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!!!
Your post is always forwarded to me by my cousin Carol Pobojeski Lancz who grew up on Barbara Street in Duquesne. You bring back so many memories of that time. Thank you,
Darlene Burtosky Sadlo, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Our mother made our Easter dresses. Her favorite color is purple but for some reason our dresses were always some shade of blue. One year she made a cute dress and a long jacket that covered it called a “duster.” Mom says that’s what my grandmother called it but Gram’s were crocheted. One year I won a huge (well, to me it was) chocolate bull dog. When we got home from church, we discovered our dog had eaten almost half!!!! Oh, those were the days. Thanks for trip back in time.
My favorite very early memory was sitting on the counter as my Mother prepared the dyeing process. You used to dip the eggs in a vinegar and dye combination, and I can still recall that unique smell. Then you could take the little wax pen and write on the shell before you dipped it and it would not take the dye. There was that little wire ring dipper that let you make half of the egg one color and the other half different. Then the combining swirl and mixing colors. Making the eggs was the best part for me.
Another great column Jim — I enjoy your writing style. Sadly, most of the candy and trinkets in today’s Easter baskets are either made in China or another country. The sugar treats are terrible for a child’s over all health despite the well meaning of the parent or grand parent. Many parents are caught up in the main stream thinking of giving processed sugar items with artificial colors and ingredients to represent another Madison Avenue “holiday.” Keep up the good work telling us about how the Mon Valley was a special place back in the day.
Jim — I remember those huge chocolate covered nouget fruit and nut eggs. I always got one from my Aunt Margaret. I only ate the chocolate. The rest – well I venture to guess. Great memories Jim. And the comment about the bunny foot prints with the chalkboard erasers. GOOD ONE.
…Jim, Your Easter memories have been a great read – every word and every recollection. Thanks for that walk down cherished memory lane. I’ve much enjoyed the several comments, here, too, in response.
Regarding egg hunts, we didn’t do them either, but I think that was more a function of my mother not wanting me to get grass stains on the knees of my pants. Also, we were never very fond of hard-boiled eggs, though we did like to dye them. Most of the eggs waited for my mother to turn them into “deviled-eggs,” which remain a favorite of mine to this day.
…I remember receiving Easter Baskets and chocolate Easter Bunnies that were each as tall as I, for quite a few years when I was very young. That meant two things: my neighborhood friends often came to the kitchen door and table to break off a piece of the bunny or dive into the basket for goodies; we had Easter Bunny remnants – usually the feet still planted in the chocolate grass stump – until Christmas. No kiddin’. Funny thing was, chocolate was not an extreme favorite of mine, but my friends sure did like those visits we encouraged to our kitchen door!
I, also, recall getting hand-sized sugar Easter Eggs that you could peer into to see a tiny scene of wonder. I don’t remember any of the scenes, but I do remember that even my sweet-tooth could not do more than lick at them – they were far too much sugar at each indulgence.
Thanks for the great memories. My sister And I always had new outfits for Easter. I remember being so disappointed when Easter was early and it turned out to be too cold to wear that light spring coat go church. We spent Easter visiting our relatives for a progressive meal of sorts. My Aunt made the most delicate flaky nut horns. I can still taste them.
As always, enjoyed your comments. Does anyone remember Loft’s candy that was located in McKeesport by the RR tracks? Always a treat to receive some of their chocolate in my basket.
I remember the name Lofts, but if we are speakig of the same spot, the candystore located right alongside where the RR tracks that serviced the mill cut right across the main drag of McKeesport, I recall a candy store named “Tris Ann” (sp?) chocolates. That chocolate, esp. their “turtles,” were a favorite of my parents. The thing that rivets that spot in my memory is that one could stand in front of the store, lean over the railing, or even stand alongside it, and reach out and touch the slow-moving locomotives that made their way into (or was it out of?) National Tube mill. I loved making that touch!
Yes I remember Loft’s candy and also Cargo candy. I think that was the name. I remember getting chocolate covered cherries and chocolate covered peanut butter ones. We also bought the “seconds” could never afford the “perfect” ones. Anyhow they were sooooooooo good!!!
Jim, I think hiding Easter eggs depended on your nationality of origin, Since I am half Irish and half Russian I am not sure which part of the family was responsible for hiding Easter eggs but we always did this while I was growing up. As Holy Week progresses these are my tentative plans. Thursday evening mass, and then all the parishioners wash each others feet. Friday Stations of the Cross and mass. Saturday the blessing of the food and mass. Sunday is where it gets funky. Mass at 9am, a traditional Russian Easter breakfast at my home, then a Hispanic picnic in the park in the afternoon with stuffed cabbage rolls, tortillas, hamburgers, hot dogs, and watermelon. Happy Easter everyone!
Hey Jim, You look pretty darn happy on the sofa with your bro and a big bad basket of goodies nearby! So adorable. A wonderful article which shows me how prosperous most of us in Duquesne really were — compared to nowadays, all over the country….. All the kids wearing new clothes, etc. I love the photo of your bro at the end — not wanting to share his lollypop….. He could’ve given you a lick or two…. hahaha I was thinking about Easter Egg hunts the other day. Our family did not do them and I didn’t know anyone who did until moving to Massachusetts. I think the reason revolved around frugalness…. What if some hidden eggs weren’t found? What a waste! NOTHING was wasted in our house! Thanks for giving me some warm memories to keep in my heart this Easter. I bet your grandson is getting a gigundo Easter Basket!
Jim, you continue to amaze me as to the number of good memories you can bring back. I could even smell the food and candy you have described here. As for hiding Easter eggs, my family didn’t do it either. Not on the Slovak side or the Irish side. At least I don’t recall it. One of my fond memories of Easter was finding a jelly bean from the previous Easter in the basket when Mom took it out to get it ready. It was usually a black one and hard as a rock but eating it was awesome! BTW: I can remember that look on Steve’s face out on the alley behind HNS at recess. You didn’t mess with the upperclassmen. Speaking of upperclassmen, do you recall the older girls in 7th and 8th grade at HNS leaving Easter Bunny “footprints” on our 1st and 2nd grade classroom blackboards so we were happily shocked when we returned from recess? Good times!! Thanks. 🙂
Bob, I DO remember the bunny prints. I had totally forgotten about them. WONDERFUL memories!
Nope never hid eggs either, Jim. Loved your family pictures y’all look so cute. It was a big deal back then starting with Passion Sunday, then Palm Sunday and finally Easter Sunday. I remembering having new outfits for each and every one. I was the only girl in the family and not one bit spoiled. Thanks again for all the memories, you do a GREAT job.Happy and Blessed Easter One And All !!!!!!
Those were great times and food and family made it so much better. I’m with you on the fruit & nut eggs, Jim. Though it was my Mom & Dad’s favorite, my personal favorite was getting coconut cream eggs. Occasionally we would even get one that was chocolate cream with nuts. The other clue as to how well we were doing at the time was not only whether the rabbit was solid/hollow but just how large it was. May all of you have a very Happy Easter!!
What a wonderful article! Two memories come to mind for me:
One is that our family Easter egg tradition was to crack eggs. One person would wrap their hands around the egg with just enough room for the other person to hit the egg with the top of their egg. Only one egg would crack and whoever had the unbroken egg would be the champion. Of course, the competition started at breakfast and continued on all day. In fact, the champion had to hide their egg so that no one would sabotage their egg. Boasting rites were most important. We still crack eggs with my kids. The only rule would be that if your egg got cracked that you HAVE to eat it…otherwise we would have had lots of cracked, uneaten eggs. My dad would sometimes volunteer to eat the egg for you so you got a “pass”.
The other one was that sometime around 1972 or so, before I got to high school, we were at Easter mass at Holy Name. It was my parents and one of my brothers. The incense used to do something to me…always did since first grade. I knew I was going to faint and I told my parents. They told me to go to the back of the church and unbeknownst to me sent my brother along to make sure I was OK. About 1/2 way down the center aisle, everything started going black, but I remember that I kept walking. I guess when I got to the back of the church I started to go down and my brother tried to catch me but only caught the sleeves of my Easter dress…I woke up in a folding chair with both sleeves ripped out of my dress and hanging at my wrists and my dress (which of course was a mini skirt) not appropriately pulled down with all of the ushers around me trying to revive me. I almost died of embarrassment and never could look those gentlemen in the eyes again!
Wonderful memories!! It’s a good thing your black out happened back in ’72. If it had occured today, someone would have recorded on their iPhone, uploaded it to YouTube, and it would have probably gone viral with at least a million plus hits! Happy Easter!!
Here’s a question for everyone. As a child, we never hid Easter eggs either inside or outside the house. My wife’s family always had that tradition as part of their Easter celebration, and we carried it on with our kids. Was that an activity anyone else did in Duquesne? I don’t recall anyone ever talking about it when I was growing up. – Jim
Families always gathered together for these great holidays (with their REAL NAMES – not today’s “politically correct names”). Simple times with family and friends — those really were “THE DAYS”.