Sunday, April 24, 2011

A birthday wish

Easter was her favorite holiday... along with Christmas, Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July and just about any occasion that called for celebration.

This year, fittingly, Easter falls on her birthday, an occasion I always used to fuss over her and make her feel special.

So today, she is doubly on my mind.

We lived in a small ranch house not far from Atlantic City. My stepfather built the house himself, getting help only to construct the huge Jersey stone fireplace that filled one whole wall of the little living room. I moved into that house, the first I'd ever been able to call mine, when I was eleven. My room had been painted a beautiful shade of sky blue, my favorite color. The living room was light green, the kitchen a pale yellow. Unlike the homes of today, there was only one bathroom, also a pale yellow. When we moved in, the house was still bare of decoration. That was yet to come.

Little by little, precious antiques were added. The huge, upright piano that had been in my grandparents' home as long as I could remember, filled one corner, its worn walnut and mahogany finish hidden with a coat of faux antiquing. I spent hours every week practicing the lessons assigned by my gentle, cultured teacher, Helen Bozarth, with whom I sat for half an hour every Tuesday for critique, advice and music education.

When the holidays came, the house was transformed. At Christmas, one corner of the living room was dominated by a huge tree, almost always brought in from somewhere in our yard or a nearby farm by my stepfather. Under the tree, I could always count on finding whatever I had put on my list. I learned early on that it was wise to keep the list short, since we didn't have a lot of extra money and I knew no expense would be spared to purchase every item.

The front door of our house was never locked and people streamed in from lunchtime to bedtime. Relatives, neighbors, friends. Our house was always filled with laughter and love.

Easter brought the traditional egg hunt in the front yard. When my older daughter was little, her grandpop gleefully hid the eggs and then followed her around with a brightly colored basket to carry the treasures she spied among the bushes. There were always lilies on the cobbler's bench in the living room and everyone dressed in their finery, bonnets included, for Mass on Easter Sunday.

Sadly, all that's gone now. The house has had several owners since then and a second story has been added, making it all but unrecognizable. There are no relatives; most of the friends have departed and I'm sure the present occupants keep the front door locked. I no longer celebrate the religious holidays of my youth and my older daughter hides eggs in her own yard for my grandchildren to find.

But I can close my eyes and see that living room and the lilies. I can hear friends calling "Yoo-hoo!" as they come in the door. I can smell the fragrance of the flowers in the yard and see my dad cavorting around carrying that basket.

Most of all, I can see her face when we wish her a happy birthday and help blow out the candles on the cake I often made (never from scratch!). In spite of the long years of her absence, I can hear her voice and especially her laugh. This December, she will have been gone for four decades. Forty years is a long time to be without the comfort, the joy and the love of one's favorite person.

Happy Easter, Mom, and happy birthday. You are missed every day.