RHETA GRIMSLEY JOHNSON: After church, Easter had bare-foot pleasure

There are three little girls in most of the Easter photographs from my childhood. Our younger brother came along much later – the fall crop – and by then, we were teenagers, and my father had pretty much given up on taking seasonal snapshots.

In the early years, though, we stair-step sisters willingly line up to say “cheese,” wearing our white gloves and straw bonnets. We strike the same pose every year, our backs to the pink brick house, squinting into the spring sunshine. The shadow of Daddy's long legs usually ends up in the picture with us.

The dresses we wear are beautiful – taffeta and voile in the pastel colors of the garden: hyacinth blue, peach blossom pink or daffodil yellow. Our granny makes them.

Our legs are as skinny as pickup sticks, stuck like ship masts into shiny patent-leather boats of shoes. The new dresses above them are the sails, blown out from the waist, not by wind but by at least two crinoline slips.

In most of the pictures we have bangs, neatly trimmed the Saturday before by my mother, who, by the way, is mysteriously absent from all photos. She dresses carefully for Sunday school, too, but shies away from the Kodak Brownie. She never knows she is pretty, with her blue-black hair and cat eyes. Pictures of her are accidental or sneaky shots, and she frowns back at the camera with intensity.

Easter is special for – among other things – shoes and snapshots. In the Eisenhower years, people don't take photographs all the time. There are no one-hour processing drop-offs and digital cameras. Pictures are snapped at special occasions, for which Easter qualifies.

And shoes, the same way. You don't buy a pair of shoes every time you go to the discount store. There are no discount stores.

Shoes are bought twice a year, fall and spring – at the start of school and for Easter. When you get your Easter shoes, you start wearing last year's model to school; that is, if they still fit. I make them fit. You would, too, if it meant shedding the ugly gray Hush Puppies for pretty white Mary Janes.

I recognize my “National Velvet” phase in some of the photographs. Instead of bangs, I wear a ponytail, hair slicked straight back from my forehead in an attempt to look like Lori Martin, who played Velvet Brown on TV. It is the same role that brought movie fame to Elizabeth Taylor.

These are the awkward years, and I look nothing like Lori Martin or Elizabeth Taylor, though my hair does indeed bear some resemblance to the tail of Velvet's horse, King. In one picture I wear anklet socks and shoes with a hint of a heel.

I don't think the term “nerd” is in use in the 1960s, but it should be.

While Daddy takes our picture, Mother finishes up Sunday dinner that will be ready when we walk home from church. I know the menu.

We will have an Easter ham, an orange-congealed salad with carrots, English peas and rolls. Daddy would rather have a hoecake of cornbread, but Mother wins culinary battles on holidays like Easter.

We hide eggs in the afternoon, of course, but that game, even way back then, is not my favorite thing. Something about the ritual seems absurd even to a child, searching in tall grass and snaggle-toothed tree trunks for candy eggs wrapped in cellophane. It is both competitive and repetitious, an exercise in sweets-procurement that no self-respecting bunny would do.

I want to go back inside, steal away with my straw basket – we use the same one year after year – and nibble slowly on chocolate ears and pink whiskers. Eating candy should not be made into work.

And then, before dark, I'll probably try to sneak outside with no shoes on because, cool or not, Easter is the demarcation date for going barefoot. Mother will squeal if she catches me “rushing the season,” but I know that she knows that everyone knows the best part about Easter is not wearing new shoes but shedding them.

Rheta Grimsley Johnson lives in the Iuka vicinity. Her mailing address is Iuka, MS 38852.

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