Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter And The Definition Of Family

The holidays that pass this year all constitute a first....the first holiday without Dad. Thanksgiving was the worst; I kept hearing a whispered version of his halting version of Grace in my head and I kept picturing him carving the turkey or heartily digging into his food. Christmas was equally sad in that respect and with each holiday, I am flooded with childhood memories of holidays spent together. Even when we couldn't spend these holidays together; he and Mom were never far from my mind and I would call and ensure they had plenty to eat and were feelin' the love.

Easter is here once again and I'm remembering the exasperation of getting up at 0-dark-30 to attend sunrise services, the wicker basket filled with plastic grass and a chocolate bunny and the soul-nourishing meal with the family. The meal would feature country ham and cheesy scalloped potatoes and fresh green beans and corn. I would eventually learn the truth about the Easter bunny; taking solace in the introduction of Cadbury eggs. I would be baptized during one of those sunrise services.

Once I had moved away from home, I would return for Easter family get-togethers for awhile, but in time, my sister's worsening mental illness would turn any holiday into heartbreaking drama and it sadly became easier on my parents if we just skipped the holidays. Every now and then, I would slip in on a holiday and take the folks out for dinner but even that would become difficult.

During my time working in the restaurant biz, Easter became a day more about making money than memories. That may seem depressing but when you're working for tips, Easter can be one of those days that can guarantee you'll get bills paid that month. As each year passed without family holidays and money concerns would take over, the meaning of family became a little less defined. I loved my family as much as I ever did but our time together was far different from what it once was.

Faith and family shaken, I would lament some of those years spent working or alone but eventually accept that it was what it was. Family, though, would come to evolve in definition for me as the years passed. When I lived in Charleston, WV, my co-worker Mimi invited me and a couple of other Misfit Toys to her parent's home for Easter dinner. Her folks, Virgil and Mary, (yes, they were Virg N' Mary for short) were two of the finest folks I would ever meet and they opened up their home to us on a family holiday. We were all restaurant servers and Virgil and Mary wanted us to enjoy a nice meal and be served ourselves for once. They prepared a luscious lamb with mint jelly and even popped open a bottle of Dom Perignon in celebration. These misfits could not have been made to feel more like family....I will never forget that Easter dinner. Mimi and Virgil lost Mary not long ago and I know they struggle with these holidays as well...I hope they are having a great day.

I would return to my hometown area at a time when all of my family was feeling spiritually beaten but friends would again surround me and fill me up when I was down. During these days, I would enjoy an Easter dinner with the Reckards at Dotte's house and again would be accepted into another family over another divine lamb dish. The only caveat to that dinner would be the ridiculous plastic Easter glasses we were all donning at the table....that would be Dotte herself modeling in the pic.

Many years later, Keith and I would leave town in 1999. We experienced an Easter sunrise service on a dock on St. Simon's Island, watching the breathtaking sunrise settle over ocean waves. We sought out the Cadbury eggs every year. Soon, I would be accepted into Keith's family and I would experience the holidays with this new group of folks every year. Keith's sister would have children and I soon knew what it meant to be part of a family with young kids for the first time. Tanner would be born close to the Easter holiday and his birthday would be entwined with the holiday every year. I would even bear witness to a crisis of faith through young eyes: Sierra would learn the cold, hard truth about Santa and the Easter Bunny this year but then had to maintain the magic for the sake of her younger brother. This year, she helped hide the eggs for Tanner and nearly gave it away a couple of times but in the end, proved what an awesome big sister she is.

This new family and I enjoyed Easter Brunch together at the Elms this year where we were also joined by Dave's nephew and his family. I dug into ham and potatoes again and this time, forgot all about the chocolate bunny as I stood mesmerized by the vast dessert table.

Having bid farewell to the family, Keith stayed on to finish a little work and I drove home in solitude; lost in thought. The sun was finally peeking through the gray blanket of clouds. I was missing Dad but I know he's watching out for all of us. Thinking of him helps me remember to count my blessings and one of the greatest of those blessings is that while the meaning of family has changed and evolved for me over the years, my family itself has grown and transcended blood and labels. While finding my place in this new and growing family, they and other members of my extended clan would help provide comfort for me when I lost my own sister and father. My family is large and grows in members every year and with that, so do my blessings. Thank you, Easter Bunny (bawk-bawk!).

Happy Easter, everyone.

4 comments:

Lydia Donnelly said...

Beautiful post Greg :)

Robin said...

Thanks, Gregory. I needed to cry. Evil thing, you...hehehe. Brilliant post.

Anonymous said...

Greg--as usual, I struggle for the right words to thank you for this incredibly moving post. Don't you how you muster such remarkably adept descriptions of emotions, but it is truly appreciated. I'm with Robin....needed to cry.

Kaki

karavon said...

Greg, I am already pathetically sentimental about moving. Why must you make me cry some more?! In all seriousness, this is a beautiful post. Moving away from Kansas City has really made me realize the family that has grown around me and I am truly thankful for that. And now I am moving to a new family in St. Louis! It is amazing how life can take care of you.

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