Friday, April 22, 2011

A Slightly Different Easter Story

The Easter theme is all about dieing to one's self and becoming reborn in the Spirit with all that means through Jesus Christ's suffering, death and resurrection. Down through the ages philosophers and theologians have examined what this means to the human race. I am sure they will continue to do so. I would like to take you back to an earlier time when the arrival of Easter had a purely human element to it. Let's go back to 1944. The country was embroiled in WW II, many of the young men were away on the battle front but the women, children and older guys were on the home front. The nation was coming out of the worst depression ever experienced by many due to the war which saw full employment and heavy deficit spending. The end of fasting and abstaining for Catholics ended at noon Easter Saturday. Then we kids ate all the candy and cake we couldn't eat for forty days. We looked forward to Easter Sunday's feast which was being worked on by our mothers. Most of our fathers were still working on Saturdays either at their own jobs or their weekend jobs. All of us were looking forward to Sunday's Mass since it would be the first time we'd wear our Easter clothes. My family consisted of Mom, Dad, my brother and myself. Every Easter all of us had new clothes which was purchased during the Easter season. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a big splurge like thousands of dollars, but it was a big deal. Dad would get a new suit with two pants. Mom got a new dress, gloves stockings and a big rimmed hat. My brother and I used to get pants and shirts which we could wear to school and Sunday Mass. I couldn't wear hand me downs since my brother was four years older and extremely thin and tall while I was chubby, OK FAT, and short, Mr. Five by Five, five foot tall and five foot wide. So we both got new clothes. My Mom came from an extremely poor family so new clothes for her kids was a big thing, sort of made her look like she took good care of them. You know, sort of like when your Mom always told you to wear clean underwear in case you got into an accident, because God forgive if you did get into an accident and THEY saw you with dirty underwear THEY"D think you had a bad mother.

This year was something special. My Uncle was the head tailor for John Wanamaker a very glitzy department store in down town New York, in fact it still exists in Pennsylvania.  This year besides the discount he could get for us there was a great sale for young men's suits. The sale wasn't good for my brother because the pants were knickers but I hadn't progressed to long pants yet so it was good for me. I can still remember, the color was soft green and the jacket was measured to my size and so were the pants, it fit perfectly. My mom got argyle socks to match and a white shirt and brand new tie. I think my mom couldn't resist getting me the suit even though the cost was more than my father's yet it was really rich looking. I'm pretty sure she felt comfortable in the knowledge that whoever saw me dressed in such finery they'd know I had a good mother.

That Sunday I went off to Mass and I have to admit I looked pretty good, maybe even some of the girls would notice me. I walked to church standing very straight and proud. I even made sure my hair was combed. After Mass, we went over my Aunt's house and enjoyed a great feast. I made sure I didn't get any gravy (sauce) on my clothes. The fact is everything looked so good my mom had me wear it to school the next day, no spring break. I went through the day being careful not to play anything during schoolyard break that would dirty my great new suit. Right before the school day was over this kid Donald told me that Eddie McCray wanted to settle a score with me in the empty lot by the schoolyard. I couldn't back out so I agreed to a fight right after school let out at Three PM. School let out and we met. There was a big crowd which made a ring around us. There was always a big crowd whenever there was a fight. Somehow the whole school always knew and the whole school showed up from Grade 1 through 8 but none of the teachers came.

Eddie was six months behind me, we had the grades 1A, 1B and so on, I figured I could make short work of him. I handed the books to one of the guys who was like my handler. There were sides, evenly split, I turned to face him and walked into the frey just the way I thought Joe Louis would do but out of nowhere suddenly I was hit by more punches I could count. This couldn't just be Eddie I thought, he must have some help. I was wrong and Eddie all by himself was kicking the s**t out of me on the day after Easter and me in my spanking new expensive Easter suit. Suddenly he caught me above the eye and blood spurted out all over my jacket and white shirt. Punches were coming fast and furious all from Eddie and he must of missed one because he tripped into me grabbing my lapel ripping it off the jacket causing me to fall and rip a hole in the knee of the pants. I got up bleeding and daunted, uncrying as I was too numb to cry. Someone suggested the fight should end before someone got killed, I think he was referring to me. It was over Eddie was the victor and left with everyone following him leaving me with my books, which were sort of thrown at me, my beaten exterior and ripped brand new, expensive Easter suit my mother was so proud of.

It was a short walk home. When my mom saw me she was appalled, my eye was cut, I had a shiner, fat lip , bleeding and worst of all my suit was in tatters. "Are you OK?" she shouted sort of hysterically, when I answered I was OK she came at me fists flying careful not to hit me where I was bleeding and bruised, "I'm gonna' kill you!" Then it registered and her voice became more shrilled as she screamed "What have you done to your suit? Just wait till your father comes home!", the usual threat was shouted. She sent me upstairs to wait for her. When she came up she was more composed and washed my wounds using Mercurochrome instead
of the burning Iodine. Then I waited for supper and my father. He came home and didn't say much but my mother was still fuming. I didn't get new clothes until Christmas. I had to put up with what I had and squeeze into some of my brother's old clothes. She never said it but it was obvious she thought "Why can't he be more like his brother who never does things like this.", little did she know.

Anyway, that's my Easter story. What did I bring away from that Easter experience. Some six years later I was dressed to go out with my parents. I went to the schoolyard for a bit of socializing. This guy Albie started to provoke me and we had to have a fight. BUT this time I went home and changed into my old clothes and when I returned I fought more like Jersey Joe Walcott. I was also not MR. Five by Five anymore and was lifting weights and needless to say this time I won. I couldn't get myself to hit Albie with my fists since I remembered what happened to me so I slapped him around with open fists and got him in a headlock and he suggested a draw and I agreed. I knew what it was like to lose a schoolyard fight. You lost not only the fight but lost a lot of face which took a long time to get back. I went home and changed back into my clean clothes, everything intact. I also came to appreciate a great mom who really cared about me and a father who let boys be boys. So I guess I learned a lot that Easter season.
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