Ir’s Easter Monday! Just saying those words gives me a warm fuzzy feeling and brings a smile to my face.
When I was working at the American Embassy in London, Easter Monday was a holiday, as was Good Friday. Four whole days off. My co-worker Marlene and I went to Brussels for a magical long weekend. We stayed in The Metropole, a magnificent old hotel, dined in French restaurants, and did all the tourist things we could manage.
I woke up that particular Easter morning to some kind of indescribable racket — sounded like someone had emptied the entire silverware drawer at the top of the stairs and the knives, forks and spoons were clattering all the way down. It took me a few moments to realize it was church bells! Church bells on Easter morning ringing out the victory of the resurrection. Totally awesome.
But that was Easter Sunday. Easter Monday was my family’s special day. It all began many years — decades — ago.
In our little town of North Hollywood, there was a bakery named Ahren’s. Although mother bought our groceries at the market, sometimes she’d send dad to Ahren’s for bread. I don’t know what kind — I was probably 6 or 7 and bread to me was something to slather peanut butter on. I couldn’t care less what kind it was or where it came from.
Once in awhile, dad would let me go with him to the bakery. It was a great treat to go anywhere with my dad, but the bakery was especially exciting. Walking into that enveloping aroma of hot bread, chocolate, cinnamon and a host of other spices was too wonderful for words.
I remember gazing into the glass cases at the beautifully decorated cakes with shining white icing and trailing pink and green roses, the trays of cream puffs, the piles of strudels, the stacks of brownies and display of eclairs. It was like looking through the window of paradise. On one of these occasions, my dad looked down at me and said, “How would you like to come here and eat anything you want, as much as you want?”
Of course my dad would never on this earth say what I thought I’d just heard him say. But on the other hand, my dad would never lie to me, either. I just stood there and stared at him.
I do clearly remember what my mother said when we got home: “Donald, have you taken leave of your senses?”
There are many reasons for my mother’s reaction, not the least of which was money didn’t grow on trees and another — and probably more important — was that in our house sweets were frowned upon. There was no soda pop, no cookies, no candy of any sort. Dessert, when we had it, might be canned peaches (in syrup!), or ice cream. Once in a great while there would be pie or cake, but that was rare. So this was certainly a mad-cap, totally out-of-character idea. However, they apparently agreed because the next day Dad announced that in another two weeks, on Easter Monday — the day after Easter — we would do just what he had said.
Of course, to a child, two weeks might as well have been a year. The anticipation was exquisite torture. My brother and I planned and discussed what we would get.
After school on the appointed day, we went to Ahren’s bakery for what was going to become a Skone-Palmer tradition. Dad gave us each a dollar to begin. I followed my big brother’s choice and started with a chocolate eclair and a cream puff and took them carefully back to the little table where Mother and Dad were sipping coffee. The only rule was that you had to eat whatever you had before you could go back for more. Not a problem!
I can’t remember what else we had, but I do remember that toward the end — before we declared ourselves too full to eat anything more — mother did graciously help out by finishing the ill-chosen petit-four or taking a bite of the brownie that turned out to be much larger than it had looked.As a child, of course, I didn’t notice, but in later years my parents told me that they got many disapproving glances from customers although the bakery staff thought it was funny.
We did this every year until my brother grew up and left home. Toward the end, when he was in college and I in high-school, we changed from the bakery to the Farmer’s Market in downtown Los Angeles. There the routine changed and I remember wandering through the stalls checking out the various offerings. Now that we were nearly “grown-ups,” we started with French dip sandwiches (again, following my brother’s lead) and then moved onto cheese blintzes and hand-dipped chocolates. I remember watching the cake decorating booth where the man was using pink icing to make inebriated elephants all over a cake built around a champagne bottle. Funny — and sweet. I remember watching the lady hand-dipping chocolates in her glass booth and my dad miming licking his fingers — she laughed.
I hope every family has some tradition that is singularly theirs — that makes them smile and brings back a flood of warm and happy memories. So I’ll raise a cup of coffee to the sweet memories from a lifetime ago. Easter Monday.