By Maria Lagalante Schulz
Easter’s almost here, and you know what? I’m hungry for Easter treats.
When I was little, I anticipated the arrival of the Easter Bunny with nothing less than glee. I went shopping with my mother and grandmother on Main Street in Flushing. We spent hours looking for a new Easter dress, white gloves, stockings, shoes and a bonnet for me. My brother Chris got brand new pants and a clean, new shirt. I think my older brothers were on their own.
I was never really on board when it came to the Easter bonnet. My mother would insist that I come over to the mirror in Korvette’s and try one after the other on my little head. She and I would get mad at each other because no matter what she suggested I would put up a fight.
My grandmother intervened and within a few tries, she had me agreeing to a new Easter bonnet. This would alternately make my mother happy and infuriated.
“How come she let’s you help her but not me?” My mother said to her mother.
“I don’t know,” my grandmother replied in her broken English. “Jus be glad she says yes to somesing.”
I put up with the clothes shopping because I knew it would lead to a visit to the Easter aisle. There, my grandmother and mother would put together the Easter basket that my grandmother would send home for all 7 of us. But since Chris and I were there while they were picking it out, my grandmother would get us each our very own Chocolate bunny.
Now this basket wasn’t to be confused with the one that the Easter Bunny would be supplying on Easter morning. That one usually had Peeps, jelly beans, Reese’s peanut butter cups, chocolate kisses, and later on in my childhood, Cadbury eggs. I, for one, was not a fan of the Cadbury eggs, but I knew my brother Tony was, so I was glad the Easter Bunny was thoughtful enough to send some for him.
Chris and I would try to get up early on Easter morning in the hopes that we’d catch the Easter Bunny red-handed. I didn’t understand what all the secrecy was about. If I was going into someone else’s house and leaving them candy and presents, I wouldn’t mind meeting them in person. So what was his problem?
“You just missed him,” Tony would say, as Chris and I came barreling out of our room. “I think he went that way.”
We would follow a jellybean trail and sometimes there would even be a treasure map, with clues. After checking in every overstuffed closet, under couches, and behind the drapes, we would usually find what we were looking for.
“How come the Easter Bunny lets you see him?” I asked Tony.
“He took off as soon as he saw me,” Tony replied.
Oh well. I didn’t have time to worry about that. We had to see what treasures the Easter Bunny left for us.
Besides the candy, sometimes there would be a bottle of bubbles, some Silly Putty, a pack of cards or jacks. The Easter Bunny didn’t take suggestions via letter like Santa Claus, but he still had a pretty good idea of what we liked.
After our big Easter feast was eaten, my brothers and I would go outside to play until it was time for dessert. When I came back in, my mother would get annoyed with me because my stockings were torn, my shoes were scuffed, my white gloves were now black, my bonnet was thrown to the side, and my dress would be dirty from playing running bases.
She should have understood—Easter was here! It was time to celebrate! Lent was over. I couldn’t help myself.
As a Catholic school kid, Lent meant a lot of things to me. First of all, it meant I would go off to school on Ash Wednesday and have to come up with an idea of what I was going to give up for the next 40 days.
Now the typical answer to give to this question was: “I’ve given up giving things up for Lent.” This would usually get a chuckle from most other teachers, but not from Sister Anne Kathleen.
Sister AK-47 was well armed with a yardstick that was almost as big as her, and she wasn’t afraid to use it. If she had gotten up to me and said, “Maria, what are you giving up for Lent?” and I replied, “I’m giving up giving up things for Lent,” it would have been about 2 seconds before that yardstick went crashing through my skull.
So, since I didn’t wish to give up breathing for Lent, I would need to make a promise that I could keep. But that was a problem.
I loved chocolate, and doubted that I could make it through 40 days without any. I liked licorice and hard candies too. I also loved soda, and knew for a fact that I wouldn’t make it through Ash Wednesday without any.
Popcorn was a strong contender, since I couldn’t afford to buy any at the movies most of the time, but even that one gave me pause. I was going to the movies with Maureen that Saturday and I knew that I’d have to confess my inability to keep that promise next Wednesday, when Sister would ask for an update.
I got a short reprieve when Sister burst into a rousing rendition of “The King of Glory Comes/The Nation rejoices/open the gates before him/lift up your voices./Who is this king of glory?/How shall we call him?/He is Emmanuel/The promised of ages.”
God love her, Sister was really a sweet and well-meaning lady. But she couldn’t sing, and whenever she burst into song, it took every ounce of self-control I had not to put my head down on the desk and dissolve into hysterics.
As if the singing wasn’t bad enough, Sister would also clap and dance with unbridled fervor. It was great theater.
When her singing fit passed, she took up her yardstick again and starting going up and down the rows. I thought I had it all figured out. I was going to say that I was giving up spinach for Lent, when Robert beat me to it.
“I’m giving up spinach for Lent,” he said.
“No, you pagan!” Sister Anne Kathleen said as she cracked him on the hands. “It has to be something you really love. No vegetables.”
What about creamed spinach? I really did love that. But when Paul said, “Carrots! I really love carrots!” her response was swift.
“Philistines! Israelites! Don’t you dare think you can put one over on me. I said no vegetables, and I meant NO VEGETABLES!”
When she finally got to me, I was all out of bright ideas.
“What’s it going to be, Maria?” Sister Anne Kathleen said.
“That’s great!” Sister Anne Kathleen nodded approvingly. “Good for you.”
Almost immediately, I regretted my decision. What was I thinking? At least three times a week, my friend Ann and I went down to Günter’s Deli and bought Suzie Q’s with a Coca-Cola chaser.
The other two weekdays, my mother baked a pound cake or cookies. On Saturdays, I used to bake a crumb coffee cake. And on Sundays, when all of my relatives stopped by for dinner and dessert, they brought cannolis, cookies, napoleons and zeppolies. My grandmother was always good for donuts or an Entenmann’s cake.
Had I lost my mind?
Well, not yet. But I would by the end of those 40 days.
When Easter finally arrived, I was the most joyful person around. Lent was over! Jesus died for me! And I could have as much cake as I wanted! Halleluiah!
Cake was something I would never voluntarily agree to give up again.
The Easter Bunny stopped coming to our house in the late 1970s. And soon after that, the Easter basket supplied by our grandmother stopped appearing as well. I missed that big, furry fellow. He was always good for a thrill and a candy-induced rush.
My mother must have missed him too, because when I was in high school, she spent hours assembling an Easter Bunny cake that was her pride and joy.
It looked sort of like the Easter Bunny’s 6th grade school photo. He was wearing a jaunty pink and black bowtie at the base of his coconut-encrusted head. He sat on another cake, which sported green coconut (painstakingly dyed by my mother) and was framed by white and black jellybeans.
His ears were perfectly sculpted and had incredible details on them, including coconut dyed pink and framed with black jellybeans. He had blue jellybean eyes, a red jellybean nose, red licorice whiskers and a happy go lucky licorice smile. The only thing missing was an Easter bonnet. Maybe he refused to wear one too.
There was almost never a camera around when I was growing up, so I actually spent a great deal of time wondering if I was hatched from a pod at the age of 6 or 7. There is almost no photographic record of my existence before that time.
There is, however, a photo of my mother’s 8thchild. Here he is.
I don’t have my mother around to insist I wear a dress anymore, and it’s been a long time since my grandmother has sent a chocolate bunny my way.
I thought of them every year when my girls were little, and I placed their Easter Baskets on the table. I don’t know if Tony hid his girls’ Easter baskets, but my girls simply ran out and looked on the dining room table to see if the Easter Bunny had dropped by.
Now that my girls are older, we picked out their chocolate Easter Bunnies together. They each picked one called “Big Foot,” because he was huge and had two gigantic feet and ears to match. It seemed like the logical choice.
We shared one of them last night while we watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Neither of my girls believes in the Easter Bunny anymore, which makes things easier, but it’s kind of sad too.
While we drove home in the pouring rain yesterday, we saw the Easter Bunny walking down Main Street with a big Easter basket on his arm and his “handler” by his side. I waved, and wanted to beep the horn, but my girls were horrified.
“Mom!” they yelled.
It was just like old times.
Can you believe it—I found another blogger whose Mom made this cake too! I’ll bet a lot of people have tried this one, but I still think my Mom’s Easter Bunny was the best!
Or, if you love carrot cake (and yes, Sister Anne Kathleen, I do love carrots), here’s another rendition of the venerated Easter Bunny cake:
Enjoy, and Happy Easter!
P.S. Hey Hungry Lifers, please leave a comment and let me know what you think. Tell me about a favorite holiday memory, what your Mom did for Easter or Passover, or leave a comment about your favorite Easter treat. Thanks!