Thursday, March 24, 2016

Happy Easter, or No Event in Your Life is Wasted When You're a Writer

Eggs dyed with onion skin and pansies

Happy Easter, for all those who celebrate it. I've been thinking lately about how much of my own life, both incidents and feelings past and present, I use in one form or another when I write. For most of my growing-up life, my family traveled to Boynton, OK, and had Easter dinner with my grandmother.  When she decided it was too much trouble, my mother began hosting the family gathering, which became the new tradition throughout my young womanhood. The old folks are gone, now, and my immediate family is scattered across the country and the world. But even though my Easters are much smaller these days, members of my family still adhere to the old Easter dinner menu we knew as kid.

We always had a ham. When I was small, in Days of Yore, the ham wasn’t vacuum packed and spiral cut, it was a big old bone-in hunk of meat, marbled with fat.  It wasn’t bought at the store, either.  It was raised from a piglet, butchered and smoked by one of the family members still on the farm.  By the time we were going to Mama’s, the sty-to-table ham was no more, but she made up for it by tenting and slow cooking the thing with brown sugar and mustard glaze, and clove buds stuck all over the top.

My parents never bought chocolate bunnies and eggs and colored jelly beans for us, but we did have to have our Easter eggs. My sisters and I pestered our mother to let us dye the eggs for weeks before the day, and finally she couldn’t stand it any more and let us make a mess of the kitchen several days ahead of time. We used those commercial dyes that come in little pills, but recently, largely because of my old-time housewife research, I've been dying eggs with onion skins and flowers. Which is kind of a mess, but beautiful and certainly cheap.

My husband’s very large family had their Easter egg traditions, as well. Don is the seventh of seven children, only two of whom were boys. His only brother, whom I will call “Mac”, was nine years older than Don, so Don remembers their relationship as being one of his tagging along behind Mac and allowing himself to be talked into whatever mischief the elder came up with. One year, Mac and Don loaded up several hard-boiled eggs, snuck out to a nearby field, and spent a happy half hour throwing the eggs at a telephone pole. I loved the image so much that I used it as the inspiration for an incident in my second novel, Hornswoggled.

In fact, one entire chapter in Hornswoggled is about a giant family Easter dinner like the ones I remember from my girlhood, with all the mamas, aunts, sisters and cousins bustling around grandma’s kitchen, readying a massive dinner for sixty-five.

The kitchen was literally a hotbed of action. The spring day was cool, but the heat of the wood-fired, cast iron stove, combined with the harried activity of nearly a score of women, served the make Grandma’s big kitchen uncomfortably hot.  Grandma Sally herself stood in the center of the floor at the hear of the kitchen table, directing the action like a trail boss.

So, happy Easter, all.  Now, go forth and make some memories that the kids will think of fifty years from now with such fondness that one of them may write about them in a novel.
p.s. I loved Rick's entry on titles, below. Titles are a constant source of bother and worry for me. Perhaps I shall muse upon the problem when next I blog.


Eileen Goudge said...

Beautiful memories and a great idea for dyeing Easter eggs. Thank you and Happy Easter to you!

Rick Blechta said...


Irene Bennett Brown said...

So I went forth and colored a half dozen eggs with food coloring in pretty pastels and one purple. For my husband and I, I'll turn them into deviled eggs to go with the ham. Thanks for the inspiration, Donis. And that description of the kitchen activity from HORNSWOGGLED is the kitchen I remember from when I was a kid.