Easter is a day of conflict for me and exists in my memory bank in two different settings: Before and After 1982.
Before the Double-Handed Farallon’s Race in 1982, Easter morning was always awakening to a basket filled with chocolate bunnies, Cadbury eggs, malted milk balls in pastel colors and, my favorite still to this day, those sickly sweet, sugar-coated marshmallow Peeps. (I’ve tried them all and the yellow chicks are still the best.)
In our early years, my sister and I would be dressed in matching frilly frocks and we’d go to the morning service at the First Presbyterian Church in Alameda. This is the church that my Nana and Papy joined when they settled in Alameda after immigrating to America from Belfast, Northern Ireland in the late 1940s. My parents were married there in 1963 and my sister and I attended Sunday School when we weren’t away for the weekend on our family sailboat.
After the service, we’d head to Encinal Yacht Club for the traditional brunch, a visit from the Easter Bunny, and an egg hunt on the lawn overlooking the Estuary. In my teen years, my mother was the Social Chair and I was recruited to be the Easter Bunny for several years. Why they thought that a young girl going through puberty would look good in a grey leotard, tights and bunny ears, is beyond me. It didn’t bother me then, but I cringe now when I think about it … and wonder if anyone else saw it as a weird and inappropriate version of a Playboy Bunny. But times really were more innocent then, and the children loved it.
On Saturday, April 10, 1982, my father and his best friend went out the Golden Gate on the Moore 24, “Bad Sneakers.” They should have been back in plenty of time to celebrate Easter with their families. But they never returned. They were lost at sea in a raging storm, although on that Easer Sunday, the search was still ongoing and many held out hope that they would be found. I knew that wasn’t going to be the case. I knew they were gone.
Our family home in Moraga was filled with people, blaring televisions on the news channel, and my mother crying hysterically, always having to be the center of attention. My sister and I were lost in the chaos and I got us dressed in pretty dresses, drove to Alameda to pick up Nana and we went to church. Everyone knew about the crisis and the pastor offered a prayer for their safe return.
The sermon, like many Easter sermons, was titled, “He’s Alive.” I will never forget sitting there listening to the emphatic preaching of the pastor as he proclaimed that Jesus was alive, starting with a whisper and repeating the phrase several times, louder and louder each time, until he was actually shouting, “HE IS ALIVE!” I sat stock still in complete shock and horror. It took all my being not to jump up from the pew and shout, “No, he’s NOT! My father is DEAD! And he’s never coming back!”
After church we went to the Club and I donned the bunny outfit, played the part, and accepted the words of support, while jealously watching children with their fathers. It would be the last time I would be the Easter Bunny. And my last day of attending church.
Beginning in 1983, Easter was a double-whammy for me. Because the date changes each year, following the Hebrew calendar, I got to experience the anniversary of my loss on April 10 AND on Easter. Sometimes this would be a week or more of grieving.
But as the years went by, and I had a daughter, I made Easter baskets for her and we attended brunches and egg hunts at the Club because I wanted her to have the same joy that I felt as a child. I’d spend a few moments at my father’s memorial rock both on April 10 and Easter and dearly wish he were alive, like the pastor had adamantly bellowed. That service haunted me.
It wasn’t until I was introduced to Judaism in 1991 that I finally found spiritual peace and let the angst of Easter go. It wasn’t the preacher’s fault that his sermon resonated so negatively with me for a decade. I appreciate the significance that it has for Christians, but for me, Easter is now a distant memory. It’s the culmination of Passover, the celebration of freedom from persecution and the right to worship how I choose.
So today, Easter Sunday 2021, I’ll reminisce on those sweet childhood memories, and even the cringe-worthy years as the Easter Bunny. I’ll also think about my father’s love of sailboat racing and how he’d be tickled that I’m now racing a boat three feet smaller than Bad Sneakers (although we’ll stick to the Estuary). I’m ready for the emotions that will build over the next six days, when I’ll celebrate a life well-lived, but taken far too soon, 39 years ago.
2 thoughts on “Easter Memories … Easter Angst”
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I can only imagine how awful that sermon was for you. Just reading it took me back to those days when I too cried at every newscast. I didn’t want it to be true, but it was. I remember wanting to see you, but I was scared. I didn’t know anyone young who had lost a parent and I didn’t know what to say. I’m sorry just didn’t seem like enough. If I could go back to that time, I would hug you tightly for as long as you needed.
I never asked about the reason you converted to Judaism, but it’s very clear to me now.
So many people would have gone off the rails and into a downward spiral, but you found an inner strength, set your course and joined the Coast Guard to help other families find missing loved ones. I was really impressed when my mom told me about that.
I’m so glad I looked you up on Facebook a few years ago. It’s been great getting to know you all over again. Like I said before, I know your Dad is watching over you with pride!