Sunday, April 13, 2014

I found heaven in a cap gun: an Easter memory

"That Easter morning, the mysteries of heaven and the realities of human existence came together for me..."

Better than Christmas
As a child, I liked Easter morning as much as Christmas morning.  In some ways, it was even better than Christmas morning. Easter lacked the element of doubt that was embedded in Christmas. Unlike Santa Claus, who was intimidating with his long memory of naughty and nice children, the Easter bunny was a happy-go-lucky character that dropped its chocolate eggs indiscriminately. 

Our Easter bunny was always generous. Typically, along with our basket of treats, the Easter bunny left my sisters and I a small gift - something like a slinky, yo-yo, or matchbox cars. Perhaps there was something more "girlie", like barrettes or hair bands, but those things were never very interesting to me. 

Had I died and gone to heaven?
One year, the Easter bunny outdid itself, and the memory of that Easter stands out vividly in my memory. That year, as was the custom in our home, four beautiful baskets were lined up on the kitchen counter. I took a quick look at my basket, and my heart leaped for joy; I thought I had died and gone to heaven.  There in my basket was a cap gun and a cowboy hat with a red whistle. I was incredulous because despite incessantly begging for a cap gun for weeks, my parents had steadfastly refused to purchase one. 

I was chomping at the bit to try out my cap gun, but before I could don my cowboy hat and strap on my holster and gun, we had to go to Mass, which, in my little mind, was certain to be long, tedious, crowded and stuffy.  Fortunately, I had a new Easter outfit; my pride in wearing it lessened the agony of waiting until after Mass before I would be free to run around the neighborhood, blowing my whistle and shooting off my cap gun.

Once home from Mass, I shucked my pretty, feminine Easter bonnet for the cowboy hat, strapped the holster and gun around the waist of my dress, and bolted out the door, my little sister in pursuit, to test the whistle and gun. Before long, as was typical for the two of us, my sister and I were fighting, arguing over whose turn it was to shoot off the caps. While my mother put an end to our bickering by insisting that I put my fabulous cap gun away, I stubbornly wore my cowboy hat in protest until we sat down for brunch.

A love far beyond naughty or nice
It may seem odd that my fondest memory of the Easters of my childhood revolves around a cap gun. There were, after all, a host of meaningful, annual traditions (the Good Friday fast, coloring hard-boiled eggs on Easter Saturday, baking hot cross buns for Easter morning, Easter hunts, and family dinners) that characterized my family’s celebration of Easter, and while they are firmly fixed in my memory, none of them evoke that blissful moment when I first laid eyes on my cap gun.  It was then that I became consciously aware of the sensation of joy.

My parents’ Easter gift to me was perfect, and that day my joy was complete.  Although I was too young at the time to articulate my sensibilities, that Easter morning, the mysteries of heaven and the realities of human existence came together for me in the gift of a shiny steel cap gun and a straw cowboy hat with a red whistle. Those two simple toys were symbols of a love that had nothing to do with being naughty or nice. The joy that I felt that Easter morning because of the unexpected gift was a moment of grace; I was in the presence of a  divine love that delighted in me more than I could ever delight in a cap gun, and not even a spat with my little sister could diminish my happiness nor tarnish its memory. 

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