People in church clothes stand on winding lines, breathing into their cupped hands for warmth. It’s cold in Austin. 45 degrees. Women are wearing heels and pantyhose, tweed skirts, and polite leather handbags. Their broaches and their coiffed hair wait outside popular brunch spots. Bloody Marys with stalks of leafy celery, mimosa toasts, the rims decorated with a strawberry wedge. Lights twinkle and diners crowd in, keeping warm with bowls of coffee. There’s not a festive hat in sight. I love the idea of Easter hats. I’ve always longed for an occasion to wear an oversized rimmed hat. Something enormously glamorous, befitting a countryside wedding from Four Weddings and a Funeral.
At Che Zee, here in Austin, there’s a six-foot-something man outfitted in a white bunny suit, complete with a perky cotton tail and hand painted whiskers on his middle-aged face. I’m waiting for creme brulee French toast and poached eggs served atop crab cakes. Though, it strikes me now that eating eggs on Easter is like feeding a chicken chicken. You’re supposed to hunt for them, dye them, tuck them away in irridescent grassy baskets. Eating them scrambled seems sacreligious. Isn’t Easter about eating honey baked ham slices? Martha doesn’t think so. She serves hers scrambled with gobs of butter and a generous pour of cream in well-rinsed eggshells. No doubt with diminutive sterling spoons.
I grew up celebrating Easter on a different day than all the other kids. Usually a week or so later. Greek Easter. I never went to church; my father wouldn’t allow it. And I was thankful for that. I was scared of church, of the deep voices and hymns. Talk of saints and an incense that seemed to remind me of ashes and dead people. My sister and I were raised Jewish, but we celebrated our mother’s holidays with her, so long as it meant never having to say the words "Jesus," "Christ," or anything having to do with "The Holy Spirit" or "Mary." We never learned to make the sign of the cross with our hand. I remember asking my Greek / Italian first cousin Vanessa how to do it. I wondered if I was supposed to bring my fingers to my lips first, pretending to kiss them, the same way I did with a prayer book after it touched the Torah. Vanessa would show me, using her right hand, moving it from her forehead to her chest, then from shoulder to should. Or was it chest to forehead, then shoulder to shoulder? Left to right, or right to left? I could never remember. All I knew was I wanted, maybe more than anything else, to be like my older cousin, who was two years my senior and always had the latest Nike sneakers and got all her clothes from a store in Manhasset, NY called Peanut Butter. I remember making the sign of the cross thinking it was something women did, like coffee. It made me feel grown up.
As I got older, in high school, my mother took my best friend, who was half Greek and half Jewish, and me to a midnight mass. It was crowded, so we never made it into the church. Again, I was thankful, still afraid of the customs and organ music. It was beautiful though, seeing strangers huddled outside with white tapered candles. Patrons of the church walked around the block, their candles lit. We took ours back to the car, then headed to a Greek diner for Baklava. The next day my mother made a leg of lamb with rosemary potatoes, salty and crackling, splitting open. We’d each choose a brightly colored hard-boiled egg, then knock the tips of our chosen egg with an egg of a family member. Whomever had the egg that didn’t break "got good luck for the year." Then we’d slice a spinach feta pie, where a silver coin had been baked in the batter. Each slice was reserved for a member of our family, her family, even relatives who lived in different states. Whomever got the slice with coin was slated for a year of good luck. It was me one year, though I don’t think I believed much in luck and doubt it changed mine that year. It’s strange how religious holidays, with all their rules and ceremonies, can create traditions centered on something as whimsical as luck.
I called my mother this morning, to remind her it’s Philip’s 40th birthday today. "I know that," she said, "I already called your house this morning. I didn’t know it was a big one though. I’ll have to send something. Belated. You know, a little late." She was with her mother and sister, Vanessa’s mother. They’re walking in downtown Stuart, Florida. I ask her to send my love to everyone, and I realized then how ever since Papoo died, I felt estranged from her side of the family. I’ve always been close with her niece and nephews, my cousins, and I still think I am, even though we don’t talk as often as I’d like. We’re close I think because we grew up together, in weekends, with our mothers, who are best friends. Over summers, playing hide-and-seek in their yard, swimming at North Hills. And it makes me nostalgic and of course makes me wish I were closer to family, particularly my cousins, and their children. For Lucas and Abigail, for Easter egg hunts and too much chocolate. Where I could tell stories to people who already knew the stories, of how my mother once actually hit a bunny with her car on Easter Sunday, which to her was like feeding a chicken chicken.