Easter was a big deal when I was a little kid. Grandpa would prepare in advance of the holiday by making the traditional pink horseradish. This is the Polish version of the Paschal bitter herbs and it’s called ćwikła, and even though Grandma made him grate the horseradish in the basement, the fumes would still linger in the house for a whole day. I guess if we had lived somewhere more temperate, he could have done it outside but this was Chicago in April where the crocuses hadn’t even bloomed yet so a dirt-floored basement had to stand in. Grandma would have prepared by picking up sausage from Norbie at Avondale Sausage and a challah and lamb-shaped butter from Augusta Bakery.
We made colored eggs, the Easter Bunny (my parents) hid them at our house and then I’d find those before we drove to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. I would check the snowy porch to see if the Easter bunny had come because he always left a chunk of carrot and a few droppings (raisinets) in the snow on the porch. Once we got to Grandma’s, an Easter basket was always waiting for me on the coffee table. The 60’s Easter basket was different than today’s, less mass-produced and brand oriented and simpler and more ephemeral. I think Grandma got them at the bakery. It had Excelsior rather than plastic grass, a sugar egg diorama with either a village or religious scene in it, things like paper cut-out sheep and lambs, or a small puzzle or game, a packet of cross buns, and of course, a chocolate bunny, preferably solid, not a hollow one. Grandma was proficient at finding chocolate bunnies with cute faces.
I was never good with chocolate bunnies. I’d put ribbons around their necks, take the Excelsior and pose them on it on the coffee table with the paper sheep but I couldn’t bite them. All through Easter brunch, I’d be in a panic wondering how I was going to protect my bunny once everyone settled in for whatever old movie was on Family Classics and the conversation turned to “ears or tail.” They’d tease, I’d protest, and finally, when she couldn’t stand it anymore, Mom would sneak it away to the kitchen to be chopped up and distributed.