Easter Sunday 1963

Mara Adamitz Scrupe

Image of Mara Adamitz Scrupe

Mara Adamitz Scrupe

Easter Sunday 1963 was selected as part of MSU Library Short Edition's call for submissions on the theme of "Home," in coordination with the MSU Broad Art Museum's exhibition "Where We Dwell." Mara Scrupe is the author of four poetry collections, BEAST, (2014 Stevens Prize) Sky Pilot (Finishing Line Press, 2012), Magnalia, (2018 Eyewear Chapbook Prize) and a daughter’s aubade/ sailing out from Sognefjord(Fledge Prize, Middle Creek Press, 2018). She has won or been shortlisted for the Fish Prize (Ireland), BigCi Environmental Writing Fellowship (Australia), Aesthetica Creative Writing Award (UK), Erbacce Prize (UK), The Plough Prize (UK), University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s Award (Australia), and the National Poetry Society Competition (UK), among many others.

It might have seemed eerily sacrificial if you didn't know what you were looking at: a 50-gallon rusted steel drum – its once-shiny red paint now burnt crusty and peeling – resting on a faintly raised berm of packed earth some distance behind the detached, lopsided garage sitting at the south end of our lot. A postage-stamp-sized remnant of a one-hundred-sixty-acre former farm – the highest elevation for miles around – our half-acre place was sold to Mom and Dad by a semi-successful old farmer who knew an opportunity when he saw one. Eventually the wide-open countryside around us would grow up to nascent suburb, former corn fields giving way to block-after-block, rectilinear tracts of three-bedroom "ramblers" – the mid-century Midwestern term assigned those ubiquitous, low-lying, single-story residences – each featuring a picture window positioned at the front like a huge eye overlooking the street, and every one of them plopped down at the same time on contiguous, treeless, one-eighth acre lots. The houses were nearly identical except that during construction one side of the street was excavated with an eight-foot-deep, block-long ditch to provide basements, while the dwellings opposite them were built on formed concrete pads poured directly over leveled soil. I was a toddler when we moved from the inner city to the country. And by the time these modern, up-to-date domiciles popped up all around us – the result of a local and national 1950's and ‘60's post-World War II building boom – our one-and-a-half-story, stucco-sided, 1914 Tudor-style farmhouse seemed old, tired, and ramshackle.


The four of us – Mom and my two sisters – stayed in the house after Dad's multiple hospitalizations and their subsequent divorce. Mom did her best to make ends meet on a 1960's secretary's salary despite "our situation" – that's what she called it – and she was determined that we present an upbeat and happy face to the world. She did everything she could to make us seem like "a normal family" – again her words – notwithstanding the scandalous facts of my father's frenzied drinking, my mother's full-time job outside the home, my parents' break-up, and Mom's eventual and discomfiting designation as the neighborhood divorcee.


Saturdays at our house were reserved for baking, cleaning, and disposing of trash. Mom woke up early to start the bread to rise and sometimes, to get us out of bed when unwelcome tasks awaited, she made fresh donuts, deep frying and then rolling them – still almost too hot to handle – in sugar and cinnamon so that her "three little dolls" would have something sweet to eat before moving on to the morning's main chore of collecting our household rubbish and hauling it out to the backyard. Sanitary pick-up was available, but the town service cost extra money we didn't have, and Mom – a country girl born and raised – knew just what to do about that.


Only a year or two separated in age, my sisters and I always shared clothes and we expected to wear hand-me-downs even for holidays, with one exception: Mom made sure that each of us had a brand-new hat to wear to church on Easter Sunday; a tradition we counted on and looked forward to. That Saturday – the day before Easter – we woke up early and excited knowing that, before we started in on our work for the day, we'd each receive a new hat to go with our new-to-us Easter dresses. I can still see my mother, slim, decidedly pretty, and always moving at breakneck speed – her thick head of wavy, copper-color hair cropped short and brushed back efficiently from her face – handing me a paper sack emblazoned with the stylish gold and black logo of Dayton's Department Store, one of the nicest in the city. A frugal farm girl in most things, Mom loved pretty clothes, and my hat was no exception; a molded cap made of canary yellow felt adorned with a matching veil, I understood, even then, that it cost much more than we could afford. But it fit me perfectly and, Mom said, the sunny shade looked especially attractive next to the full head of strawberry blonde hair I'd inherited from her.

Later that morning, the four of us gathered the week's trash and piled it up out back of the garage: one heap for burning and the other bagged up and ready to hand off to one of the neighborhood dads who periodically stopped by – sometimes more often than was strictly necessary – on their way to the local dump. Mom packed the steel drum – with holes drilled toward the bottom to facilitate burning; Dad must have done that at some point before he left – with cardboard, broken-down boxes, and paper bags, including the one from the department store – so fancy and elegant I hated to see it go – at the very top. She lit a match and a few flames flickered as she stirred up and then tamped down the papers and bags and boxes – airing then depressing the contents with a metal rake – as I vaguely registered – though in her flurry of efficiency she probably didn't – the slight swell of the Dayton's bag that caught fire and flattened out only after she got the blaze going. For a good while we stood watching, just to make sure that all proceeded according to plan, as everything burned to fine ash at the bottom of the barrel.


Easter Sunday April 14th, 1963: it was cold outside, but calm and sunny with an unusually high predicted temperature of 76 degrees, the kind of spring day that's especially appreciated in Minnesota where everyone knows that winter's not taken leave until the last snowstorm of mid-April blows over. Awake and dressed before being told, the unruly hair on each of our heads brushed away from our faces and held in place with special sparkly barrettes, my sisters and I could hardly wait to show off, for Mom's inspection, our special Easter hats and our more-or-less matching holiday dresses. But despite a frantic last-minute search of every closet, corner and cranny, my hat was nowhere to be found. And after a few moments of mounting confusion and distress – that I would never have thought to openly express – all-at-once my mind focused on the image of the department store bag sitting atop the Saturday trash fire, and then it dawned on me what had happened to that splendid, creamy-soft, lemony felt concoction. Standing and waiting as quiet as I could in the hallway outside her door – I wasn't going to cry – I watched as Mom walked quick-step into her bedroom and plucked a small square of embroidered white cotton from the uppermost drawer of her dresser. Calling me over to her side – and giving me a look that said in no uncertain terms, "no backtalk" – she shook out the four-square folds of the doily she wore to Mass every Sunday except holy days, plunked it down, patted it into place to cover my hair, and briskly, but firmly, bobby-pinned it to the top of my head.

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