Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Hog Pens

When I was mere lad, I had the good fortune to have a friend whose family owned a summer home on Hogpen Creek off of Middle River.

The friend and I lost touch with each other until recently, if you can call a three thousand mile separation "touch."

One recent Sunday I was driving home to Baltimore from Ocean City, Maryland when I saw something that reminded me of all those great summer days of long ago. The sign said, "Hog Pen Park."

Many miles now separate me from dear friends and dips in those waters.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Memories of Easter Passed

Growing up, Easter was an event, a celebration, a day marked by all the right ideas.

For the first forty years of my life, every Easter we celebrated with the trip to church. I was carried early on and later propelled by my own locomotion. My Mom would lead the three children into the fifth pew on the right. We always sat there. The angle was right to see and hear everything without the distraction of sitting farther back or the neck pain from sitting farther forward. As I got older, my sisters and I would sing with the children’s choir. As the years passed, I was a multi-service acolyte and eventually a communion assistant.
In my youth, after church, the family would gather for an early afternoon Easter dinner. When I was a small child, this happened at my grandparent’s home. Through my pre-teen and ten years, it was at my Mother’s house in Govans.

My sisters got older; they married and moved out of the house. My Mother remarried and took to her new surname, Easter, with gusto. A few years later, my Mother and I moved to a bigger house with a wonderful backyard. Easter Dinner moved there for the family, too.

Then I married and moved, but always returned for Easter Dinner. My eldest sister would bring her two children, the next would bring an ever-increasing number of “cousins club” member to join the celebration with my son. Although it could not have been, my memory tells me every Easter was a bright, warm, sunny day.

Easter, like Christmas, were often accompanied by a migraine headache for my Mother.* That didn’t stop her when it came to preparing the meal, though. Hours were spent cooking. Additional hours were spent conversing around the table, and more spent clearing the dishes and putting up the left-overs. On those occasions when the meal was shared at another home, the pattern stayed the same. 

In 1989, the family Easter dinner was at the home of my sister Kathie and her husband Charlie. Most of the cousins (one was, as I recall, in the Navy and two were dining with their father's family, not us), a group now swelled to nine, and the parents piled in to celebrate with each other. 

The agenda for the day had been for my wife and son to attend church with Mom, have brunch at Mom’s or a restaurant, and travel to Olney to meet the rest of the family for dinner. After church, I learned that my wife wouldn’t be going with us. After returning from dinner, I learned that the three of us would never live together again.

In 1990, my mother’s family had the last Easter Celebration that we would ever hold together. As she cooked in the kitchen, my sisters and I sat in the living room and laughed and talked, about everything except missing spouses and former spouses. We made claims on the thousands of little things and big that made our mother’s home so unique. It wasn’t as macabre as I sounds. Who would get the piano and who the organ; who would get which vase, each book, each lamp, table, chair, knick-knack, painting . . . It went on and on. Mom would duck her head in and tell us where she had put the pen and labels we were to use to make these claims come true.

The cousins were growing up. The older ones weren’t playing on the floor with toys anymore. They wandered from their discussions outside to join the parents, and back again. Jenny was pregnant with her first daughter. She and I were able to steal a quiet moment together, right in front of everyone else. I was he uncle. She knew I wouldn’t steer her wrong. I don’t believe I did.

We ate the ham, the mashed potatoes, the kale and all the fixings, the whole gang gathered around the table, except for the smallest ones who had a table to themselves on the kitchen table where they couldn’t disrupt us with a simple spill. The White oriental carpet in the dining room had suffered enough traumas from years of attention from Auggie doggie. I remember a wonderful day of family and sharing.

As I said, it was to be the last Easter Celebration as an almost whole family.

Jenny’s beautiful baby was born on Halloween, four days after my mother’s birthday, the day I last spoke to Mom. The healthy little girl, my Mom’s first great-grandchild went home from the hospital in the quaint little town of Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania where my sister was the pastor. On November 3, Mom put the baby to bed and laid down and died from the heart attack she suffered. She was as happy as she had ever been in her life. I can assure you she had a wonderful meeting with her Lord and Savior.

Part of our family died that night, too.

The post-funeral reception was the last time I broke bread with my sisters.

I was never again present for a meeting of the “Cousins Club”. The only times I have since seen them assembled were at other funerals.

*Decades after these headaches manifested themselves, some bright doctor saw the debilitating illness for what it really was - an allergy to fresh-cut grass. The Christmas headaches were the result of an allergy to pine trees. In the nineteen forties, the head-docs were sure it was related to her faith, i.e. her head.