Easter: The Last & The First
The Last Easter
A house filled with relatives, a couple of rambunctious four year-olds weaving artfully between legs. Dinner, a half second from being ready; appetizers, already devoured. Hungry belly rumbles propel eyes to wander to the clock on the wall. "Did you hear from your parents? How late are they going to be this time?" "Mommy, when will Grandma get here?"
And then, just in the knick of time, she comes through the door with arms full of bags, eyes twinkling merrily, the story of the haphazard plot twist that caused the delay already spilling out of her with a laugh: my mother-in-law. Hugs all around before she goes back out to the car to retrieve her annual contribution to the Easter feast. The bunny cake.
The four year-olds seem to magically appear the instant a cake crosses the threshold. The one that belongs to me locks eyes with the pink jelly bean eyes of the bunny cake and then looks up wonderingly at her beloved Grandma. "Is that for me?" Such certainty that her Grandma loves her so very much, of course any cake made by those time-worn hands must be a labor of love destined only for the eldest granddaughter. A mirthful laugh escaped Grandma before Grandpa arrives in the door and the overdue tide of a late lunch sweeps her up and away down the hall.
Small hands pat my hip, "Mommy, did you see that cake that Grandma made? It's a bunny and it's for me."
"I know, honey, isn't it so cool?" I say. "Grandma made it for you, but for all of us, too. We're all going to share."
"But she said I can have the paws, Mommy." Little hands pull me down to whisper in my ear, "Grandma says she'll save me the best part."
The First Easter
The same house, less full. A smaller, more subdued gathering. The siblings of my mother-in-law take turns making small talk. We reply and return the conversational serve.
The now five year-olds take turns chasing and being chased. Mine looks so much older, as if the past four months have added on years of wisdom and life experience. She plays with her second cousin happily, but with no eager expectation of an impending arrival. She knows the truth now, after months of needing to hear it again and again before it finally settled in and became a part of the fabric of her life.
A bunny cake sits on the dessert table. I wasn't going to, and then I was, and then I couldn't, and then my husband asked me to, so we did it together. It's not the same. It doesn't look right. It won't taste right. I don't know how she did it because I never asked how because I never thought I'd need to take over the role of bunny cake baker. And I don't want to take over that role, because it's hers and not mine and I don't want it, but he asked me to, so I will. I pray no one thinks I'm trying to out do that which can never be outdone...
"There has always been a bunny cake," he said last week.
There is no last minute arrival with an eye twinkle and good natured ribbing about habitual tardiness. Lunch happens on time and in an orderly fashion. The conversation is less spirited, absent of her peals of laughter.
After an egg hunt, where the echo of my conversation with her last year surrounds me - deja vu as I watch my daughter race to collect eggs - I follow the two loping children into the woods to hunt for frogs. The others are following, but for now, I'm alone in the woods with the kids. Being in the woods was my mother-in-law's haven and I wish I'd taken more walks alone with her. Why was I always so damn busy?
Sunlight slices through the tree canopy - it's too early yet for the leaves that will eventually block the light. We come to the pond and my daughter stands at the water's edge. As if in unspoken agreement, the two children and I stand in perfect stillness and silence for a moment. I wait, hoping for a sign that she is here with us. I want her here with us more than anything. I think of my husband and imagine how this day feels to him and I feel my grief is somehow demoted. I shun the tears that had been gathering.
A while later, as the frog pond proves devoid of frogs, the group wanders away back towards the house, and my husband asks my daughter, "Don't you want to go have bunny cake?"
"No," she says, defiantly. "I want to stay here and look for frogs."
The sign that she is still with us slides out of the shadows and into the sun.