On a Sunday afternoon in April a year ago, the last ancestral connection to the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth was severed when my mother died quietly and peacefully.
Her passing, quickly followed by her sister’s death, means that this Easter will be the first Easter in the last 64 that I will not be with or speak to any of my family’s older generations of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.
That irreversible fact recently arrived like the news of Mom’s passing: while its coming was as inevitable as nightfall, it still hit like an unseen punch.
The recognition quickly gave way to other elements of Aprils past that will now be unvisited and unspoken about between them and me.
For example, on the farm of my youth, April was the birth month of my father, mother and grandfather.
Dad’s birthday was the 10th, Mom’s the 12th, and Grandpa’s the 16th.
And even though our family birthdays were never balloons-and-party-hat occasions, they usually featured Sunday dinners followed by lazy pinochle games filled with languid conversation.
Most years, however, Easter, a sacred holiday in my family, landed in April so it was easily more important and more celebrated than all those birthdays combined.
Moreover, six of those farm Easters featured either my or my siblings’ confirmations, a critical rite of passage to Missouri Synod Lutherans.
That big day held three ceremonies unique to those Easters: our public recitation of the vows first spoken for us by family at our baptisms, our first taste of Holy Communion, and — best of all to any just-crowned prince of the church — the biggest, best meal this side of now-within-reach heaven.
Those dinners featured a beef roast the size of Rhode Island; mountains of drowning-in-butter mashed potatoes; bowls of summer-canned green beans, sweet corn, beets, and tomatoes set aside months before just for the event; freshly-baked bread and dinner rolls; pies as far as the eye could see and belly could expand; and aunts and uncles, great aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins and a pastor or two all talking and all enjoying the feast the Lord (who, equally miraculous, looked exactly like my mother) had prepared.
The dinners also included the rarest of farm treats, bottled soda for the children.
Soda was as scarce as hen’s teeth on our dairy farm because who needed soda when 800 gallons of fresh milk were being chilled and stirred in a bulk tank just a couple of hundred yards from the kitchen table?
Those meals, like every one of those aunts, uncles, grandparents, and parents — save one, the youngest of that generation, Aunt Suzanne — are as gone as the pleasant chatter and thick cigarette smoke that filled our house on those occasions.
So, too, are the youth and innocence of every young person feted those Easters.
None of this should have come as a surprise and yet, this Easter, it did.
With almost no notice at all, I became one of those uncles, great-uncles, and grandfathers.
It seems untrue because all those roles, all those patriarchal offices, at least to me, remain ably filled by the people around the farm’s Easter dinner table.
Besides, who can match Uncle Honey’s quiet acceptance, Dad’s knowing smile, Grandpa’s silent intellect, Uncle Pete’s ready advice, Uncle Ches’s devilish irreverence, or Pastor Gross’s commanding presence?
And who could possess Aunt Norma’s natural elegance, Aunt Del’s devotion to family, Grandma’s unrivaled generosity, Aunt Lu’s unmatched sweetness, and my mother’s unparalleled work ethic?
All, however, now await the resurrection they so fervently believed in while my siblings and I, now the reluctant elders, remain to keep them alive in both word and deed.
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