For the last 16 years or so, since my oldest was a toddler, Easter Sunday has unfolded like a favorite childhood story, read so often it seeps into the heart.
The tale begins the night before in the kitchen, where I prepare a quadruple batch of orzo salad. Baskets are laid out. Outfits chosen. We don’t practice a formal religion, so our morning is reserved for private reflection, visiting with neighbors and readying ourselves for Easter’s defining event: The Picnic in the Garden.
Everyone who has ever gone to the potluck, hosted by one of Fort Myers’ oldest families, knows the affair starts at 1 p.m., sharp. Families in their finery line up for warm greetings and name tags, a necessity because the hosts extend new invitations each year, usually to young families to ensure an unending supply of egg-hunters. This picnic is all about children.
One of the teenagers will be coaxed into the bunny suit, a well-worn thing from an era long past. The egg hunters will be reminded of the rules — little ones look low, bigger ones high — and scatter into palm trees and tropical shrubs. They’ll explore crevices, dirty knees, dare each other to leap over the water feature. At least one will fall in. The teen girls, mine included, will scout for selfie spots and private spaces. The older boys will eyeball the buffet tables, teeming with everyone’s best recipe. The adults will trade a year’s worth of banter.
Someone will lead a prayer, the buffet line will open, everyone will over-indulge.
It has never rained in all my years attending.
The picnic persisted even that dreadful year we lost the family patriarch and matriarch in quick succession. They would have insisted we carry on, and so we did.
This spring, of course, there is no Easter picnic, as there are no Passover services, no birthday celebrations, no high school proms, no Little League openers, no any of the rituals that define our lives and mark the rites of passage.
It would be easy to wallow in the Easter that is lost — in everything that is lost this spring.
But that would merely intensify the hurt. My family decided to write a new Easter script. We will dye eggs over coffee. We’ll allow the Christmas poppy seed cake to make a springtime appearance. We’ll set up board games and play vicious rounds of Uno. We’ll indulge in movies as the sun goes down. We’ll call the picnic-goers we cannot see in person.
We are not rewriting a tradition; we’re penning a plot twist.
In a way, this revised holiday is preparing me for what’s ahead. The older of my two daughters will leave for college in the fall, forcing me to modify our family tales, penned long ago when they were little. I struggle with such things. The dollhouse remains fixed in the playroom that hasn’t been used for such purposes in years. The art supply cabinet holds smiley-faced stickers and Rainbow Looms — remember those? They were all the rage — back when my senior was a middle-schooler.
Traditions — whether major holiday practices or simple daily practices — anchor us. They define our faiths and our families, shape our memories, provide comfort when the world goes askew. But if we cling too tightly, they’ll pull us under. Time marches on. Kids grow up. Elders pass. World events force personal adaptations.
Next Easter, I expect to report to The Picnic in the Garden, orzo salad in hand, at 1 p.m. sharp. We’ll likely be a threesome rather than a foursome, a variation to a story memorized so long ago. But this year’s forced Easter rewrite has me thinking about new ways to adjust to change. I’ll be ready with a revised script in hand — and a pencil to tweak it further if I must.