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Easter and the pastel diamonds

INSIDE/OUT

I’m not sure, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the way my family

celebrated Easter wasn’t exactly what the creator of the holiday had

in mind.

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Sure, we went to church on Easter Sunday. Easter was one of the

three days of the year my mother insisted we attend Mass, the other

two being Christmas and Ash Wednesday. These were the Big Holy Days,

and by my mother’s way of looking at things, if we were scrupulous in

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observing Catholic tradition during them, our souls would be safe the

remaining 362 days of the year.

Easter always started with Mom waking my brothers and me at the

crack of dawn and demanding that we get dressed immediately. Because

so many days had passed since the last time we went to church, Luis,

Michael and I quickly threw on what we usually wore on days when

there was no school -- ratty T-shirts and whatever old jeans or

shorts we could find. Then Mom walked back into the room to see if we

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were ready, and screeched.

“You can’t go to church in those rags!”

“Why not?” we asked in unison.

“Because we’re going to the House of God! You look like you’re

going to a poorhouse!”

“But, Mom,” I said, “you told us that Jesus loves everyone --

especially the poor.”

My mother stared at me for a long moment.

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“No, I didn’t. Now put on your Communion suit and stop getting

smart with me!”

So my brothers and I groaned, then reluctantly changed into our

Communion suits.

I hated my Communion suit. It didn’t fit the first time I wore it,

and as the years went by, the sleeves progressively crept up my arms

until you could almost see my elbows when I put it on. The buttons

strained around my belly; the starched shirt collar bit deeply into

my neck. But it was the only suit I had, and Mom insisted I wear it

at every important religious function.

For years after I left home, I would equate spirituality with

strangulation.

“Mom ... I can’t ... breathe ... “

“Oh, quit exaggerating! Just leave it unbuttoned on top! See? Ay,

mijo, unbutton the jacket, too, before you hurt yourself.”

Then Mom herded us to church like a flock of sheep in ill-fitting

wool. The big church in my hometown was St. Mathias, a beautifully

imposing structure with tall spires and an ornately detailed stone

entrance.

Just inside the entrance was a brass bowl filled with holy water.

Michael made a huge show of gently dipping his right hand in the

water, then prissily dropping to one knee and dabbing it on his

forehead, stomach and shoulders in the Sign of the Cross. I rolled my

eyes.

It really annoyed me that Michael was always such a show-off with

the holy water. If you had asked me, Michael was so evil he needed to

be fully immersed in the stuff, then marinated for a week before it

would have any real effect on him. But not to be undone, I dipped my

right hand in the water and crossed myself, too.

Throughout Easter Mass, my brothers and I fidgeted and jostled in

our hardwood pews. It wasn’t so much that the sermon bored us. It was

just that we knew what waited for us when we got back home, and the

thought of it drove us almost mad with impatience.

The night before, we had watched in wide-eyed fascination as our

mother delicately dipped eggs in steaming pots of vinegary food

coloring. Most of the eggs were of the simple, hard-boiled variety,

but some of them, we knew, were empty and would later be filled with

chocolate candy. And one of them -- just one -- would be stuffed with

that rarest of rare treasures: PAPER MONEY!

If times were lean, that stuffing of legal tender would be a

dollar bill. But if times were fat, as during those brief times when

Dad was actually working, that egg would be stuffed with FIVE

ONE-DOLLAR BILLS! As Mom gently dried the eggs and deposited them one

by one into a little wicker Easter basket, her sons sat and stared at

them the way South African jewelers might regard a bucket full of

pastel-colored diamonds.

With Mass concluded and her family’s religious obligations

discharged until December, Mom hustled her brood of South African

jewelers home for the big Easter egg hunt. The moment we walked

through the door, my brothers and I broke into a dead run for the

back door.

“STOP!”

Only Mom’s most menacing voice could stop my brothers and me after

we smelled Easter eggs, and it did. I’m telling you, the Jedi Knights

had nothing on my mother.

“Wait while I get the Polaroid!” she said, and ran to the hall

closet.

My mother always insisted on preserving the moment as the kids

hunted Easter eggs. I think in her mind she held this idyllic image

of her sons in their adorable white suits, gingerly gathering the

eggs and thoughtfully sharing them with one another.

But what she failed to grasp year after year was that every

Saturday night before Easter, the boys would spy on her from nearby

hiding places as she stashed the eggs around the backyard. By Sunday

morning, every single egg location was pre-sighted, and my brothers

and I had already worked out in our brains the most efficient way to

snatch up as many of them as possible before someone else got to

them.

So when Mom finally led us out to the backyard and said “Go!”, her

illusion of the communal Easter egg hunt dissolved into a blur of

elbow-flying, hair-pulling, feet-tripping chaos. As the youngest of

the bunch, this lack of order and decorum was decidedly to my

disadvantage. I might have known where all the eggs were hidden, but

Luis and Michael did, too, and they were bigger and meaner than me.

I might have passed through childhood without capturing a single

egg, were it not for my mother’s innate sense of fairness. As soon as

it became apparent to her that the hunt would end with me

empty-handed, she would step in.

“Look! Davey! Look!” she’d cry, standing next to a bush and

pointing at it. Having waited for just this moment, I would jump for

joy and dash for the bush, knowing an egg was hidden within it. Of

course, my brothers immediately made a run for the bush, too, but

they would back off when they saw the look in Mom’s eyes. In the

pecking order, my mother was bigger and meaner than any of us.

Later that evening, the family gathered around the dinner table

for the big feast my mother had prepared. Luis, Michael and I just

stared at the food, our appetites shot and our stomachs queasy from

all the candy. But we couldn’t have been happier.

I don’t think the way we celebrated Easter was what God had

intended. But I know that as we all bowed our heads and thanked the

Lord for our bounty, it was one of those rare times we believed in

our hearts we were truly blessed.

* DAVID SILVA is the city editor of the Leader’s sister newspaper,

the News-Press. His columns run Saturdays. Reach him at 637-3231, or

by e-mail at david.silva@latimes.com.


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