..Special Holiday Traditions
Every family has their special holiday traditions and memories. Perhaps they date back to our childhood, and as we mature and have our own households, we try to duplicate those memories. Others forgo continuing their childhood traditions and carve out new ones for their families.
In my family, I can remember distinctly one yearly holiday over all the others. No, it was not Christmas but rather Easter. My mother's family lived in St. Joseph, MI on the western side of the state, and while I was born and baptized there, we moved to the Detroit suburbs when I was a toddler. Each Easter, though, we returned to St. Joe for our family holiday.
My mother was one of 4 children. One of her brothers lived with his family locally and her other two brothers lived in the suburbs of Chicago. They were all always the first to arrive at my grandparents' home on the day before Easter. My father needed to be at his barber shop on that Saturday and my mother would load the car with our suitcases, myself and my brother and we would drive to the barber shop to pick him up at his closing time of 6 p.m. My mother most definitely could not forget the Easter baskets that we kept at our house but which my grandmother would fill in St. Joe. Sometimes we had to wait for my father to finish his last customers but we were usually on the road by 6:15 p.m.
On I-94 we went and 3 hours later we were arriving at my grandparents' home. Even though it could be as late as 9:30 my grandmother always had a chicken dinner awaiting us. She bought only fresh chicken to roast and what a difference from the poultry we buy today. There is nothing more prominent in my memory than the smells in her house when entering while she had dinner cooking.
My grandparents lived in an old frame home in downtown St. Joe. The home had two bedrooms on the main floor and four on the second floor. My parents always received the extra main floor bedroom and my cousin, Jeanine, and I were lucky to have a second floor bedroom. We always felt like grown ups when we were upstairs in our own little area. The two sets of aunts and uncles also took the two other bedrooms on the second floor and my little brother and Jeanine's little brother, Mike, got to sleep on the couch in the living room.
My grandparents had little money but it didn't matter. When I was 12 my grandfather passed away and my one uncle and his family had moved to California. But the two Illinois uncles and their families and our family continued the Easter trip to St. Joe.
My grandmother outdid herself with decorating the house. Her cut glass punch bowl sat on the buffet and sparkled for us to enjoy.
She put together her hand made Easter egg tree and had that displayed on the buffet as well. I now have both the punch bowl and the Easter eggs to cherish.
We all sat up late on Easter eve talking and visiting but finally we were off to our respective rooms for sleep (and more giggling with our cousins).
On Easter morning grandma would arise at 5 a.m. (with little sleep) and walk downtown to Wilson's Bakery which was on State Street. She wanted to be the first to arrive so that she could select the best coffee cakes and muffins for our breakfast. She worked on a huge breakfast for all of us as we sat in her dining room around her huge table. When we came to the table we noted our Easter baskets were now filled with chocolate covered eggs, marshmallows, colored eggs and a present for each of us. I remember one year Jeanine and I received little glass covered dishes with mine in the shape of a deer and hers in the shape of a bunny. The covers came off to reveal a little jar of dusting powder. Again, grandma had little money but knew how to find just the right presents to please us. Another year, much earlier, I remember receiving a cylinder shaped box with crayons and a sharpener. I think the love that went into the gifts was what made us cherish them so much.
I don't have those gifts anymore but I do have the little lamb stuffed animal that she made me and I put it out each Easter on my buffet.
After breakfast it was off to church for all of us and grandma was so proud to have her whole family there to accompany her. One year the church was so full that we were forced to have to sit on folding chairs in the basement where the church piped the service in (the church wishes today to have such attendance). The uncles (and my father) did not appreciate the basement seating and after that we made sure that we arrived at church at least 30 minutes before the Easter service.
Back home after church and grandma, the aunts and my mother with Jeanine and myself set to work finishing the dinner of ham, potatoes, vegetables, relish trays, home made crescent rolls (that took two days to make) and pies, pies, pies - all handmade by grandma. There were even Easter cut-out cookies for us to enjoy though I have to admit that my grandmother had a preference for anise in her cookies and the taste did not excite me. But her pies were heavenly.
As a centerpiece each Easter my grandmother made her special Lamb cake. She had this mold that involved a special recipe (and much fiddling around to not knock off the lamb's ears, etc) and she would make a yellow cake, frost it with white frosting and cover in coconut. Again, it was a sight to see, though not liking coconut, I don't remember ever tasting the cake.
I now have the mold and have made lamb cakes the last few years myself but have chosen to make a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. I have even named the cake as "Lucy Lamb". Don't ask me where the name came from; I have no idea.
Following dinner, all the women chipped in to do the dishes and clean up the dining room while the men did what men do - watched television. In those days, I remember, men did nothing in the way of chipping in and cleaning up or certainly the ones in my mother's family did not.
The afternoon went by quickly with talking, visiting, snacking and by 7 pm or so my father was ready to make the trip back to Detroit. He was never one for taking an extra day off from the barber shop-being self employed dictated that.
It always seemed that the week-end went by so quickly. The aunts and uncles had a much shorter trip back to the suburbs of Chicago and didn't leave as soon but off we went, waving good-bye and wishing the week-end could have lasted longer. We would be back in the summer to visit our grandmother but this was our one time to visit with our aunts, uncles and cousins. My grandmother always stood outside and waved to us until we could not see her any longer and we were back on I-94 for the trip home.
Many years have gone by since those Easter memories. My grandparents are both gone. My father and all of my uncles are gone. Even my special little cousin, Jeanine, is gone, dying way too soon in her early 40's of cancer. My mother and I are living back in St. Joe now and try to replicate those Easters as best we can with the keepsakes that we still have.
Easter definitely was that one special holiday in my family.
Above photos from personal collection of Cheryl Schulte
Paul Koenig on the S.S. Veendam
11 years ago