As Holy Week ends, and the Easter season begins, I’m reminded of how things change over the years. Growing up, Holy Week was a quiet time. Usually, we would have Thursday and Friday off from school and prep the menu for Easter Sunday. Somewhat of a nod to Thanksgiving dinner, Easter had a few unique dishes thrown into the mix. One vivid memory is my Aunt Eugenia’s salad.
Always toting items from her Amway inventory, she was the aunt who rode a motorcycle, brought her bird “Bonita” to visit, and played the accordion for Sunday mass. I’ve been told I have the same sharp-slanted nose as her. She’d arrive carrying a big bowl and tongs likely from a recent Tupperware party. She had a knack for chopping everything in the salad super-tiny like a Cuisinart before they were a thing. There were little bits of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, bacon, and other minuscule items that even my keen 10-year-old eyes couldn’t identify. The salad dressing was made in one of those glass containers where you drop the Italian seasoning powder in and shake it up with vegetable oil. Partially hydrogenated? Who cared? It was delicious.
The salad sat alongside ham, mashed potatoes, and red chili (in lieu of gravy). Another headliner was Mom’s pineapple salad. Made with cream cheese, Cool Whip, crushed pineapple (canned – likely in the cupboard alongside several boxes of Jello), and topped with shiny maraschino cherries, it was a Dad-favorite. Maybe because it was a dessert disguised (if only by the name) as a “salad” or maybe because it was a once-a-year wonder. I’m always amazed when we stumble upon a gem of a recipe and it’s only made once a year. Perhaps that’s the formula. It always tastes good…but only once a year.
The pineapple phenomenon reminded me of one of my volunteering gigs at NPR. During a break, a talk show host named Rose with a cool, smooth voice and long dreds said, “I love your blouse!” Thrilled with my outfit choice, I told her my husband gave it to me. “Great taste!” she replied. After that day, I wore the heck out of that shirt holding on to the compliment as we do. Then one day one of my students probed, “Is that your favorite shirt ‘cause you wear it ALL the time.” And so it happened, I had worn out the beauty of the blouse. That could be the pineapple salad’s story. Better to pace the good stuff.
The menu was ready. Then, on Holy Thursday as we loaded up the station wagon and headed to St. Anne’s Church, Dad leaned over the seat with his annual reminder: “Today’s mass is a long one!” This, coming from the man who, when Father Gallie’s sermons would go over 10 minutes would circle his hands in the air as if tying a bow on an invisible gift while whispering, “Let’s tie it up now Father.” We’d all giggle secretly praying Father got the hint.
Typically, Dad would deliver the readings as a lector, and Mom would play the organ. I had a choice to either turn pages for Mom or try to sit still with my sisters for the two hours of feet washing and the Last Supper. Up the stairs, I climbed to the choir loft for my bird’s eye view.
Under the cloudy Good Friday skies, we would attend services at 3:00 pm sharp every year. I still remember the cold, empty altar and solemn sentiment inside the Church. Mom reminded us, “This is the one day we don’t need to genuflect and we don’t call it a mass. It’s a service.” An all-knowing Catholic, she went on to explain why and I said “Ohhhh….” holding out the word as if I was listening, but knowing I wouldn’t remember. Although back then I knew I could ask her anything, anytime I needed to – – you know, that time of life when you think your parents are going to live forever and moments stand still like lighthouses shining bright.
Saturday we buckled in for another “long one”. I really loved that mass. Maybe it was seeing a lot of babies being baptized or because I was kept busy turning pages for Mom as she switched from organ to piano. But I highly suspect it was the fact that we could officially indulge in whatever we had “given up for Lent” immediately after mass.
One Easter weekend, we visited my oldest sister at New Mexico State University. That was the year I gave up soda for Lent – I admit, it wasn’t a HUGE sacrifice, as we rarely had soda in the house except for Dad’s RC Cola and a 7Up if we had a stomach ache. But after Holy Saturday Mass that year, I remember going out for pizza right after mass and getting the coldest most delicious Shirley Temple ever. It was served in one of those big red plastic cups, a staple all pizza joints had. I even got a refill.
Over the years, my view of Lent became less soda and more sacrifice. In college, a friend of mine and I vowed to say a Rosary every day, together. During the long drive to San Diego for spring break we prayed, after going out with friends we prayed and even before watching Shamoo jump through hoops, we prayed the Rosary. Yup. I was wild and crazy then too.
What I learned:
Today, unless kids attend a school starting with the word “Saint” it’s likely they will be in class during Holy Week. Even Good Friday. Because times are different. Holy Week just seemed holier back then. Calendars are filled with games, practices, and activities with church fitting into the gaps.
Like anything else, age readjusts the lens on what matters. What we sacrifice, what we lack, what we share, what we just don’t need. For some, Lent might be about giving up chocolate, complaining less, serving at a homeless shelter, and maybe even blogging.
Perhaps we all need an annual reminder of what we overuse, underdo, and ignore. Something that forces us to stare sacrifice in the face and see who blinks first.
Whatever I do, EVERY DAY, Lent or not, I pray it will make a difference.
I often think, if I could pass a little Post-It Note on to God about my writing, I would say, “Please let my stories help others realize they are not alone in this one wild and precious life you’ve given us. Help me to offer them a little chuckle, a tiny connection, and a chunk of hope when it’s just too much. And God (not yet!), but please save me a seat up there …I’ll bring you a special pineapple salad you’re just going to love!”
Thanks for joining me.
See you next week,
On justice and sacrifice:
“We want to end unfair sentences in criminal cases and stop racial bias in criminal justice…Ms. Parks leaned back smiling. ‘Ooooh, honey, all that’s going to make you tired, tired, tired.’ We all laughed. I looked down, a little embarrassed. Then Ms. Carr leaned forward and put her finger in my face and talked to me just like my grandmother used to talk to me. She said, ‘That’s why you’ve got to be brave, brave, brave.’ All three women nodded in silent agreement and for just a little while, they made me feel like a young prince.”
Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption