The Easter My Dad Went Fishing Without Us

Easter brings to mind a lot of bullet point memories

  • The Ten Commandments movie
  • My childhood wicker Easter basket with a big floppy bow. I <3 that basket.
  • Ham
  • Truly believing Jesus died at 3 PM on Good Friday to the point that I wept.

In 1983, things were bleak financially. I was 12 years old and in 7th grade. So, of course, my Dad decided to join my cousins on a spring fishing trip to the Outer Banks over Easter. They weren’t high end, but it was still money not spent on his kids who needed clothes and shoes.

I had some small amount of money, maybe from babysitting? I walked to the nearby Hill’s Department Store and bought my Mum a fruit and nut egg, my brother something maybe a tee shirt, and I bought myself a Michael Jackson poster. On Holy Thursday.

If I close my eyes right now, I am transported back to my bedroom with the poster on the wall near my bed while I listened to Thriller on a cassette someone made for me, and swore not to cry. I was no longer a little kid who believed in Easter bunnies or needed candy.

There was no Easter meal, just a regular meal. No baskets, candy, rabbits. Just my mother crying, but that was typical. It was just a blank space of time where we told ourselves my Dad needed the trip (true) more than we needed him (not true)

When I think of Easter, I think of this. I don’t feel it. I guess I’m still refusing to cry.

There have been plenty of other nice Easter moments in life. The year my college friends and I made our own ham. The very religious years when I found meaning and comfort in the Holy Week traditions. Dinners at my mother-in-law’s house, including the year she bought our nibling a clucking chicken that laid plastic eggs. It was hilarious. Laura patiently watching The Ten Commandments with me, year after year. Well, okay, Laura reading the paper next to me while I watched. Our friend Sarah making us Paska bread (I had never heard of it) and our friend Pam sending us a nut roll/kolachi.

Most years, I have a perfectly nice Easter. This year, I’m in the middle of trauma processing work so it isn’t so easy to shake it off. I’m aware of the fact that this memory isn’t processed, it is real and I am reliving it like its real. That’s something I need to process with my therapist.

The trauma wasn’t just our Dad making a cruddy financial decision or even just being alone on a holiday. It is also embedded in my feeling emotionally responsible to “make an Easter” for my mum and brother and myself, for the ways I rationalized my Dad’s choices, and how I allowed myself to disconnect from the Easter pleasures of my childhood after that year.

I don’t even really like chocolate, at least not milk chocolate.

And this cannot be viewed in isolation from the trauma from our Catholic Parish (Holy Spirit in West Mifflin) that was in the early years of a 26 year streak of pedophile priests staffing our church. We lived .3 miles from the church. Our street was shaped like a capital A with the church parking lot meeting up both exit streets to form an imperfect closed circle, a loop of pain and sorrow.

And I’m supposed to be finding solace and guidance there. To be fair, I did not know the priest in residence at that time was a predator. My awareness came about 18 months later when a new pastor was assigned. But I knew something wasn’t right.

For my own sake, I want to note how sexism was embedded in all of this. My family fishing and hunting trips were men only. I didn’t want to go fishing or hunting, but I wanted to be included. And I was channeling my discomforted Catholic vibe into the unfairness of girls being unable to serve the altar. That was misguided as fuck because we dodged a bullet by the lack of proximity to these monsters. Still, I do remember often thinking how much of the good parts of Easter were wrapped up in the women, especially Mary and Mary Magdalene, even if no one really spoke about it.

At 12, I should have still been enjoying the remnants of my childhood, not taking on responsibility for everyone else having a semblance of Easter. And it took 40 more years for me to understand that.

I no longer cry for Jesus being crucified at 3 PM on Good Friday. Now, I weep for that little crying girl and young woman who had few tears to spare.


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