Friday, March 21, 2008

The Last Easter Basket

Brunch is back on. My friend Ellen and her three kids are coming--maybe one or two other straggling friends. We talked about hitting an Easter buffet but the prices here in Chicago are kooky--anywhere from $50-$100 per person. With three teen/pre-teen kids, that's a no go for Ellen. And Craze and I don't feel like blowing a couple hundred on breakfast either.

So as usual, because I am a total goof, I volunteered to host. Back on is the egg casserole and Bellinis, though I think I'm gonna pass on the drive to Skokie for lox and bagels.

The second day of spring has brought with it more snow. Not a ton, but enough to cover the ground in a blanket of white. I usually love snow, but with almost five feet of the stuff having fallen already this winter, I'm a little over it. Yesterday, I saw my daffodils and tulips beginning to peak through the soil and I was all like "Hello, little flowers! Please, come join us."

I woke up this morning thinking about Easter baskets. I got my last one when I was twenty. April 1985. My mom had encouraged me to try and find a way home for Easter from college. But, unbeknownst to her, I was in the middle of a torrid affair with a boyfriend who was going overseas in the middle of May. Leaving me for months and, I suspected and rightly so, maybe for good. And I couldn't bear to lose a moment of being with him. Not a weekend. Not a day. Not an hour.

So, I decided not to go home. And then a couple of days before Easter, I got a note in my college mailbox saying that I had a package. My lovely mother had made me a giant Easter basket topped with a big pink satiny ribbon and filled with curly green Easter grass and brimming with colorful, foil-wrapped chocolate eggs, jelly beans, speckled malted milk balls and a smiling pink chocolate bunny. And not that nasty, cheap candy. Nothing but the good stuff, carefully measured by hand and bought by the quarter and half pound from Kirlin's Card and Candy Shop on the little Main Street of my hometown.

My friends, especially my gluttonous boyfriend, eyed the basket with envy as it sat on the desk in my dorm room in the days before Easter. More than once, I slapped away a sneaky hand trying to steal its tasty contents before Easter morn.

Finally on Easter, I took off the cellophane wrapping and shared the bounty of my Easter basket with Lee and my girlfriends who were going nowhere for Easter and didn't have a mother as thoughtful as mine.

A week later, most of the candy was gone. The bunny long devoured. And my precious days with Lee were also slipping away faster and faster.

A month after that Easter, it was time to say goodbye. To Lee. But also to someone I didn't think could ever leave me.

May 16th, Lee and I said our goodbyes on the blacktop of a sunny campus parking lot. Later that afternoon, my parents came to campus, helped me load my belongings into the mellow yellow family car and drove me home to Illinois. I cried quietly in the backseat for the whole three-hour drive.

In the days that followed, Lee called me often. Telling me how much he missed me. But we never made plans. He always actively avoided talk of a future. At least, a future together.

May 19th, I woke with a start hearing my mother in the hallway, gasping loudly for breath. She collapsed and just three hours later, she was gone forever.

Only a few days later, just a day or two after the funeral, Lee left for an internship in Germany. I got a couple of postcards that summer and finally a letter informing me of a fate I'd suspected all along. He was leaving me for an old girlfriend who lived in Europe. And I was left alone in Illinois to mourn for my mother and my lost love. At the time, it seemed impossible to separate the pain of the two losses. They became one. One giant, gaping hole in my heart. The loss of one who was dead and one still living, still breathing, but gone all the same.

If I had that one Easter to do all over again, I'm not sure that I would do anything different. Given my frame of reference and self-confidence at twenty, I'd probably do exactly what I did. But if I had the luxury of knowing then what I know now, the course of my life might have been very different. Getting that Easter basket in person, might have changed everything. Or perhaps nothing.

There's no way to know really. But given the choice between another day with Lee or an Easter or any ordinary day with my long-gone mother, there's no doubt in my mind who I'd choose today. And I'd be the one making the Easter basket. The grandest, most beautiful Easter basket anyone has ever seen. Perfect for the deserving woman who always gave me so much.


Ms. Mamma said...

This is so touchingly gorgeous that I can't say another word...

Maggie Sumner said...

Thanks Ms. Mamma! You're clearly my number 1 fan--and, I believe, my lone reader : )