Looking Beyond The Easter Basket
Monday, March 17, 2008
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.
-- Matthew 13:44
The other day, on my walk up the hill and around the block, I found a dirty penny on the pavement. An old response kicked in: The find is mine. I bent over, picked it up and put it in my pocket. Back in the house, I dropped it, among other coins similarly discovered in recent years, in a woven reed basket on my dresser. It's a small basket, as wide as a hen's egg is long; a friend gave it to me one Easter, soon after my parents died. She'd filled it with paper grass hiding jelly beans and chocolate eggs.
I've never participated in an Easter egg hunt, happily snatching colorful treasure hidden in the crook of a tree or a patch of pachysandra. Hide and seek, search and find, was not part of our family's holiday tradition.
On Saturday afternoon we many siblings gathered in the kitchen to color hard-boiled eggs under Mother's watchful eye. That night we laid the dried, dyed dozens on fake grass lining two wicker baskets the size of church offering plates. On Sunday morning Dad set out our Easter candy -- a chocolate rabbit alongside a large cream-filled egg -- in plain sight, on the veneered buffet. In the early afternoon, Mom opened the oven door to reveal the ham, now cooked, that we'd seen her entomb there before we went to church.
In our milieu, any holiday search or surprise had taken place long ago and far away: the story told in the Gospel of Luke, of angels at the grave asking mourners, "Why do you seek the living among the dead?"
As spring emerged and blossomed, my dad took great joy in finding treasures hidden in fields and hedges. Nature's edible gifts, a seasonal bounty: dandelions, leeks, rhubarb stalks, sassafras and horseradish roots, blackberries, cider apples, even swarms of honeybees (not that we ate the bees).
Like father, like daughter, at least in my salad days. Twenty years ago, when the elderberries bloomed on the bank at the I-66 overpass on Route 7 in Falls Church, I eyed the bushes until the fruit ripened. I stopped and picked enough for a pie. But that was then, before traffic became so congested, before I narrowed my vision and focused my eyes on the road.
On what was Dad's last Easter weekend among the living, I went "back home" to western New York to visit him. Times had changed there, too, most dramatically after Mom's death the previous summer. Maybe halfheartedly, I tried to make a little holiday. On Saturday I boiled a few eggs, though I didn't look for coloring or baskets. No one mentioned candy. On Sunday afternoon, I served up roast chicken.
After dinner, my sister drove in, joining us for dessert and conversation, which twisted and turned until it got stuck on some point of information, which sent her looking for answers in Dad's front-room library. There she embarked on a solitary hunt, so I don't know how many volumes she opened before she rushed back to the dining room. "Dad! Look what I found!" She held open a fat, old book, revealing a Franklin-face $100 bill slipped between two pages, nudged deep into the spine.
Dad smiled. Treasure hidden in a book. For a second he stared at the ready money, as if conjuring a vague memory. "Oh, yes," he said. "I put that there," to be retrieved in some hour of need. "Here, give it to me." With that he plucked the flat-pressed bill and tucked it into his wallet, where it remained for all of two hours. At a vesper service, I watched as he dropped it into the offering plate, passing it on to the larger community.
Like father, like daughter. It's time for a wider purview. I stare at my little basket of found change. On Easter, I'll take the small coins, multiply their value by 100 for good measure, and give the cache away, for some communal good.