Coming Up Empty
1 day ago
a) I'm the oldest child in my family, and can remember back when proper meals were served for Easter in my childhood home, and it was almost always some large, bloody hunk of meat. Ham and lamb were my least favorite meats to eat, and these prevailed, even though we didn't sacrifice much during lent, usually, we didn't eat meat on Fridays during that time. You have to be a pretty dedicated carnivore to eat ham and lamb, and I suspect that my folks were just hungry for some serious blood by the time Easter rolled around, and would not be satisfied with a fairly typical roast beef. My mother smoked heavily while we were growing up, and I was a bit sensitive to the smell of the cooking flesh combined with her Merit Ultra Lights: the result of that malodorous mess, to me, was worse than the sum of its parts. And, I didn't have the life experience or vocabulary at that tender age to articulate my emotions, but I had a pet dog, Socks, and out of respect for him, I didn't want to eat other animals. The fact my mother casually smoked cigarettes while cooking Socks' brethren — a very somber task — seemed particularly disrespectful, to boot.
b) As my sisters and I got older, and the three of us somehow managed to wrestle control of most of the authority in the house (it took very little effort, looking back), holiday meals were seen as quaint, old-fashioned activities for dumb people. We each received — after a scavenger hunt, but more on that later — an Easter basket, full of hard boiled eggs, Cadbury Creme Eggs, candy coated chocolate eggs, Zitners Butter Krak (my favorite), Peeps, jelly beans, and more. The contents of the basket represented all of our three meals for the day, and it was up to us to budget and trade accordingly. Bad idea, for instance, to eat everything before 10 a.m., because THAT WAS IT, for the day. Worse idea, to trade Karen all my hard boiled eggs for her Butter Krak, because as we learned, the protein and other nutrients in the real eggs staved off the jitters, night sweats, and impending sugar coma.
c) It is unimaginable, but believe me, the food situation got worse as the years wore on. Sometimes, we'd take a post-Easter vacation to my father's cabin near Lake Placid, NY, and while we should have been enjoying the quiet and solitude, we always spent at least one day grocery store-hopping throughout Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, with a periodic venture into Plattsburgh, where my mother bought up all of the clearance Easter candy. As far as I know, this sort of shopping spree did not happen back in NJ, but only while we were on vacation in New York State. I'm sure I sound like a spoiled brat, but my sisters and I generally tired of these shopping marathons, and opted to sit in the family station wagon instead, where we often whiled away the hours beating the shit out of one another. I was no angel, but as the oldest, I usually opted to stay out of the beatings, and watched with a confusing, but delightful, combination of horror and glee as my sisters pulled each others' hair out of each others' heads. How my parents were not arrested for neglect is somewhat amazing, but times were different then, even if most children did not brutalize each other in those days. I think my sisters and I became unhinged so quickly during these shopping sprees, is because we knew — but would not speak it aloud — that this candy would be saved for our baskets next year: we were getting hopped up and year-old treats every Easter. I know it sounds terrible, but old candy isn't that much worse than fresh candy anyway.d) Somewhat related to the food: my father got a video camera at some point in the late 1980s, but we never understood why he'd want to document any activities of his severely screwed up family, as it could never be shown to anyone outside the family. But he always turned the camera on during meal time during the holidays to "capture the moment." The "moment" usually involved a visual of three surly teenager/young adult girls wearing too much make-up, too much hairspray, skirts too short, and with an amazing ability to swear; the "moment" also included a martyr-mother who always expected a Norman Rockwell-esque holiday meal, despite all of her own un-Norman Rockwell-like actions leading up to the moment. One of the last family Easters I recall involved each of us receiving Victoria Secret pyjamas in our basket (mixed messages from our mom, to be sure, though they weren't pervy jammies, but rather cute jammies, but STILL), and a proper, if not particularly festive meal, of all things. A meal of Sloppy Joe burgers, caught on my father's videotape, but a meal at the dinner table, nonetheless. With it came the requisite inappropriately short skirts, too much eyeliner and hairspray, and loads of attitude. The family dog, Tramp, sat unaware of the seething rage, ever-so-hopeful, in between me and Jenny. Karen was having dinner with a friend's family, my father was behind the camera, my mother, even with just two horrible daughters at the table, looked worried and fatigued. Jenny and I decided to play "How Many Bites?" with Tramp and our Sloppy Joes, with bonus points awarded if he caught the burger in his mouth, instead of picking it up off the floor. My mother left the table in disgust, and Tramp was able to eat — to our delight, if not our surprise — two Sloppy Joes in one bite each, and on the first catch. I found that video some years later, after sweet Tramp had died, wanting to just spent a bit more time with him, and never noticed until the viewing of the tape that my father chuckled through the whole event.
a) Part of our unique brand of Catholicism is due to the fact my father was really a non-practicing person who had a generic Christian upbringing; my mother came from a long line of very strict Irish Catholics, and perhaps when she started her own life with a generic Christianish fellow, she decided to leave the piety behind. However, my grandfather, my mother's father, lived in nearby Point Pleasant Beach, and every few holidays — usually on Easter — would make an appearance at our home. Unbeknownst to PopPop, his daughter and son-in-law were not only housing three young terrorists ("raising" isn't the right word), but rather, they were housing three GODLESS terrorists. PopPop was intelligent and passionate, and upright and proper. He loved little children; I remember his affection as a small kid, and remember watching him dote on my sisters and younger cousins, as I got older. He lived until he was 78, and I was not quite 20, and while I loved PopPop, what I remember most about him was his seriousness; he was good-natured and inquisitive, but not particularly good-humored. And he was about as pious as they come. Usually, we'd find out about a week or two prior to Easter that PopPop was coming by that day, and when that was the case, my mother would take us into the living room for an earnest discussion, and some artful mothering: "If you love me, you will not tell PopPop that we didn't go to church, okay?" and "Please don't bring it up, okay? Don't outright lie and say you went to church, but just say 'yes' if he asks about it." We'd suggest that maybe we should just go to church, thus avoiding the whole uncomfortable situation, but apparently, "Easter mass is too damn long" so that was just not an option. We loved our mommy, so we never let on we stayed home and fished eggs out of the toilet tank on Easter Sunday. And we loved PopPop, too, so we put on our pretty Easter dresses and hats and — channelling Little House on the Prairie — had a lot of fun pretending to be what we thought were normal children for a few hours.
b) I couldn't have been more than 6 or so, and the night before Easter, my parents went out to dinner, and left us with a babysitter. We got up in the morning and were told to dress for the egg hunt and report to the front stoop, which never happened before, or again: we were definitely a backyard family. When we all got outside, we kids were dismayed to see our storm door was bent and broken, apparently kicked in. We didn't live in "that sort of neighborhood" so we were confused and upset, and wondered how on earth we could have slept through that ruckus. My father told us that the Easter Bunny did it. He was angry that we didn't leave him carrots, and he was a pretty explosive character, anyway. My father continued that the Easter Bunny was untrustworthy and kind of crazy, and for whatever reason, The Bunny got mad, and demolished our door. My father told a lot of ridiculous stories, like about the little invisible, running man who was the one responsible for all of the farting in the house; and the howling Woofer Monster who lived under the Garden State Parkway bridge in Irvington; and his childhood minister who had given my father a medal and dispensation for going to church so much, that he never had to go again. We weren't stupid kids, just very young, and unaware of just how "creative" my father's storytelling ability was, and so, for at least a short period, we believed his tales about the little farting man, and the Woofer Monster, and his childhood minister, as well as the ill-tempered Easter Bunny. We were clever kids, and over time, we caught on, and knew the Woofer Monster was fake, but he was part of the story of our childhood, and we loved when my father howled, so we urged him on. It also didn't take long to figure out there was no little man. "Oh Daddy!" we laughed, "that smelly fart came from YOUR butt!!"