Domestic Bliss 

On the Saturday night before Easter, last year, I sat on my living room floor, well after midnight, sipping Jack Daniels and weeping through One True Thing while stuffing Easter baskets. Strands of shiny green plastic grass mingled with the carpet as I carefully arranged foil-covered chocolate bunnies, Butterfinger eggs and jellybeans in baskets saved from Easters past.

A toddler, my goddaughter Molly, was spending the week with us, so the arrival of the Easter bunny seemed mandatory, though my sons swear they have reached an age where they're over it. I drew the names of all four kids in pastel script, filling in the surrounding white space with primitive drawings of tulips and daffodils and tufts of green grass. Before going to bed, I arranged all the baskets on the dining room table to surprise the kids the following morning.

Molly got a soft white Easter bunny, the perfect centerpiece for the table which had become a pastel still life, straight off the corniest Hallmark card imaginable.

I love Easter, not because it is a high holy day in my off-and-on religious life, but because the whole notion of resurrection and rebirth is so damn inspiring, because it heralds spring and new life, because at middle age, rebirth is something I feel I need.

And I am maniacal about Easter baskets -- the whole shebang, especially Easter bunnies -- as a result of a childhood trauma I have nursed and compulsively transferred to the lives of my own children ad nauseum.

It is 1964 and I am ten years old, nearing the end of fifth grade. At our house, Easter is a historic succession of elaborate dresses sewn by our mother, photos of our family squinting into the sun on Easter morning, patent leather shoes spotted by the dew on the spring grass.

This year I have graduated from a full-skirted dress, sashed at the waist, and the accompanying scratchy petticoats worn beneath that made sitting through the Easter sermon unbearable. Instead I have opted for a shift, a white linen, sleeveless sheath with a floral embroidered strip down the front. I am sweating in my first pair of stockings, and my slip-on, pointed toe pumps are pinching the bejesus out of my wide, square feet.

My parents have been circling me for a week, asking if I would prefer a corsage this Easter, or the usual stuffed Easter bunny. It is a rite of passage -- possibly one my family made up -- that when the girl children reach a certain age, they surpass the infantile need for cuddly stuffed animals and advance to the coveted position of young woman. Mirroring our mother, upon this graduation, we are bestowed with a double carnation corsage, white on white, a wobbly creation that perches precariously on the flat plane between budding breasts and shoulder blades.

I opt for the corsage.

When Easter morning comes, we all wake up early to have some time to eat candy before Sunday School. Our baskets, lovingly festooned with pastel ribbons and stuffed with a concentrated mass of sugar goodies, sit waiting on the dining room table. My sister Kim's basket is topped with a pink bunny, its black button eyes staring blankly at me as I cross the room. My sister Karen's bunny is white, tufted with loops of thread, looking a little like a lamb. My brother's basket and mine are minus the topper. No bunny.

The candy has been carefully divided. I suck on a Lifesaver and watch my sisters cuddle their new squeezes. My hands itch to touch one of them, to fold one of those bunnies in my arms, to rub the soft fur of one against my cheek. But I don't say a thing.

My mother emerges from the kitchen glowing with pride, holding a flimsy white cardboard box she has pulled from the refrigerator. She hands it to me. A clean medicinal smell floods my nostrils and through a clear film of plastic atop the box, I see my first corsage.

I think funerals. I think old ladies. I think ......... goddammit, give me one of those bunnies!

Tears roll down my reddened cheeks as I hand it back to her, choking on my desire. My father and mother make futile attempts at comforting me. I slip on my shift and flinch when my mother stabs the huge pin through the stem of the corsage, through the fabric of my dress, past the strap of my "Littlest Angel" Sears bra.

I stand on the dew-soaked lawn and squint into the sun as my father photographs me and the monstrous protuberance on my shoulder, plotting silently the deal I will make with my little sister later in the day, to swindle from her that adorable, fuzzy white bunny.

-- A version of this column was first published in April of 1999


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