Easter in Southwestern Missouri in the 1930s could be bitterly cold with even a late snowfall, or Easter Sunday might arrive with bountiful sunshine and pastel blue skies. In either event, snow or sunshine, we had brand new shiny white shoes for Easter—usually Mary Janes, but one adventurous year I persuaded my mother to get me inappropriate white huarachas that tended to make me slip in the dusting of snow on the sidewalk. By summer they showed signs of hard wear and I had nothing special to wear to Sunday School.
In my family, a mythological creature was always the courier who brought us gifts at Christmas and Easter. Santa Claus miraculously slid down the chimney each year with his huge sack of toys, games, books and treats that emitted the exciting smells of fresh paint and paper, peppermint, tangerines, and the heavenly fragrance of cedar wood. In the spring the Easter Bunny hopped to our place with dyed eggs in nests of artificial grass if he hid them indoors in the dance hall. (My parents had a restaurant and nightclub.) If the weather was mild that Easter Sunday, our egg hunt took place outdoors on the hillside opposite Half-A-Hill, our restaurant. One year the chocolate eggs had begun to melt from a ray of sunlight falling on them. Otherwise, Easter treats were special—the inevitable marshmallow Peeps, jelly bean eggs (I never ate the licorice-flavored black ones), solid chocolate rabbits and sometimes a uniquely shaped object made of chocolate and wrapped in foil. Once I received an edible sewing kit. I can still remember the spool of thread and the scissors. How I hated to unwrap them, but greed won out at last.
When the Bunny decided I’d had my last Easter egg hunt, I had to watch my seven-year-old niece devour her basket of candy eggs. My mouth watered when she unwrapped a huge chocolate-covered nougat egg. She grudgingly allowed me to take a bite, which was much bigger than she had intended.
The subsequent sound that came from her rivaled the town siren, and I got a reprimand from my sister-in-law that shamed me.
After our egg hunt, we drove to Springfield and went to Sunday School in our Easter finery. My mother always gave me a nickel that she twisted into a pretty lawn handkerchief. In my class, we were learning all the books of the Old Testament. If we could memorize them all in the correct order, the teacher rewarded us with a purple glass vase. I have no idea why the gift was a purple vase or where she found a supply of them, but I yearned to win one. I never did, of course. Too much concentration was required.
In those days, the dime stores on the Public Square were the harbingers of special holidays like Easter, the Fourth of July, Halloween and Christmas. Their display windows lured us inside to buy irresistible merchandise like a papier-mâché mask or a kite or a new figure for our Nativity crèche.
One spring Kresge’s corner window appeared teeming with non-stop peeping baby chicks. Somehow they had been dyed pale green, blue and pink; they were absolutely enchanting. Without really being cognizant that they were living, breathing creatures, I bought one of each color and one all-black. I carried them home in a cardboard box with holes like portholes cut out along the sides.
“Wherever are you going to keep them?” my mother demanded. “They’re too little to put outside.”
She had an annoying habit of bringing me back to reality. “They’ll need a lot of special feed, and you’ll have to pay for it out of your babysitting money.”
Secretly I had thought that after I had played with the chicks and shown them to my friend Martha, I would take them next door and present them as a gift to our neighbor’s little boy, Joe Bill. He would love them. Unfortunately, his mother firmly refused the chicks. No amount of wheedling persuaded her to change her mind. Consequently, I was stuck with some unexpected pets and responsible for their care.
My mother was surprisingly lenient about allowing me to keep the chicks in the box on top of our living room fireplace mantel. I made the offbeat trek to a feed store on Campbell Street for the babies’ food and picked up some tips about raising chickens from the amused farmers who hung out at the store on their Saturday trips to town. In time, for obvious reasons of sanitation, my brother made a fence of chicken wire and tomato stakes, and we moved the little flock outside. They had lost their colors as well as their original charm, and I didn’t really miss their proximity to me inside.
Early one morning one of my wards began to crow. My mother commented to me at breakfast, “You might want to get rid of the chickens someday. The neighbors will start to complain before long, and the city may even have an ordinance against raising poultry in residential areas.” She looked serious.
Suddenly the chickens became more of a burden than I wanted to continue assuming. That week I gave my brother permission to donate the chickens to the feed store.
I never learned how Kresge’s had disposed of that windowful of baby chicks. From that year on, the only living thing I nurtured at Easter was a pot of pansies that each child in our Sunday School was given that morning,