Easter is the highlight of the liturgical year, and so for Poles, it’s the highlight of social year in many ways. As with Christmas, begin quietly at home, breaking the evening’s fast (and the non-meat fast of the last several days) with treats from the baskets blessed yesterday.
Bread, ham, sausage, boiled eggs, a lamb-shaped cake, slivers of apple and orange, and a horseradish sauce. A simple meal, a somewhat humble meal.
It’s not like the equivalent for the Christmas Eve dinner. That will all come later. But the Boy is simply not waiting for anything more elaborate.
“One more piece of ham,” he chirps, sliding it to the side of his plate. “Save the best for last,” which he doesn’t — he eats it in a few moments, then repeats.
He downs four or five slices of ham, a serving of veggie salad, a large proportion of the orange, a couple of sausage hunks, some bread — he eats at least twice as much as L.
After breakfast, it’s off to Mass with us. I take the Girl an hour earlier for choir practice and sit in the pews, watching the brightening sky slowly illuminate the church.
This is our first Easter in our new parish, and it’s parish’s first Easter in the new church.
All the colors seem to glow as a result. Or perhaps that’s still the sheen of newness. Likely a bit of both.
Mass in this wonderful space feels like it should: an explosion for all the senses. The altar servers process in, the first swinging a thurible and filling the middle isle with incense that drifts upward, catching rays of light and glowing. The choir is sublime. We kneel, stand, sit, kneel, cross ourselves. The physical beauty of the place surrounds us. The sweet Communion wine lingers as we head back to our pew.
In front of me, a young lady has brought a friend — boyfriend? — and he’s clearly not Catholic. I remember the first time I witnessed all of this. It was so different from everything I’d experienced growing up. “The smells and bells” forced out of me a begrudging respect as did the humble faith of the parishioners.
This young man keeps his hands in his pockets most of the time, rarely looks around, and seems bored. Perhaps he’s not having the same experience I did twenty years ago when I first went to Mass. Perhaps he is and simply doesn’t show it.
After Communion, the girl, still kneeling, eases back onto the pew, and her father, sitting to her left, places his hand on the small of her back and massages gently. The girl pulls herself back up into a full kneeling position. I smile at the universality of fathers: I’ve done that many a time with the Girl, but she’s never with us in Mass these days. Instead, she’s in the choir loft.
I think about the obvious: there will come a time when the Girl might want to bring a young man to Mass with us. She’s already growing so fast that K and I can’t keep up with her, but right now, she says boys are disgusting.
“They’re always messing up things on the playground,” she often complains. “They steal balls, bother us, chase us.” How long will this last? Not long enough, I’m afraid.
I can still get into my wedding suit, but looking at the picture reveals the sad truth: a bit of a gut has formed that pushes the jacket into slight wrinkles. “I forgot to suck it in,” I think to myself, remembering all the times my own father did something similar. Like father, like son.
In the afternoon, all the usual suspects come over. We eat; we drink; we eat; we laugh. After a while, a couple of us go out to hide Easter eggs for the kids. Some we hide in the open; some we actually hide.
In the end, a perfect day.
Good Friday in our family is just as it would be in Poland: work, work, work, then more work, work, work, then church — not for Mass because that’s not celebrated on Good Friday, but rather the Liturgy of Good Friday — then back home for more work, work, and still more work.
K, after a small breakfast, spent most of the day in the kitchen. Doing what? I’m really not sure. Baking, I know. Fixing lunch. Other than that? I don’t know: I spent the entire morning giving the carport a good scrubbing, literally from top to bottom.
The kids got into the spirit, too, helping me by cleaning every single thing we’d taken out of the carport. E was a little upset because he felt at times he didn’t have a real part in helping out, and for him, that’s about the worst thing he can experience.
“Have I ever told you how happy it makes me that you are so eager to help?” I said at one point as he was using an improvised squeegee to pull away water that was puddling in the corner of the stairs to the kitchen from the carport.
“Yes.” I often play this little verbal game with him. “Have I ever told you…” followed by something I tell him all the time. If it’s “I love you,” he smiles and shouts, “Everybody knows that!” One thing I haven’t told him is how much joy it gives me that he consistently says “Yes” as opposed to “Yeah.”
“I hope you always stay that way,” I said.
“I will.” I really don’t doubt it.
At the church, it was like being in Poland again. Our pastor is a very traditional priest. (In most aspects, that is. He’s married with kids, which is rare among Catholic priests, but not so rare among Anglican priests who convert to Catholicism and after years get a dispensation from the pope for the discipline of celibacy. But that’s another story.) He’s really a “Say the red; do the black” priest, which means traditions that I haven’t seen since Poland are present everywhere, including the use of wooden clappers during Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday liturgies. One site explains it thus:
In most liturgical services during the year, the consecration of the bread and wine is marked by the ringing of altar bells. The Easter Triduum, consisting of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, is a time that is set apart from the rest of the liturgical calendar. Because these three days represent the three days that Jesus spent in his tomb before he was resurrected, they are traditionally marked by increased silence during mass. In traditional catholic worship services, the last time the altar bells are rung before Easter is on the evening of Holy Thursday. In between then and the Easter Vigil, a wooden clacker is used. A wooden clacker, sometimes called a wooden clapper, serves the same function as the altar bells. The clacker is sounded at the consecration of the gifts during the liturgy of the Eucharist, reminding the congregation of the awesome transformation that takes place at these moments.
So we knelt and stood, knelt and stood, kissed the cross, and felt at home.
Back at home, we got back to work, putting everything back in its proper place. K ran to the store for the thousandth time. (I’ve got a few store runs waiting for me tomorrow, without a doubt, but it wouldn’t be Holy Saturday otherwise.) The Boy finally got to use the pressure washer, helping clean out the cuts in the concrete portion of the driveway, which resulted in a wonderfully dirty little boy.
At bath time, looking at himself in the mirror, he said, “It was a great day!”
I think we all agree.
Last night, I went out to get something I’d left in my car, and as I was opening my car door, I heard behind me a thunk. I turned and saw silhouetted against lights of the house a shape that moved ever so slightly. For a moment, I thought it might be a raccoon: we have them all over the place, including in a hole in our neighbors’ Sweet Gum near the base of our driveway. That didn’t make sense though: why in the world would a raccoon jump onto the car? And would it even be possible? Sure, one had jumped onto our deck once several years ago, but that jump was from our not-so-long-gone gas/AC package unit, a jump of about three feet.
A closer look showed it wasn’t a raccoon but looked positively owl-esque. I walked slowly to the back of the van and saw that it was indeed an owl. It came back this morning, drawn by the birds nesting in our downspout. Determining that there was no way it could get to the birds, it left as quickly as it came.
That was probably good, because everyone had lots to get done today. For K, it was a baking day. She finally was able to bake a miodownik like her mother always bakes. “You have to bake four sheets, and we never had an oven big enough,” she explained. Now we do.
So K baked and baked while I was out cutting grass and cleaning up the lawn for our Easter guests.
I got the kids out to help by picking up Sweet Gum seed balls, the spiky little bits of hell that can spawn dozens of almost-impossible-to-kill saplings each. They decided to count as they collected. Front and back yard yielded over six hundred, they said. And the probably only got about thirty percent of them in total.
They finished up just in time to do some egg painting. K tried some new method that involved whipped cream (or shaving foam) and food coloring, which remained a mystery to me throughout the process,
but the girls elected to go with more traditional methods. An egg painting mini-party has always been a staple in our Easter preparations, but it’s been on the decline over the last few years. This year, it was at its most minimalistic.
One chore left: smoking the meat. Two racks of ribs, two pork loins, six large chicken breasts. The ribs will go into K’s Easter żurek along with generous amounts of horseradish. The soup is my favorite part of the whole meal.
The soup is my favorite part of the whole meal.
The Boy likes to help. That’s established. Everybody knows that, as he might say. Often his help is anything but help, yet it’s always welcomed: he’s learning, that’s what’s important.
Today, though, he was being genuinely helpful for a while. He’d seen me trimming some bushes, and while I was finishing up K’s decorative fence, he decided he wanted to trim. I showed him how he needed just to cut the branches that were extending above the sphere of the bush itself, and he seemed to be doing fine, so I went back to work.
Later, K pointed out that he’d cute a relatively large whole into the bush.
“It’s an animal trap,” he explained.
Snow days — those make sense here in South Carolina. Most municipalities don’t have the equipment to clear snow properly and effectively. Add to it the lack of general experience drivers here have with snow and it’s fairly obvious why everything shuts down. The snow starts falling in the morning on a school day, and everyone realizes it’s likely only a matter of time before the announcement. At our school, it’s usually something like this: “Teachers, please check your email.” And there we find the procedures we will follow for early dismissal.
Rain, though? I remember there was a kid in the apartment complex we lived in when I was in kindergarten whose mother would keep him home if it rained, but I thought that was a one-time thing, an exception. Today, I found otherwise. By the end of fifth period today, probably a third of the school had already gone home. Early dismissal. To be fair to parents, there was supposed to be a horrible storm passing through: flash flooding, potential tornadoes. Nothing to take lightly. But what ended up happening was so much less dramatic: a few parents began taking their kids out of school, and every other kid, realizing the possibility, texted home. Probably something like this: “Everyone else is going home. Come get me — please!” And soon, there were so many parents waiting to pick up their kids that instead of calling individual classrooms as with the standard procedure, general announcements echoed through the school.
“Will the following students please come to the office for early dismissal,” and then ten, twelve, fifteen names. Five minutes later, “Will the following students please come to the office for early dismissal,” and then ten, twelve, fifteen more names.
Later in the afternoon, an apologetic email from the principal: “I understand that very little teaching can take place due to the announcements,” it began. But what was to be done?
I sent a text to K during lunch: “L is going to be sad because she didn’t get early dismissal. Kids are leaving here in swarms.” Something along those lines. K texted back: “I’m at home with the Boy. He had early dismissal, too. We’re going for L soon.”
And so what do you do with an unexpectedly free afternoon, that rarest of all gifts?
There was a movie, of course. The latest from Netflix, another Studio Ghibli film, Pom Poko. (We as a family have grown to love those films. Not a bad one in the bunch.)
There was a bit of playing, of course. The Boy can find entertainment anywhere. Just add some cars and he’s set.
And K finally got some time to work on a project that’s been haunting us for years: pictures for our living room and kitchen. What to include? How to arrange them? What, sadly, to leave out?
Tomorrow, everything goes back to normal, but only for two days as we near Easter and spring break.
Spring Saturdays have their own rhythm for years now. Almost all Saturdays begin with an eight o’clock Skype chat with Babcia. They talk about family, friends, recent events, changes in our life, changes in her life — the little changes that can accumulate in a week or that pile up unmentioned for weeks. The only thing that’s changed is the instrument. At first, it was downstairs on the main computer. After a few years of that, it shifted upstairs to the laptop in the kitchen. These days it’s via K’s cell phone.
The Boy and I head out after breakfast. We’re building a small fence to hide a now-visible, now-empty area that was once held our buggy gas pack air system hidden by Leyland cypresses. Like always, the Boy wants to help, and like always, it’s less help than one might really want in order to call it help. Instead, I think of it as helping him — helping him grow, helping him learn the value of work, helping he learn how to use tools properly. I show him how to use the square and he’s off, scoring lines all over the four-by-four that will eventually be the final two posts of our fence.
Next, it’s time to dig the holes for the posts. Here, patience is the key. I take a shovelful of dirt out, and he follows suit with his little blue shovel. But here’s the thing: he has to have a shovelful that suits him. A dab of dirt at the tip is not acceptable, so he tries again and again, frustrated as the dirt slides off the end as he tries to pull the shovel out of the growing hole. Or later, he starts kicking dirt back into the hole.
But shortly after, he’s genuinely helpful: he holds the post for me to get some measurements and check alignment. He helps shovel the concrete around the posts and smooths it once it’s in. Of course, in between, there’s time to play.
And once it’s done and the other chores are behind us, we head down to the swing and hammock for some early-evening silliness.
It’s like so many other spring Saturdays. And ritual is always comforting.
“Daddy, you be Clemson. I’ll be the Cubs.” We’re not much of a sports family, but in the Greenville area, it’s impossible to escape Clemson. We get hand-me-downs in bright orange with a white paw print, and the Boy hears about the school’s athletic exploits at school, so he’s aware of Clemson as something that always seems to be on the periphery. The Cubs are even simpler: I’m not much of a baseball fan, but I watch a bit during the World Series, and with 2016’s being so historic, I couldn’t miss it. And of course I cheered for the Cubs. And so the Boy did likewise.
One of the Boy’s favorite books for a while was My Cold Went on Vacation, which tells the story of a little boy who catches a cold and recovers, only to wonder where the cold has gone. He loved it because in each picture, the cold — a green-faced, long-nosed, always smiling circle — was visible somewhere; I loved it because of the style of the illustrations. It was an educational book for the Boy as well: we got to talk about how colds are spread, and he told me about kids in his pre-school class who had gotten ill throughout the year. He reminisced about his own colds and giggled each time he saw that the cold eventually returned home to visit with his sister a while.
So went our week as a family. The Boy started us off with a stomach virus on Monday that kept him home Tuesday as well. He let it take a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood before letting it back in Thursday to lay me out all day Friday. And then last night, K was complaining about being more tired than she should have been, and I knew where our family virus had gone after it left me.
As a result, most of this week has been kind of start-and-stop. The Boy got sick and everything slowed down; he got better and everything returned to normal. And so went the cycle.
It’s something of a short metaphor for this time of year: the end of the school year is within sight, but it’s still off in the distance a bit, just a little way down the line. We can see it, and we’re all ready for it. We’re ready to close the year out, pack our bags, and fly to Poland for a few weeks. But it just keeps chugging.
And so do we. But that light — it’s there, in the distance…
Every day has a story in it. That’s what writers will tell you. “You just have to find the thread of the narrative and follow it.” Something like that. If that’s the case, the threads of our Sunday afternoon stories area always the same. They always weave about our little recreation area down at in the corner of our property.
First, there’s the green swing. “I call green swing!” one of our children — usually L — we shout when we head down the hill. Yesterday, before the kids went down (our Saturday evening threads are often the same as our Sunday afternoon threads), while the Girl was still getting ready in her room, the Boy whispered, “I call green swing.”
The Boy had occupation day at school today. He’s been excited about this for ages. The real treat, though, was when he went with K to pick up the Girl. The police officers directing traffic as school let out were all smiles when they saw him. One pointed out that, with his three bars, he was their superior officer.