As a kid, Easter was a mixed bag holiday for me. It was great because we got a basket full of toys, jelly beans, bunnies made of creamy milk chocolate, and crosses made of smooth white chocolate. But then there was the trip to Grandma's house which meant church on Sunday.
My brothers and I would ride in the back of our parents station wagon two hours down the interstate to my grandma's house. We were supposed to sleep, but I loved to lay on my back and look out the window at all the stars. There were always so many more on the road to Grandma's than in our back yard.
We would arrive late on Friday, play all day Saturday, color a million eggs Saturday night, then go to bed with images of bunnies and chicks dancing in our heads.
Sunday morning we would all get up early, put on our new church clothes and stiff dress shoes, and walk across the street to church. Easter church always seemed to be the longest church service ever.
First there was Sunday school, which was actually pretty fun. There was singing and playing, and coloring, and story telling, but then it was time to go sit and listen to the pastor.
The benches were hard, the speeches were boring, the pauses were long and in weird spots. He shouted random words - and they were never funny words.
But worst of all, we all knew that back home hidden in the house somewhere was a huge basket filled with sugary goodness just waiting for us to find it. That basket was the only thing that kept us from disintegrating into wild heathens. We knew we had to behave if we wanted to find that basket. It was our light at the end of the church tunnel.
Finally, the cue to rise for the final prayer would be given. We would stand there, me, my two brothers, and our two cousins, all in a row, twitching and fidgeting. Each of us planning our hunting strategy, wanting to be the first to find our basket. We would impatiently file slowly out of the worship area, down the ramp to the lobby where we would have to wait again for the grown-ups to chat and mingle as they filed out the doors. There were always the older ladies, friends of our grandma, who would fawn over us and how big we had gotten from the year before, how precious we looked in our dresses and suits. Then we were at the door, shaking hands with the pastor, wishing him a happy Easter, barely maintaining our civility. Then we were out the door and on the sidewalk, church and any semblance of decorum behind us as we ran full speed toward the street and grandma's house beyond. We knew enough to stop at the street, link hands, and look both ways before we darted out but as soon as we hit the gravel on the other side of the pavement, it was a free for all.
We would burst through the door, pausing only long enough to throw off our jackets if it was a cold year, then the hunt was on.
Grandma's house had all kinds of nooks and crannies for the Easter Bunny to stash a basket. We had an unspoken rule between the five of us, if we found someone else's basket, we didn't say anything, not wanting to ruin the fun for them. Once all the baskets were found, there was the group picture. The successful hunters.
I can still remember the smells and sounds even though it's been more than 20 years since my last Easter at grandma's house. Ham and scalloped potatoes in the oven, the grown-ups in the kitchen talking, laughing, the crinkle of Easter grass in the baskets as we rooted for jelly beans and robins eggs that sifted to the bottom, the dog's nails on the linoleum floor as she danced from one kid to the next waiting for her opportunity to snatch a dropped candy.
That was when life was so easy. We didn't know it then, but it was.