It's totally mundane to me now, but there was a time where things like observing Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny were not part of my lexicon. Being a first generation Costa Rican/Italian American, and the only one of my siblings born in the States, there was a time where the traditions of my ancestors were all I knew. Pretty much it was before I went to school, so until the age of five or so.
Those years the Baby Jesus brought me my Christmas gifts and Easter was ashes on my forehead, lilies filling the church, and a rack of lamb. Eventually, and slowly, we assimilated more or less. It was more like we added American culture than traded one way for another.
It's easy to almost completely forget now that there was an adjustment period. And it probably doesn't even occur to my American American friends...but there was always that first time. That moment where I realized I was different. My family was different, and I had to negotiate that awareness. We all did. We did it together. It was messy sometimes. Sometimes it was tasty, like when I would get made fun of for my sandwiches - thick slabs of sourdough bread filled with pan fried ham and coppa, topped with melted provolone. I didn't mind. They laughed. I ate. Nobody ever tried to trade me. Fools.
So this is a short story about one of those times. I must have written it more than ten years ago, before Facebook came along and brought us all together. Enjoy!
My First Easter Basket
One crisp spring morning when I was a mere five years old, I gaily skipped over to a friend’s house to see if she could play. When I arrived, Robin was already sitting on her front porch having a rather animated conversation with Lisa, the girl from next door. "What had happened?” I wondered.
As I joined them and became enfolded in the conversation, I realized that they had both been visited, in the middle of the night, by a giant magical bunny. "WOW!” I responded. I had never heard of such a thing.
"Well what does he look like?” I asked.
"I didn't seeee him," said Robin (rather sarcastically, I thought).
I was confused. "Then how did you know he was in your house?"
"All of the eeeeggs were gone!" Robin retorted, as if it should've been obvious to me that missing eggs proves that a magical bunny has been in your house.
"What do eggs have to do with bunnies? Bunnies don't eat EGGS, they eat CARROTS!” I replied, utterly frustrated.
Lisa and Robin exchanged glances as if to silently say that I was pathetically uninformed and in need of their tutelage. They proceeded to explain to me about decorating eggs, the Easter Bunny (as I came to find out that he was called), and baskets full of candies. At this point, I was completely excluded from the conversation as the girls competed over whose basket was filled with the most impressive assortment of confections.
"Easter Bunny?” I thought to myself. "Visits all the little children and gives them candy? All the children... all ...except me..." Suddenly tears welled up in my eyes as I realized that I wasn't special enough for the mystical hare to pay ME a visit. The girls didn't even notice my strained words as I said, "I need to go home." They barely stopped discussing jelly beans and chocolate bunnies to say, "Bye."
I ran home as fast as my Buster Brown Mary Janes could take me, wiping the hot bitter tears of rejection from my face. As I bounded through the screen door, my mother called out, "Que paso? Did you play with Robin?"
"Yes," I answered as I ran to my room. It was all I could muster without crying. I didn't want my mother to know that I wasn't good enough for the Easter Bunny. I slammed my bedroom door, threw myself on my bed, and raged into the depths of my pillow. My mother must've heard me as I ranted and raved my mantra, "The Easter Bunny doesn't love meeyeeeyee! The Easter Bunny doesn't love meeyeeyee!" Try to remember, I was only five.
Later that afternoon, as my relatives began to trickle over for the Easter rack of lamb, my brother approached me with our grandmother’s thick black coat. "Hey Susan, why don't you put this on my bed for Abuelita?"
"Uh,okay," I said, reluctantly. There was something fishy about the way he said it, and I wondered why he didn't just do it himself.
I took the heavy moth-ball scented coat anyway, and made my way to his room. He was following me. Strange. When we got to his room, we stopped short of the bed. Suddenly Danny pointed under his bed and theatrically shouted, "OH MY GOSH! LOOK!" He pulled out a beautiful pink basket with a yellow ribbon on the handle, filled with fake plastic grass and jelly beans and chocolate bunnies. It was the most beautiful Easter basket I'd ever seen. I embraced it joyfully.
Something told me Danny knew it was there, that my mom had planted it, that it was all a setup, but I didn't care. Maybe I wasn't good enough for the Easter Bunny, but I had a family that loved me, and that's all that mattered. That and jelly beans and chocolate bunnies.