A Very Special Easter Bunny by Tasha Halpert

I have many memories associated with Easter, dating back to my childhood and continuing on through the years between then and now. In the days when ladies wore hats to church, as a child I wore a straw hat with a wide brim and a ribbon tied around it that hung down my back. My father would always buy my mother and me corsages, a gardenia for me and an orchid for her. I loved the scent of the gardenia. However, there was no Easter basket, candy, or hiding of eggs. After church we usually went to my Great Aunt Alice’s for Easter dinner.

When I was married and had two young daughters of my own I used to sew Easter outfits for them–little spring coats and pretty dresses. We always hid candy eggs around the living room. When my daughters were old enough to do some independent purchasing, they planned a special surprise for their parents. They walked to the local candy store and spent their own money on Easter candy, although not for themselves. Then on Easter morning they got up early and created an Easter egg hunt for their parents.

I will always remember coming down into the kitchen and seeing the foil wrapped eggs gleaming from their hiding places. Then two little voices called out “Surprise!” Bright in my memory are the two dear faces wreathed in smiles. “The Parent Easter Bunny came and hid eggs for you to find,” they told their father and me. What fun it was to discover where the eggs were hidden. What a pleasure it was for them as well to create this wonderful experience. It continued for some years, and each Easter their father and I looked forward to it.

Time and tide move us onward. More children came along to hunt for eggs and enjoy the Easter celebrations. The girls went off to college and began their own lives. Later on when they were married and grown, one lived too far away to celebrate at Easter with us. However the other lived close enough to drive over. We would go to a very special candy maker in the vicinity. Together we picked out candy for the grandchildren, and she took it home for the Easter Bunny to give them on Easter morning. Although I didn’t get to see their faces when they discovered their gifts, I had the pleasure of participating in their happiness.

Throughout the Western hemisphere, Easter is in part a religious holiday and in part a celebration of the coming of spring. Since before recorded history human beings have honored this time. Archeologists have found red dyed eggs dedicated to the German goddess of spring in Europe. There are many traditions from every where in Europe that are part of the way we celebrate today. Most spiritual paths and religions have their own spring celebrations. The dear Easter Bunny is a precious reminder to us that the days have grown longer, the trees will be budding, and life emerges joyfully in the new season.

The Gift and the Wrapping

by Tasha HalpertKathy's Christmas tree

Being somewhat uncoordinated when it come to things like wrapping packages, I have always struggled with trying to make my presents look reasonably attractive. Some people are really creative with how they wrap their presents. I envy them. I wish I had that kind of creativity. My mind tends to run along more utilitarian tracks and I don’t always think to add the trimmings.

I have a friend who does lovely wrapping. She told me about the finishing touches she had put on the colorful hand made gifts she had crocheted. She went on to tell me that someone said to her that the decorative packaging she had purchased to do this was extravagant, asking why she had spent so much money on something that would soon be discarded.

I understood completely why she had wanted to do this. Her gift was special and she wanted it to look that way. Her expenditure made perfect sense to me. While I tend to be less decorative in my thinking I can admire someone who knows how to do up a package and make it look special. My artistic friend has very clever fingers and knows exactly how to fix up a package to make it look extra special. I wish I had her skills.

The care with which a gift is presented says something important about the giver as well as the gift. Stephen and I accumulate presents for family and friends all during the year; my wrapping though not fancy is part of the caring. I used to have a dreadful time wrapping presents until a friend who had done professional wrapping for a department store showed me some useful tricks. Now I can make my packages look much more attractive.

There was a time when wrapping paper for Christmas gifts was not as inexpensive or as available as it is now. When I was a child we used to save all our Christmas gift paper from year to year and reuse it as often as we could. The use of scotch tape was discouraged and gift paper was sturdier as well. I remember one special piece of wrapping paper that appeared every year on a different present. It had an elaborate design and was very lovely as well as quite durable. In her elder years as the Christmas presents were opened my late mother would spend her time folding the wrapping papers. I expect this brought back vanished memories of when we were all young.

At this season of giving many feel compelled to spend money they don’t have to buy gifts for others who probably don’t need them. The simple gift of a hug and a plate of home made cookies or a hand made card might do just as well. Even young children need to learn to be content with less rather than yearn for more. Whatever I give at Christmas is primarily a token of my affection, and it need not be expensive or fancy. I will, however, wrap it with care and love because these are the real gift I am giving.


Halloween GhostieBoo!

When I was a young mother and my children were afraid in the night I used to address their fears as best i could. I remember stomping on the “tigers” that lurked in the closet. Whatever they feared no matter how silly it sounded, I treated their trepidation as real. Because of the way children were brought up then, my own childhood experience was very different. I didn’t want them to go through what I had as a young child of five, six or seven.

I suffered from what is now known as night terrors. Something I read, was told or heard would affect my active imagination. For instance, a radio tale of the collapse of a tunnel and the subsequent drownings became an irrational fear for me. For months afterward I would lie in bed shaking, afraid of death or what seemed worse, the death of those I loved. My most powerful fear as a child was of my parents dying. If I went to them with my fears they would ridicule my them and send me back to bed. Eventually I outgrew these episodes, yet at the time they were very real and painful.

When it came to Halloween my experience was also very different. When my children were little we lived in a small town where children dressed up for trick or treat and went door to door to the neighbors. I used to make them amusing costumes and even dress up myself to give out candy at our kitchen door. Occasionally they would be invited to a party.

Halloween for me as a child was mainly about carving up a pumpkin. I lived out in the country, where trick or treating was not an option. I did not really understand what Halloween was until I grew older and became interested in mythology. Then I learned that Halloween is a seasonal celebration of death. When people were closer to nature, death was everywhere and more natural. The fear was of spirits and the harm they might do. The holiday itself was celebrated as a sacred time, a kind of New Year dedicated to change of seasons.

Many of the customs surrounding Halloween evolved from observances dedicated to fearlessness. The pumpkin faces, the scary costumes, and many of the rest of the traditions surrounding this playful holiday proceed from the idea that at this significant time the gates between this world and the next are open. It was believed that spirits of the departed were free to come and go and perhaps to appear in some way. This could be good or bad, depending on the nature of the spirits. What was important was to protect oneself.

The Halloween traditions of games originally about contacting spirits for information or of practicing divination has pretty much removed the element of fear from the day. As people took Halloween less seriously, it became more of a party holiday. The emphasis on games and costumes, candy and trick or treating has turned the feast of the dead–one of the sources of dressing up and seeking treats, to something for fun. Whatever fear remains lurks somewhere deep inside. Occasionally it might even come out and say, “Boo!”

by Tasha Halpert

Living With Small Deaths

by Tasha Halpert

My earliest experience with the death of a pet happened when I was too young to remember it. It became a family story my mother was fond of telling. The way she told it, when I was almost four my parents won a turkey in a raffle, brought it home and kept it in a cage in the yard. I was fond of the turkey and named it Tuty. At Thanksgiving as planned, the turkey was killed, plucked stuffed and roasted. As family and guests gathered to eat and my dad was carving the turkey I piped up: “Where is my Tuty? I want my Tuty.”  After that no one wanted any.

When I was small, death was not discussed in front of children. They were more sheltered than today’s children who from an early age see the adult world right before their eyes on television. I learned about it too, but in a way, first hand: seeing the small deaths around me. Baby ducks perished as they hatched; baby chickens accidentally drowned in the water pan; rabbits were attacked by a neighboring dog; and several dogs and cats were run over by cars speeding by our house.

My family lived in the country in a cottage on my Great Aunt Alice’s property. There were many animals, large and small whose living and dying were part of our everyday life. As a result death seemed to me to be quite natural. I mourned, yet not for long. There were always more animals to pat and to play with. I confess that sometimes I was not nice to them. The cat did not like it when I dressed her in doll clothes and tried to make her lie down in my doll bed. The dog did not appreciate this either. Sheeshee, a small white Spitz mix was gentle however, and did not, like the cat, protest too much or try to scratch me. She lived with us a good long time and was much loved. I have no memory of her passing, which makes me wonder if perhaps I was away at school then.

She managed to have two puppies when she was quite young and before my parents had her spayed. Peloto was left behind in Florida where he was born on a working vacation we spent there with my father. Tallahassee lived with us until tragically he was hit by a truck right in front of me. The driver, terribly upset drove the dog and me to the veterinarian to see if Tallahassee could be saved. I remember holding him on my lap and feeling very sad. His internal injuries were too severe for him to continue to live. I buried him with ceremony. Somehow even though I never attended a real funeral until I was 12, I seemed to know about reverently burying a loved animal and praying over its grave.

Our rabbits provided an experience of both birth and death. They were kept in a hutch outdoors. I remember asking my mother one day why one of them wouldn’t come out of the little house that sheltered them from bad weather. She showed me the infant rabbits that were emerging from their mother. That was wonderful to see and I was thrilled. After that I understood where babies came from although not how they got in there. Having animals helps children learn about these things naturally and under gentle conditions. When my children were small they had guinea pigs that helped them learn these important facts of life.

I believe we had the rabbits a year or two. Then somehow a fierce dog got in and mangled the ones he did not kill. When I was told the wounded rabbits were to be “put to sleep” by Carl, my great aunt’s gardener, I was very upset. In tears I walked past the boundaries of our property so as not to hear him shoot them. I remember that for this act of disobedience I was sent to my room without supper and made to go to bed early. Although I missed the rabbits, I did not mourn them for long. I was always encouraged to get over my grief quickly, and usually I did.

Life and death had their place, and so did religion. Each Sunday I accompanied my mother to her Catholic church while my dad went to his Protestant one. On Easter, Christmas and special occasions we also went to his. Although I found my mother’s simple Catholic church to be bleak and cheerless, I enjoyed my visits to my dad’s comfortable Episcopalian one;. Needing my own church for myself  I created one where I could go and pray when I wished.

I chose a corner outdoors between the chimney and the wooden wall of the small potting shed and greenhouse where Carl the gardener started plants for my Great Aunt’s garden. To substitute for the hard wooden kneeling benches of my mother’s church, I collected moss to kneel on. I used a brick for an altar and tied two sticks to make a wooden cross. On the other side of the chimney I created a cemetery where I buried small animals and birds as well as one of our cats. That church was my place of comfort. I often went there to talk to God. I also developed a small graveyard where I buried  baby chicks and ducks as well as a cat and dog that had perished.

My mother loved her animals. At one time she had two goats. Ebony, the larger of the two was very fond of Mama. The other escaped her tether and ate grass sprayed with arsenic from under my Great Aunt’s apple trees. They told me about her death but did not show her to me. I was often shielded from what was harsh or ugly. Ebony lived quite a long time and even though she had never been bred she used to give milk.

My great Aunt kept chickens as did we. I remember as a very young child being pinned down by a huge rooster that somehow escaped the coop and threatened to attack me as I walked through the apple orchard. Eventually someone came to my rescue and shooed the bird away. Chickens were food, not pets, so there was no sorrow associated with their demise.When they were to be eaten Carl used to kill them. He would cut off their heads with an ax and they would run around the yard headless. Then my mother valiantly plucked the feathers from the warm bird and either roasted or boiled it, depending on the age.

When I was six or seven it became my job to take care of our chickens. I didn’t mind doing it in the summer. There was a convenient faucet near the chicken coop where I could fill their water holder. However, in winter the water faucet was turned off so it wouldn’t freeze. I had to lug heavy pails of water as well as buckets of grain and mash all the way from the barn to the chicken house fifty feet or more away. This was how I earned my allowance so I didn’t dare slack off.

One March I had a brilliant idea. The hen house was close to a marsh that flooded every spring. Daily I filled their water bucket from this convenient source. A couple of weeks later our chickens began to die. At first no one knew why. Then my father called me into the living room. It seems Carl had seen me as I filled the bucket. I expect I was punished. Probably I lost my allowance for a time, though I don’t remember. I did feel very sorry for what I had done to the poor chickens. My parents were even more upset because they couldn’t eat them. I was reminded of that for years.

Worse than the death of Tallahassee was what happened to my mother’s dog Nicky. I was four or five at the time, and I did not eat with my parents but earlier, in my room. I remember the experience vividly. Nicky was my mother’s cherished black and white border collie. He was a bit rambunctious and tended to wander so we weren’t to let him out unattended. One day I accidentally let him out. I was upstairs eating when my mother rushed in. “Nicky’s dead and it’s all your fault.” She sobbed. It seemed that before he could be retrieved a delivery truck pulling into Aunt Alice’s driveway had hit him.

I remember that my mouth opened and the green peas I had just put in spilledback onto my plate. I began to cry. I felt guilty for Nicky’s death for a long time. However, he wasn’t the last dog for whose death I was responsible. Years later when I was driving down a snow banked highway at about 40 miles an hour with my children in the back seat, a great big German shepherd came running  right down the middle of the highway toward me. I couldn’t stop, and I couldn’t avoid the dog. Had I tried to swerve to the right or the left I would have hit a snow bank. I had three small children in the car. I had no choice.

Afterward I stopped my car and went back to get the dog’s collar so I could tell the owner. I dragged the body to the side of the road and drove home. I had made sure to hit the dog hard enough to kill it because otherwise it would have been crippled or maimed and suffered terribly. I felt dreadful. Yet I could not risk my children’s lives to try to save the dog. When I explained the owner thanked me. Apparently the dog had gotten out and had followed his truck. He was not upset with me and I was grateful. While I felt sad I did not feel guilty.

Death is part of life. Life is part of death. I learned this at an early age. Sometimes we cannot help causing the death of a loved pet. Sometimes we have to choose death over life because it is the best choice in a situation. Sometimes we have no choice because we simply do not know any better. I have spent many years of my life learning to be as conscious of my actions and their consequences as I could. Death seems to have followed me even as I have reached out to embrace it when need be. Animals are with us for a short time. Perhaps they are our teachers about the necessity for death. Perhaps we can learn from them to embrace it when it comes to us, knowing that we too are a part of creation and that like them we return to the Source.

ImageSt. Stephen’s Church, Bologna by Tasha Halpert