Talking with church officials this week about Easter plans, I felt a yearning for the Easters of my youth.

I don’t know how my mother managed to dress all seven of us kids in Easter finery, but she did.

We three little girls wore pastel-colored dresses, black patent leather shoes and white ankle socks. We donned bonnets and white gloves. Our older sister always looked elegant in whatever she wore, and Easter was no exception. She sat in church wearing a sleeveless blue jumper and nylons, her hair swept up in a beehive. Our brothers wore dark suits and ties.

Easter in 1950s and ’60s Skowhegan really started on Palm Sunday, when we attended the Federated Church on the island and learned about Jesus going into Jerusalem. We each were given long, green palm fronds to take home, which was pretty neat. Then on Friday, we got the afternoon off from school to attend Good Friday services, and the minister talked about how Jesus got killed and they put him in a cave and plugged it up with a big rock. That seemed tragic and scary to me and antithetical to the word “good,” but everybody assured me it was actually all right because if Jesus didn’t die, he wouldn’t be able to rise from the dead on Easter. The idea that someone could rise from the dead also was frightening to me, but better, I decided, than staying dead.

I didn’t understand all of the stories we were told in church, but I managed to get the gist of some, like David, a little person, fighting Goliath, a giant; and about the importance of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you; honoring your father and mother; and not lying, swearing or killing. One of the stories that intrigued me most was about the poor widow who gave away her last two coins, which meant a lot more than all the rich people who offered only part of their fortunes.

Sometimes church services seemed to go on forever when I didn’t get what the minister was talking about, but he was kind and earnest and I liked him. I knew I wasn’t stupid, but some of it just didn’t make any sense and my brain labored to try to understand. It was exhausting and I wanted to nap. On those Sundays, I’d stare at the stained-glass windows, scrutinize what everyone was wearing and imagine what their lives were like. I’d also peruse the hymnal. Being able to stand and sing was a relief. I loved to sing. When people sang in harmony, it was just beautiful.

I also liked prayers, especially the 23rd Psalm, which talked about lying in green pastures — I did that a lot as a child — and  being led to still waters, a comforting thought because I loved the ocean and lakes and rivers. It all seemed so refreshing.

Though I stopped attending church in my teens and continue to be mystified by its teachings, I wouldn’t take back the time I spent there as a youth, attending Sunday school and church, singing in the choir, celebrating holidays such as Easter and feeling welcomed by such a kind group of people.

What I learned there has held me in good stead over the years when I’ve been sick, down or afraid. Thanks to the church, I have the ability to connect with something larger than myself. I’m able to feel empathy and compassion. And I know what it is to be grateful.

As Easter approaches, I recall the feelings I had as a child around the holiday — of sunshine, warmth, new beginnings.

And hope. Yes, most importantly, hope.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 33 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

 

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