For as long as I have been an aunt, my family has had the tradition of an Easter egg hunt in my mom's backyard on Easter Sunday. Because we tend to enjoy food, we also eat dinner together. As my oldest niece was born when I was 15 or 16, we've been doing this for a long, long time. Certain groupings of experiences have come and gone: the times when the amount of girls vastly outnumbered the boys, the year when we had three babies (this was Haley's first Easter), the times when the amount of boys vastly outnumbered the girls, the year we added cute little baskets to the hunt. Snowy Easters or bright, perfect ones; plenty of new spring outfits admired and photos snapped and strawberry-based desserts devoured
Since Kayci (the oldest niece) got married the year Ben and Kaleb (the youngest grandsons) were born, we didn't have an Easter with every one of my parents' grandchildren before the in-laws started being added. But every year, part of our tradition has been to get all the kids together for an Easter photo. We did some with Grandma and Grandpa and some without. Sometimes we took them in the front yard, sometimes in the back; sometimes, on snowy Easters, on the porch or inside, on the couch.
And for so many of those Easter Sundays, my dad was there, smiling, telling his slightly off-color jokes to Kendell, helping to hide the eggs full of candy. He and I would always talk about spring flowers, which ones were blooming, how the lilac bush was coming along, what the name of those tiny little purple flowers blooming by his antique wagon wheel might be. (He never seemed to remember exactly.) One Easter he played baseball with Nathan, who was just 18 months old. He was quite but still an essential part of the experience. Until he couldn't be any longer. Until silence took him away.
This year, for a variety of reasons, we had our Easter Sunday party on Palm Sunday instead. Some family drama meant that some of the nieces and nephews didn't come. We only had five kids to hunt eggs: my grand-niece Oakley, who is almost one; my two youngest and Becky's two boys. It was cold today, grey and blustery, and none of my father's daffodils were blooming yet. I felt heartsore, missing him, missing the years when all the grandkids were still little, the days when my knowledge was not yet so deeply felt and I thought that things would stay the way they were forever.
"Maybe this will be the last Easter party," my mom, who would like to sell her house and move into something smaller, said to me, while we were waiting for the men to hide the eggs. (It's tradition.) It felt like the last to me. Or maybe the one after the one that should have been the last. I don't know. When do you acknowledge that the family you have might be too large and diverse to continue insisting on pliability and similarity? When do you find that your own small family is enough? When do the edges snap away?
I went out to the front porch of my childhood home, scene of myriad memorable events. I looked up at the trees that were my height when Dad planted them, and then down at his flowerbeds, which were littered with little purple grape hyacinths. I talked to my sisters; I laughed. I went to the backyard and watched the small group hunt for their candy-filled eggs, revisiting the same hiding places the older generation had long ago discovered. When there were only a few eggs left, I walked with Kaleb, trying to help him find just one more treasure.
But it was me who found a treasure, just for a whisper of a moment. I thought of the blooming purple flowers, of the tulips with their green hands still shut tight and the lilac bush just barely covered in pale green leaves. I thought of all that has passed away. And I felt him there, my daddy, in the backyard that he loved and nurtured. Even though it's weedy now, and the swing set is knocked down and rusting. Even though the daffodils weren't blooming yet. He was there with me, just for a moment. He was there because he made it. He's gone but his grandkids still race around the beautiful space he made. He's gone but his grape hyacinths are still spattering the soil with lavender quiet. He's gone, but the trees he planted rustled in the wind and the flowers he planted worked their way towards blooming and somehow all the changes, the edges slowly breaking off, felt OK. Felt like how things just naturally progress. And they felt OK because of that moment. Because he made it OK.
Something moved away from me then. Perhaps it was the expectation that things will ever be the same. Maybe it won't be the last Easter party. But it will be the last time I expect it to bring me the same bright joy. It will have its own sadness, no matter where we have the party. And next Sunday, when it is Easter, I will only have my own children around me. Make it good, the wind whispered to me in my father's voice. Make it your own.
I will, Dad. I will.