Aunt Katy's musings on
celebrating Easter many years ago.
This is the time of year when every woman buys a hat. There is some affinity among hats, spring, and lighter spirits that no one, least of all the bill-receiving husband, would dare to deny.
Trying on hats is a mania inherent to every female from the time she can clutch and transfer one to her head. Witness the toddler amuck in the millinery department, merrily clapping chappeaux, one after another, onto her bobbling curls as her mother frantically tries to restrain her.
See how milady sits before the tri-fold mirror, twisting, turning, eyeing disdainfully the feather and felt creations presented by the waiting clerk. The glass circle in the self-service hat department mirrors a young matron studying dubiously a mass of frothy flowers and veil. Why does the creation lose its glamour and allure when released from the box at home?
With the ever-circling years returns the custom of making one's own hat. Here, indeed, is satisfaction if fingers are nimble and good taste prevails. Otherwise, sheer horror.
Pa's store carried bonnet frames which could be covered with a choice of materials, as well as braided straws and ready-made bonnets. Veiling, flower wreaths and sprays, plumes, indeed whole birds, and jet ornaments as well as wide silk ribbons for bows or to tie under the chin were availiable to the do-it-herself hat decorator. A bonnet frame could be covered to match an also homemade dress, thus making a complete costume.
A woman's Sunday hat was once a cherished treasure, never relagated to everyday wear, but refurbished yearly with tenderness and pride. Some, indeed. were passed down from mother to daughter, a valued artifact along with the family's iron kettle.
Fashion magazines and newspapers were studied for the latest styles. The hat was closely inspected, as if every stitch were not already known by heart. Plans were formed as though for battle before the great alteration began. Purchases were kept thriftily to a minimum by the means of a trimmings box into which went all previously discarded decorations and any other incidentals which might come in handy.
On hat-building day a husband might well come home to a lunch of cold beef, cold pie, and warmed-up coffee while his alarmingly distraught wife tacked, snipped, pinned, and sewed in impenetrable seclusion in the dining room, its table covered with the contents of the trimmings box. Woe be unto him who dared intrude. Woe, and little else, for her ears were deaf, eyes blind to all save the bits and pieces growing into a HAT under her fingers.
So Easter approaches and Mama eyes the hat department speculatively. Meanwhile, Sister and Brother stand enraptured before a five-pound Chocolate Rabbit. Could anyone ever hope to own this paragon of confection? See how richly his glossy chocolate ears rise from his succulently sensitive face. The basket molded to his arm contains pastel sugar flowers and eggs. A purple satin bow encircles his neck. He stands, two feet tall in his cellophane wrappings, high above his lesser brothers who are equally delicious but not as imposing.
Who has ever known anyone to actually receive such a colossal Easter bunny? Surely it has never happened to oneself. One must be content with an ordinary size rabbit, a handful of jellybeans, yellow marshmallow chicks, and a chocolate cream egg or two. But, Oh, isn't he majestic?
Sister's Easter outfit will be a flower-bedecked bonnet, navy coat, white or pastel organdy or dotted-swiss dress, white gloves and purse, and gleaming patent leather shoes. The shoes feel stiff to feet accustomed to well broken-in oxfords. Their glazed soles tend to slip out from under her but their toes twinkle with delightful assurance of high fashion.
Brother is forced into a new suit, white shirt, a much too tight tie, and squeaking black shoes. A straw hat with elastic under his chin will add to his discomfort. Were it not that all his friends are simularly attired, he'd consider running away from home.
Father's suit is, naturally, judged plenty good enough for another year. A new tie suffices for his Easter outfit. Mother's new hat calls for new gloves and a purse. White shoes will last all summer and then, having collected the accessories, she can't possibly wear the old dress, so.....
An extra dozen or two of eggs are destined for boiling and coloring. You can blow out the contents if you aren't fond of hard-boiled eggs or, on Easter Monday, peel off fancy shells and pop the eggs into a pickle crock.
The art of Easter egg decoration is an ancient one. The Czars of Russia made gifts of gold and jeweled eggs that opened to disclose pictures, more jewels or music boxes. Less dear artificial eggs are made with three dimensional scenes viewed through a window in one end.
Hopefully the glories of new clothes and candy baskets will be equalled by Mother Nature's efforts to dress in tulips, daffodils, and crocus for the day. Church pews will be crowded, hymns rise in unaccustomed fervor, and the choir soprano section soar to new vocal heights. Grandma's parlour will be awash with potted bulbs delivered by a happily harried florist.
A gigantic ham simmers in spicy glaze soon to fall in thin pink slices from Grandpa's knife. Candied sweet potatos, asparagus, crisp dill pickles, shimmering ruby jelly, rusks, rather than plain rolls, to be eaten with sweet-butter curls complete the meal. Dessert is a towering white cake with lemon filling between its several layers topped with boiled icing studded with shredded coconut and jellybeans.
All the family will be there and after dinner, but before the dishes are washed, everyone will go out into the thin spring sunshine for a picture taking session. Laughter, jokes, Auntie's apron whipped off and thrust out of sight, children sternly ordered to the front and to "BEHAVE FOR ONE MINUTE".
Then the ladies return to do the dishes, the men to whatever it is men do after dinner, and the children go back to comparing Easter baskets and nibbling candy. The chocolate rabbits develop odd cavities, cream eggs are pushed in to discover their flavor, jellybeans scatter into corners and behind sofa cushions. The family cat will find and play with them for weeks to come. Gay red and yellow tulips nod heavy heads in the big front window and the sweetness of narcissus and hyacinth delicately reach out to enchant small noses.
With Easter comes the end of dismal winter and the beginning of joyous spring. Now the trees and fields will green up, black earth will spill over the sharp plow-blade, sheep will be freed from their tangled grey winter coats and frisky lambs will gambol in the sunshine. Only days now until school is out, fishing season opens, lemonade instead of cocoa appears with cookies in the afternoon. The warm glow of Easter soon ripens into the heat of summer.