Today, my wife and I had to stop by Walmart to pick-up a few items we needed for an Easter basket that we were preparing. As I was walking through aisle after aisle of Easter candy, treats, baskets, decorations and God knows what else, I realized that the previously simple job of buying Easter goodies had become a very complicated task. One could no longer just go and purchase a bag of jelly beans, we tried, and it’s impossible! There had to be at least 30 to 40 different types of jelly beans at Walmart! They had every flavor, every color, and every brand imaginable. Seriously, jellybeans are simple items. Red ones are supposed to taste like cherries, orange ones like oranges and black ones like licorice! That’s not the case anymore. I found red ones that were passion fruit flavored, orange ones that were mango-tangerine flavored and black ones that were espresso flavored. I don’t get it!!!!
I thought back to when I was still the recipient of an Easter basket back home in Duquesne, and what exactly did I receive. Of course, there was the traditional milk chocolate bunny. It always depended on whether my dad’s business was having a good year or bad year that determined if I would a solid chocolate rabbit or a hollow one. (Gotta love those good years!)
This photo was taken in our living room in 1954. I was 3 years old and apparently mighty happy with the candy I was eating based on my chocolate covered mouth!
Mom would recycle our Easter baskets from year to year for my brother and I. The only change would be the color of the cellophane Easter grass, and every so often, the basket would be wrapped in a huge sheet of cellophane. When Steve and I would wake-up on Easter morning, once we were given permission, we’d race down the stairs and into the dining room to be greeted by two large baskets brimming with goodies. We would run and grab our baskets and then high-tail it back to the sofa, taking just a few minutes to peer through the cellophane to assess what the Easter Bunny had brought us.
In contrast to the HUGE array of treats available today, the candy assortment we received at Easter was rather simple. The centerpiece was always the chocolate bunny standing proudly in the center of the basket, poised and ready to become an earless hare in a matter of minutes. Surrounding the bunny was an array of smaller chocolate critters to include baby bunnies, lambs and chicks. They were normally milk chocolate, but occasionally the lamb would be white chocolate. The rest of the basket would be made up of foil covered chocolate eggs, fruit flavored jellybeans (a.k.a. Jelly Bird Eggs), chocolate covered marshmallow eggs, and speckled eggs (a.k.a. Robin Eggs) that tasted like malted balls when you bit into them minus the chocolate covering. The truth be told, I wasn’t a big fan of them and Mom and Dad usually ended up eating them. In fact, I believe they purposely loaded the baskets with them so they could munch on them without feeling guilty.
I recall that there were often large boxed candy eggs sitting on the dining room table. They were usually Fruit and Nut eggs. The inside was filled with a dense white nougat that was surrounding dried fruits and nuts. The entire egg was then dipped in milk chocolate, decorated with a few sugar flowers, wrapped in cellophane and then boxed for Easter. I never ate them since I hated nuts. Besides, they reminded me of fruitcake at Christmas time and probably weighed as much!
I was always amazed how Mom was able to keep track of how much candy we had consumed from the basket. Since I had no concept of moderation, I would have eaten the entire contents of the basket on Easter morning if Mom hadn’t placed specific limitations on how much my brother and I could eat. Her strategy must have been to get us wired on an appropriate amount of sugar so that we were “nearly” bouncing off the walls just prior to visiting my grandparents. It usually worked!
After the excitement of reviewing our Easter baskets on Easter morning, we would be hustled up to our room to begin getting ready for church. My mom always made sure we were all “gussied-up” for Mass, so extra time was always needed to prepare. Mom and Dad also would don their very best for Easter that morning and we would all proudly march down our driveway into the family car as if we were conducting our own “Easter Parade” on Thomas Street.
As a very young child, I remember entering Holy Name Church on Easter morning and being overwhelmed by the amount of flowers that decorated the altar and sanctuary. Huge white Easter lilies were everywhere and the pungent scent of fresh flowers filled the entire church. All of the ladies and young girls had their Easter bonnets in place along with their prettiest dresses and every male member of the congregation looked very dapper.
I remember becoming very fidgety during the Mass on Easter. I was usually well-behaved for Masses of normal length; however Easter meant that the Mass had much more content, more music and more pomp and ceremony. All of those “extras,” coupled with the kick I was feeling from my morning dose of Easter basket sugar, didn’t help the situation. Usually by Communion time, my parents were ready to pull their hair out, and as a result, we would often make a quick retreat out of the church immediately after Mom and Dad had received communion. Not the best example to set for us, but much better than strangling your kids in church because they’re driving you crazy!
The remainder of Easter Sunday was spent at my grandfather’s house on Duquesne Ave. in West Mifflin with the entire Volk extended family as well as several family friends. We’d all arrive in our Easter finery and immediately begin posing for pictures. The trick was to take our pictures upon arrival and before we began digging into the numerous baskets of candy and other treats that were scattered around the house. Also, once we began playing outside, it was a lost cause to think they could round us up for a picture or expect us to look like anything except a disheveled mess!
Dinner was usually served around 4 p.m. and consisted of all of the Hunky basics; slices of ham, stuffed cabbage rolls, kielbasa, mashed potatoes, beets with horseradish, sirecz, hard-boiled Easter eggs, and tons of baked goods including poppyseed and nut rolls and paska. Everyone would have a special Easter egg that had our name on it. At the meal, we would peel our egg and then cut it into several pieces. We would then share a piece of our egg with every family member present and they would do the same with their egg. This was a tradition that was carried on every year.
Life was good, we didn’t know what we didn’t have. All we knew was that we were surrounded by a loving family of hunkies that made every day of our lives in Duquesne, a lifetime special memory.
I hope that you all have a very blessed holiday with family and friends, and that you enjoy many, many more to come! Nádherný veľkonočné požehnanie všetkým svojim priateľom! HAPPY EASTER!
And remember to share and share alike – STEVE!!!