By Rheta Grimsley Johnson
My memory is so bad these days, I could hide my own Easter eggs. But one story I hope to remember till I die.
My niece, when she was about 4, caught a ride to Sunday school each week with a neighbor who was Baptist. My sister worked most Sundays and had endorsed the arrangement.
Early Easter morning that year, Chelsey was in her pajamas and digging through the big basket the Easter Bunny had left, discovering one by one the chocolate candies and sundry pastel toys hidden in the plastic grass. My sister tends to go overboard for her kids on every occasion, so Chelsey was knee-deep in seasonal booty.
The neighbor arrived with her own child, both of them dressed to the nines in Easter finery.
“Chelsey?” she asked. “Are you going with us to Sunday school?”
Chelsey looked up, her hands still buried in the faux grass, smiled and said sweetly but matter-of-factly, “Not today. It’s Easter.”
That probably wasn’t the right answer to give a Baptist, but it’s a story I love to tell. Chelsey’s knee-jerk, innocent response was opposite that of much of the congregation in the church where I grew up, also Baptist.
We saw folks at Easter we didn’t see the rest of the year. And as if by some unwritten rule, the Easter overflow, as I thought of them, always had the prettiest frocks, shiniest shoes and most remarkable bonnets. Maybe that’s because they didn’t wear them out the rest of the year.
In childhood, Easter dresses and shoes were as essential as clean underwear. The shoes were new. The dress, not necessarily.
For my first 16 years on this earth, my grandmother made almost every dress I wore, including Easter dresses. She smocked and tucked and tatted and hemmed, and I stepped out as stylish as a young Kate Middleton. Some years, my older sister’s hand-me-down from the Easter before was a perfect fit, and I gladly wore it.
I loved hand-me-downs, especially from my cousin Marilyn Jo, who had a bought-ready-made wardrobe. One year she bequeathed me a blue velvet number with a lace bib that got me all the way through senior teas.
I almost felt sorry for my older sister, who, first in the pecking order, never got hand-me-downs.
Children get so many clothes now that I doubt they will be able, as I am, to remember specific outfits as if they were family members. Certain Easter dresses are so indelibly etched in my brain that I can tell you if the zipper was on the side or the front and how many crinolines it required.
My memory is boosted, of course, by my mama’s stack of scrapbooks with endless photographs of Easter and Christmas mornings. If ever I grow too dotty to remember the Easter of the pale-blue taffeta frock with the white, patent and pointy-toed flats, I can find about a dozen photographs of me in uncharacteristic repose on a Boston rocker, dress spread out in all its cumulus glory.
I remember feeling lovely. Perfectly able to compete with those Baptist bunnies who hopped in on special occasions only and had to ask directions to their own Sunday school class.
Syndicated columnist RHETA GRIMSLEY JOHNSON lives near Iuka. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852. To find out more about Rheta Grimsley Johnson and her books, visit www.rhetagrimsleyjohnsonbooks.com.