskets, coolers full of food, toys and blankets. The candy orgy would start in the FuryIII station wagon as soon as we could pull our eyelids open, and usually we were all on the verge of illness by the time we got to Gates Pass. Generally, we'd hit the Ironwood picnic area just as the sun was rising; in those days, it opened at 6 am, and by 6:15, my mother had a fire going in the brick grill, and bacon sizzling in a pan. Sometimes friends would join us, and there would be kids running and yelling, fueled by sugar and high spirits, everywhere. We'd break off into groups to hike the mountains, hoping to find a cave or a Gila Monster, and to avoid getting stuck by cholla. My brother was a champion at falling into cactus.

Those mornings were invariably clear and blue, saguaro blooming white against the cerulean of the sky if it was late enough in the spring. It was cold in the purple shadows cast by the mountains, warm in full sun, giving way to downright hot as the day progressed. It was even hot the April Sunday in which we'd seen snow on both Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The air smelled clean, full of the scent of warm rock and sage and wildflowers.

Periodically, we'd return to the picnic tables in the ramada to get more chocolate eggs or to see if the potato salad had made an appearance yet. Around mid-day, the grownups would start grilling hamburgers and hot dogs, but the kids, stuffed full of junk would take a bite or two of lunch and head back to the hills, to sit in the shade of a large rock or look at the wildflowers. Around 4, we'd be stuffed back into the car, full to explosion, exhausted from too much sun and too much running. We'd roll out of the car when we got home, and were shepherded off to be bathed, where cactus needles would be removed, and scrapes and cuts would be bandaged. Someone would turn on the The Ten Commandments. I still associate the voices of Edward G. Robinson and Charlton Heston with chocolate-hazed nausea.

Those idylls didn't last, of course; the best moments from childhood don't. But I wanted my own children to experience something of what the desert is like on an Easter morning: the clarity, the smell, the contrast. So we arranged a couple of years ago to go to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum for Easter Brunch. It was uncrowded and we had breakfast, which was nice, but we had the museum largely to ourselves for the morning.

"Remember the woodpeckers in the cactus?" the daughter asked this morning over a breakfast of chocolate, hard boiled eggs, muffins and more chocolate.

"Remember the baby coyotes?" the son asked.

"Remember the javelina?"

"The hummingbirds?"

"The mouse in the aviary?"

"Can we do it again?"

"Remember the flowers?"

I remember.

Go listen to some good music: "Easter Parade" performed by Fred Astaire and Judy Garland from the album That's Entertainment.

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