Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Good Good Friday

from Jacqueline

When I was about eleven years old, our English teacher assigned a composition (that’s what they used to call “creative writing”) in which we were to describe our home. I couldn’t wait to get started because I had loved essay writing from the time I knew how to pick up a pen and write something. I went straight to my room after we’d had dinner that evening, and set to my composition, and the words flowed onto the page with ease.

I explained, in my essay, that by the time I arrived home from school, my brother had been home for a few minutes, and was likely to be rushing out again to play with his friends. My first task, therefore, was to catch him by the collar and remind him to change out of his school uniform because money doesn’t grow on trees. My second job was to fill the coal scuttle and open the dampers on the solid-fuel stove, so that we’d have hot water and heat for the evening. I described how I felt when six- thirty rolled around and the bus dropped my mother at the end of the road, and how I’d already have the kettle on because I knew she’d be gasping for a cup of tea. She’d go into the garden and call out for my brother to come home, and pick a few weeds from the flower beds to get the working day out of her skin.   As we set about preparing dinner, Dad would arrive home with winter coldness wrapped around him - I always remember the winters - and Mum would open the stove’s fire door so that he could hold his hands to the blaze and begin to thaw. That was home, that stove, that warmth on a cold evening, the family together, sitting in the kitchen to talk about the day. I deliberately noted, in this composition, that a house was just bricks and mortar. It was the people in the house that made it a home. A week later, in class, I discovered I was the only person who had written about home. Everyone else wrote about the color of their bathroom, or the wallpaper in the bedroom.

I was thinking about that essay during the flights that brought me from Toronto back home after my marathon book tour. I was thinking about home, what home means to me today, and how much I missed home. But the truth is that like most of us, I have more than one “home.”

There’s the home I inhabit with my husband, our dog, our cat. My brother and his wife live around the corner, and there are the neighbors I see each day, and the “dressage divas” who I hang out with at the barn where we all keep our horses. This is the home where I walk around the garden in the evenings and dead-head the roses, or sit back in a wicker chair and talk with my husband as the sun goes down.

The other home is in northern California, a place I visited some twenty-five years ago and knew – just knew – that I would one day be back to live there, because it was my destiny. And I did, and it was. It broke my heart to move away, but I am fortunate now to have a home in that place, and every minute I spend there is precious, because there’s something there that touches my spirit and I am at peace. I’ve a lot of dear friends in the neighborhood, perennial friends, people who have been in my heart for years and who I will keep close for years to come. That’s home, that place in the heart.

And now it’s Eastertime. I love that word, Eastertime. It sounds so much closer than just “Easter.” It’s my favorite holiday, a much-loved time of year and, more especially, a time that reminds me of home, that first home, the place where I was born and grew up. Easter is early this year, and Europe is experiencing a bitter cold, but my memories of this time of year are filled with walks in woods carpeted with primroses, bluebells and wood anemones. Easter to me is all about new life, about renewal, about shedding winter’s grayness for the promise of warmth and color. It’s about what is to come and what we have to look forward to. It’s nature at its most optimistic, and it’s challenging us to come along for the ride.

Have a lovely Eastertime, and many blessings to you and yours.

(PS: I was going to treat you to a photo of lovely toasted hot cross buns, and another of an English woodland carpeted with primroses, but the blogger is playing up this morning, and I can't upload the images. Oh, well, another Eastertime, perhaps.


  1. A lovely essay, then and now. I'd almost forgotten about hot cross buns. I don't see them much anymore. Eastertime for me was the new outfit my mother bought to wear to church, the smell of vinegar as we dyed boiled eggs, and wishing the chocolate bunny in my Easter basket wasn't hollow.

    Welcome home.

  2. Happy Eastertime to you, too, Jacqueline!!

    I've been hankering for really, really nice hot cross bun this last day or so. So much so, that I actually got out my Aussie cook books and went looking for recipes. Don't know if I'll make them, but imagining our condo filled with the smell of baking buns is so comforting.

    I miss my Mum and Dad and will call them tonight. :-D Can you believe that the Aussie government, in the last 11 years or so, has been trying to popularize the 'Easter Bilby'? An Australian native mammal. I'm sorry, but just can't do without the Easter Bunny...

    PS: Welcome home...

  3. Thanks for a lovely post, Jackie.

    It's also interesting that you were so self sufficient at that age, when today people would be crying "Neglect!" if a working parent left children that age to fend for themselves.

    Eastertime was a time when on Good Friday my grade school class would line up and walk to the Church across the street to hear the minister there tell us a story about a man who died and rose again. It was an annual tradition that was warm and comfortable.

    As I attended a public school, rather than a parochial school, I can imagine the cries of horror that would erupt should anyone even mention such a thing nowadays.

    Otherwise, Eastertime was dying and coloring Easter eggs, plastic grass, Easter Egg Hunts, and a bunny whose disappearing ears always proved him disappointingly hollow.

    Happy Easter, all!

  4. from Jacqueline

    Thanks to Beryl, the lady who runs a little "all things British" shop in Ojai, I have already had my traditional English toasted hot cross buns this morning! Patty - next year expect to receive hot cross buns as an Easter gift.

    You know, I never stopped to think how the essay highlights such self-sufficiency. Many of my friends at school came home to a list of chores to do before their parents returned from work, and the fact was that you just got on with it, possibly because there was a sense of the family as a team, with everyone pulling together. Far from being neglectful, it taught independence, responsibility and we spent more time together, I think, than many families today. I was aware of how hard my parents worked, without doubt.

    The great thing about Beryl's shop, is that she also stocks those great big British chocolate eggs filled with individual chocolates - none of this bunny business, give me that whopping great egg any day! I bought my brother and his wife a chocolate egg flavored with Bailey's Irish Cream, encasing a clutch of Bailey's-filled chocolates. How's that for Eastertime?

    Easter Bilby? I don't think so!

  5. Nice photo of hot cross buns fresh from the oven here:

    Now, if only Microsoft could get the fresh-baked aroma to waft from the monitor...

  6. "Patty - next year expect to receive hot cross buns as an Easter gift."

    You could always saddled up Sara and ride into town. You still have 39 hours left for Easter 2008 :o)

  7. Such a lovely post, and I feel the same way. Home really is where the heart is.....

    Happy Eastertime ;-)

  8. happy eastertime from the old world where it was snowing really heavy this afternoon with thunder and lightning. it even stayed on the ground for a couple of hours. now, at almost 6pm,the sun is smiling down on us as if nothing had happened.
    but reading your essay has made me feel warm and homely. enjoy the rest of the holiday.


    and we did have the hot crossed buns this morning as well with tiptree little scarlet jam.

  9. Jackie,

    I love reading about your childhood. It was similar to mine growing up in Florida, except for the cold. And what's this coal you talk about?

    Seriously, if I had to depend on either of my children fro that kind of responsibility I'd be cold and hungry every day.

    Happy Easter.


  10. Lovely, just lovely, Miss J. You have such a talent for describing the past (or present, for that matter). Home, indeed, is the most excellent place of all!

    I think I'll drive up to Ojai today for some hot cross buns. Patty, where can I meet you if I get some for you?

    I, too, deplore hollow chocolate bunnies.

    Tom, T.O.

  11. from Jacqueline

    Thanks, all for your lovely comments and reflections. Patty, hot cross buns next Good Friday, with or without my trusty steed (who happens to have a torn suspensory ligament at the moment and is off work until June!).

    Oh, dear Jim, what do you have in your Christmas stocking, if not a lump of coal?

  12. I used to think when I heard that one got "switches" in one's stocking for being bad, that they were talking about light switches, which would give you shocks on your legs.

    I love your Easter memories, Our J. We used to have treasure hunts all through the back yard and woods on Easter morning, with the same thing at the end every year--bathing suits from our Grandmother in Florida.

  13. your essay sounds lovely. It must have impressed the teachers!

  14. I get the impression no one reads these comments after late afternoon, but here goes anyway: Jackie, and Patty, I took a drive to Ojai this afternoon, tracked down Beryl's shop after fortifying myself with breakfast at Eggs 'N' Things in Ojai, and bought the last six hot cross buns, a big English Easter Egg, and a box of ginger crackers.

    Either Beryl was being coy in not recognizing your name, Jackie (protecting the local celebrity?), or you have modestly not identified yourself as a world-renowned author.

    Patty, the hot-cross buns are two-to-a-package. You may have one or two packages. Where and when shall we meet? (Ken Kuhlken's signing at MTDF begins at 3:00--I'm available after that. Westwood?)

    Tom, T.O.

  15. Tom, Beryl does know me, so she was being a bit coy, however, I am not exactly a well-known person to be protected around here (that would be Malcolm McDowell), however, even he goes into Beryl's, so I understand!

    Lovely to hear from you, Cornelia - and thank you, Faith, for your comment. I remember getting an "A" for my essay and having to read it out in class!

  16. Tom, I'd love to chat over hot crossed buns, but I'm off with my mother to shop her a new Easter hat. She thinks she can buy one for less than $30.00, even though I've warned her that the 1950s are over. Send Ken my regards. And if he gives you a blank stare when you mention my name (we only met once), just say nevermind.

  17. Beautiful. I wonder how many authors started out by writing the odd essay out when they were ten, and feeling both estranged and empowered?

  18. Thank you, Charles, for your lovely comment. I was fortunate in my teachers at school - oh, and I've remembered that teacher's name: Mrs. Arthur. She was very proper and had perfect diction, and she loved it when her charges indulged in a little lateral thinking - a good foundation for a writer!