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Easter memories of new dresses, chocolate rabbits

There are few of us seniors who do not have Easter memories tucked away in our minds. We certainly remember wonderful Easter baskets with jellybeans, chocolate bunnies and coconut-filled candy eggs. We surely remember the new clothes, dresses, suits, ties and shoes purchased for that important day in the spring when we all became objects of fashion. We certainly remember the Easter baskets that were so cherished for at least a week after the big event, or until we had to shake the shiny green grass that could have held at least one more jellybean in its cushiony depths.

If our memories are similar, we got the basket when breakfast was over, and we had only a few minutes to look at all the Easter Bunny had left when the big moment of getting ready for church took center stage. Everything was new. The girls enjoyed sheer cotton bloomers with elastic legs, a full slip enhanced by rows of tiny lace at the neck, hem and arm holes. Then came the dress, either bought at the local store or handmade by our talented mothers or an aunt who was known for her ability at those foot-powered sewing machines. With all of those Easter fashions, we also carried a new purse, sometimes patent leather or a small linen bag stretched over a frame. It held our celluloid comb, a handkerchief and money for the collection (probably a bit larger on this day since it was Easter Sunday). Delicate corsages were pinned to the left shoulder of the dress, taking care not to harm the material. Our pocketbook was picked up, and some of us carefully slipped in our much-treasured rabbit's foot, which had in the past brought us an unlimited amount of good luck.

Almost all of the girls' hair was combed and coifed by their mothers or older sisters. Then came the hat, a moment of superb importance. It was like a crowning: not foolish, not making jest, all the glory was tried and true. It was a time of fashion anticipation. The hat was held above the little girl's head for just a second, and then it was placed squarely at the top of her forehead, there was no tilting or flapperish pitch. That hat's position was like our lives in those days, straightforward and level. True, the centering simply displayed the character of the wearer. It was placed on her head, and she assumed a regal appearance, even if the new shoes did pinch a trifle and her socks were beginning their never interrupted trip to the bottom of her heels.

Then came the walk to church. Some girls moved with important strides over dusty paths, where they hoped the red clay color would not rub into the white shiny leather of their new "Mary Jane's," their little purses carried loftily in their left hand, swinging with the rhythm of their practiced step. They smiled and greeted friends, becoming acutely aware of what everyone was wearing and comparing outfits and trying their best not to be "small-minded." They knew the religious significance of this day, and they tried with determination to keep their minds from wandering onto covetous ground.

They, when seated, watched the congregation and listened to the sermon about the mighty importance of the day, the terrible suffering of our Savior on Good Friday and the miracle of his resurrection on that Sunday. The congregation sat in awed silence; they seemed to be hearing the story for the first time, but that is the effect it has always has when it is told repeatedly over every Easter Sunday.

The contents of the waiting Easter baskets certainly were being mentally reviewed. Nevertheless, those beautifully dressed children quickly reminded themselves that the sermon was the important thing, and they should not be thinking of chocolate eggs that would be eaten in the privacy of bedrooms before they had to help set the table for Easter dinner. No one knew about guilt and mind control in those days. We were disciplined by following a way of life, not through punishment but through customs and an age-old culture. Those of us who are old enough to remember can surely recall that time of social sweetness.

A few moments after the service, mothers and fathers stood nicely dressed, smiling and acknowledging greetings from their friends and the friends of their children. Their clothes were fashionable, and the mother's hair probably marcelled in obedient waves that never moved as she spoke and charmed her way into the hearts of friends and families, wearing her orchid corsage and a lovely spring hat bedecked with fashionable flowers. Her elegantly gloved hand, no doubt, rested on the eldest son's shoulder as she listed names in birth order, proudly introducing her family. The recipients of all this attention stood stoically patient, uttering a hundred "yes ma'ams" with absolute sincerity, all preparing themselves for their grown-up life that soon would be approaching. Nevertheless, in the backs of all those young minds was the marvelousness of those baskets that were standing handsomely at home on the dining room table.

Tomorrow, another Easter will be slipping by in our lives. Maybe the dress we wear is not as important, and the basket is only for the very young. The chocolate rabbit, whose ears were the first to go, is out of our dietary world, and the jellybeans are an absolute no-no. However, we are a nation filled with older folks who remember the taste, the smell and the goodness of all those past Easter Sundays. We all remember at least one dress and hat that were real showstoppers, or a pocketbook that is well cared for, even until today. Please, those of you who lived that magic life, tell someone younger about the day and the thrill of the promenade to church and the blessed memories that fill our older heads, for they should never be forgotten and most certainly should be shared.