Saturday, April 23, 2011

Remembering Why


The childhood scents of Easter were always milk chocolate, of course, and baked ham, and the overwhelming scent of my favorite purple hyacinths--for I adored anything purple and anything from my father, and this flower was his special gift to me every year, its little pot wrapped in pink foil and tied with a wide yellow ribbon.  

And then there were the sights of Easter Mass: the church crowded with grownups and children alike, kneeling stiffly in their best dresses and suits, and every female wearing a new--or newly decorated--straw hat.  My own was white straw decorated with fabric daisies and bearing a white elasticized cord that hooked under my chin to keep the hat firmly on my head.  The straw made my scalp itch, and throughout the homily I tugged at the cord, certain that it was going to choke me to death before we ever got to communion.  Even so, I loved Easter and what it represented.  It seemed to me a day of mysteries and questions at the end of a long month of mysteries and questions--and, of course, sacrifice.  The big question among all my Catholic friends every year was always, "What are you going to give up?"  My answer was always candy.  The obvious choice, but also, looking back, the wise one, because it made that hollow chocolate bunny taste all the sweeter come Easter Sunday, but also because giving up some small thing that we truly desire is a good practice in life, as in Lent. Even as a very little girl I knew it was a meager gesture in the face of the magnitude of Christ's sacrifice, and yet all the children I knew made it quite solemnly, a credit to the people who raised us to see ourselves as one small part of something much greater than ourselves.

I still remember asking my Catechism teacher repeatedly why Good Friday was called "good."  I was  eight years old, and I kept saying to the poor woman, "but it can't be good, if Christ died.  That's not good."  She sighed and said, "Yes, Gigi, but he rose again.  That's why Good Friday is 'good.'  He died so that he could rise again."  I sat in the large, dimly lit church every morning during Holy Week, peering up at the stations of the cross, wondering why Christ had to die and rise again.  Why, I wondered, couldn't he just have kept on living, making loaves and fishes and doing other wondrous deeds.  Sister Edwina had led my class all around the church the previous week, showing us the stations and teaching us about Christ's Passion.  Now I sat beside my family in our pew and realized that my question about Good Friday was only the the first in a long line of hard questions that I would be asking for the rest of my life.

Today, as my husband and I colored Easter eggs and he made the traditional potato, kielbasa, and horseradish borscht from his mother's recipe, we talked about the Easters of our childhoods, each of us living in small New England towns, he an altar boy in a Polish Catholic church and me the granddaughter of French Catholics.  Our upbringings were shaped by traditions and foods and words and gestures imbued with a history that we couldn't have imagined as we hunted for eggs and chocolates in the wet morning grass, our baskets hooked in our elbows, feet racing to discover the next secret hiding place.  Little did we know that life would always be full of mysteries, and that decades later we would still be searching.  

I looked up this afternoon from dipping a perfect white egg into a bowl of blue dye.  "Why," I asked my husband, "do we still make all the traditional dishes, and why do I remember exactly how your dziadzi liked his borscht--with lots of horseradish stained pink by beet juice?" 

"Because," he replied, "so many of the people we love have died.  We make these dishes to remember them.  We remember them to feel connected.  They helped to make us who we are."

In the face of mysteries and questions, these gestures--these flavors and smells and snapshot memories--help us remember where we came from, help us shape who we wish to become, and to make each day, in the most profound sense, truly good.


  1. Yes, I believe your husband is right. Creating the recipes of the past brings those precious, fleeting moments into focus again. Happy Easter, lovely Gigi.

  2. Hey Gigi, so nice to have visited with you and your husband, to know more of your growing up, your traditions ... you share so beautifully.

  3. Dearest Gigi,

    Your ancestors are laughing down from the heavens with such a rich proza written about the passing on of a family tradition; a people's culture and keeping the Catholic culture alive... So many of our loved ones, whose blood runs through our veins, have shared this too. If one does away with religion, in fact you trash out all the memories of your ancestors too; their lifestyle lived to the best of their ability and passing on with pride old customs and traditions to the next generation... EASTER is far more than our eyes or hearts can see and feel. It is still giving as we again pass on this value.

    Thanks for your excellent contribution to this holy season. I too have great memories of the nuns teaching and leading us. They did well as it is deeply rooted within me.

    Happy Easter to you and your husband and other loved ones!


  4. So many Easter memories of my own childhood came back to mind while reading this beautiful post, for this Thank you and Happy Easter to you too, Gigi

  5. Oh, so sweet... I grew up Catholic, so many of your reminiscences resonate, Gigi. :o) I have found my spiritual home in Buddhism in my adulthood. But Easter still holds fond memories. I don't give up chocolate anymore though. ;o) Easter Blessings to you & yours ((HUGS))

  6. Hello:
    What a wonderfully evocative post, not only of childhood memories and favourite things but also as a reflection of the meaning of Easter - something which can be so easily lost in today's hurried and materialistic world.

    Here in Hungary the eggs are still painted and today, by tradition, we will eat them with home cooked ham and, yes, horseradish. Your husband's Polish traditions are not so dissimilar from those of our adopted country.

    We have so much enjoyed reading this most thought provoking post on this Easter Sunday morning.

  7. So glad you have these memories to enrich your holiday...and that you are wise enough to cherish them, generous enough to share them, and talented enough to capture and communicate the beauty of them!! Happy Easter! Happy Spring?! mcr

  8. Happy Easter to you and your husband today Gigi. Such lovely words to read this morning. You had me walking down memory lane, the nuns, the services, the egg hunts, and all the sweet things this holiday brings. I laughed when I read your questions, you were even asking serious questions then!. Love it! XOXO

  9. i am not of christian faith and i have never understood why it was called good friday either. so this sheds a little light on that :) hope you had a lovely easter.

  10. What a beautiful post. I like how you carry on the traditions. We seem to have lost ours as our family has scattered and passed on. We are actually grilling steaks today because cooking the full ham with all the fixings meal that we both grew up with creates way too much food for us with only our son coming to eat. I miss the big family holidays...but maybe I will go color some eggs!

  11. ♥Nice post.) Love your blog.))♥

  12. What a wonderful answer from your husband and so very true too!!!

    Happy Easter to you and yours.

  13. I love how all of the questions you asked as a child resonate with me. Down to the straw hat with the elastic cord and walking from one station of the cross to the other looking up in wonderment. Happy Easter and enjoy your wonderful memory filled dishes.

  14. Such a lovely..soft..dreamy image. And - I love reading about your childhood memories. Happy Easter!

  15. Dearest Gigi ~

    Just this morning, I received a call from my mother wishing us Happy Easter. She is a devoted Southern Baptist in EVERY way, and I grew up going to church weekly (often times, two to three times per week). I am still a believer in a higher power, but I do not attend church nor consider myself a religious person. I prefer to believe in good, fill my heart with faith and love, offer kindness in any way possible, help anyone who needs an extra hand, respect the Earth we are fortunate enough to live our breathing days upon, and have hope for all things in life and everyone to find peace and joy. This is also how we are raising our Gaia. My mother is not a huge fan of our non-church going 'practices', and she insisted on sharing the only TRUE story of Easter with her grand-daughter. I agreed, for I never wish to hold any history or story of significance from the crumb's ever-learning world. For a moment, I felt a tinge of anger towards my mother's insistence, but then I quickly shifted my thoughts and realized this is what is important to her. It is the very essence of her beliefs, and although I prefer to let Gaia choose her own belief system, I feel it is important for her to soak up the many different 'colors and truths' that make up our entire family, and the world for that matter. I completely agree with Todd's answer in regards to the significance of why we carry out these traditions. It is so important to continue to weave the memories, favorites, and lessons of those before us and still with us. Of course, the story of Christ and his Resurrection has created a whirlwind of questions from the crumb, and I am doing my best to answer in a way suitable for a 3+ year old's curious, sponge-like mind. These past few weeks have highlighted several of life's harder offerings, and through them all, I have learned how fragile words need to be when explaining such complexities.
    Oh the memories that flood when holidays are present ~
    Happy Easter to you sweet friend!

  16. i always have thoughts of my childhood and my mother at holiday services

  17. For me traditions are memories too... for this reason it was important for me to have my late mother-in-laws brisket for Passover and my mother's baked ham for Easter...

  18. Thank you for this wonderful post Gigi. I'm the only one left from my family and your writing brought back memories of childhood days and family traditions. Your husband's reply sums it up.
    I really appreciate your comments on my blog, thanks.

  19. Beautiful to honor the good rituals we observe and preserve.

  20. Beautiful post, Gigi.

    And thank you for reminding me so clearly of my own childhood and straw Easter bonnets!

    C x

  21. "Because," he replied, "so many of the people we love have died. We make these dishes to remember them. We remember them to feel connected. They helped to make us who we are." Wise. Your Todd is so wise.


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