Part One: Special Easter Gift
The Spring thaw is finally hitting my blog, so I am catching up on events from earlier in the season…
Easter as a little boy! Dad would wake up early and blast us out of bed with a record of the glorious Alleluia Chorus blaring on the Victrola. My brother Ken and I would scamper through the house discovering a dozen or more Easter baskets hidden after we went to bed, all with toy bunnies and chicks, chocolate treats, jelly beans and gifts for the summer ahead, little pails and other candies and mother’s cookies. Our labs eagerly joined in the search and had their share of the goodies.
The Easter Bunny was good to us. Easter Sunday church was always special, the music, the hymns, the glitter of the ladies in their finery and the smell of the ham cooking and the visits with our cousins and aunt and uncle and gramp always made Easter day so very memorable.
When our children Graham and Jenny came along, we would experience the same joy as my parents shared watching Ken and me hunt for the Easter baskets. Dorothy and I tried to duplicate the fun of Easter, occasionally adding a different wrinkle depending on what date Easter fell. If it coincided with the kids’ spring school break, we would load the Cuttysark (My old 26-foot Chris craft skiff), kids, sometimes with their friends, cats and dogs, and head for our beach house for the holiday. After Graham and Jenny were tucked in Easter eve, I would head outside with a basket of eggs that we had dyed together in the afternoon and hide them under the deck, or the overturned rowboat and sunfish, behind posts under the boardwalk or other places on the lots either side of our house. Our dogs raced around the property and helped the kids in their hunt.
Easter is always special no matter where we are, as long as we are together. Since our move to Essex, Connecticut, six years ago, Dorothy and I have always started Easter Sunday at St. John’s Episcopal Church’s beautiful sunrise service held on the grounds of the River Museum at the foot of main street facing the river’s edge.
This year was different. There was not enough time between the end of the sunrise service and the eight o’clock service at St. John’s to go home and change from the cold weather outfit into proper church attire. We also wanted to have a good vantage location to take part in the service and getting there early, we would have our choice of pews.
This service would be very special, and Graham and Paulette, our son and daughter-in- law, and both sets of grandparents eagerly awaited the start of the service seated in the first two pews. I was seated on the aisle of the second pew next to Dorothy.
The organist began and the familiar notes of the stirring hymn, “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today.” As the sounds filled the church, I turned to the back of the church, swelled with pride, and tears appeared at the sight of our beautiful granddaughter Victoria age 12 leading the procession carrying the cross as crucifer, followed by torch bearers, brothers Bradley 13, and Duncan 10. Graham Jr. 15 ½ followed as Gospeler. The first three smiled and winked at me, as they passed on their way to the altar. Graham, Jr. was carrying the Gospel Book and was very serious, staring straight ahead. What a thrill for parents and grandparents alike! I thought of Mom and Dad and how proud they would be.
The part of the service where parishioners are asked to greet each other produced the thrill of a lifetime. I was shaking hands with the gentleman in the pew behind me, when I felt an arm reaching across my back. I turned to see Tory giving me a hug. Brad and Duncan were with her. Graham was helping the minister still on the altar. The other three had come down to give me a hug and greet the rest of the family. I’ll carry that memory with me forever!
Rector Folts remarked that, “now he knew how to get the older parishioners to take seats in the front pews” and mentioned the Rider family fondly.
Easter Sunday was also Dorothy’s 81st birthday. After the church service we read the papers and had breakfast. Daughter Jenny joined us. For Mom’s birthday we drove to Elizabeth’s Restaurant in Madison, CT, for lunch and then Jenny treated us to a great movie “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”
At bedtime, we were really tired from all the day’s activities. I searched the TV for something uplifting to watch. Dorothy was fast falling asleep. I found nothing and was about to turn the TV off. I tried one last time and came across the movie “Easter Parade” with Fred Astaire and Judy Garland and fell asleep watching the dancing and listening to the happy music.
The end of a perfect day!
The older I get, the more convinced I become, that family is absolutely THE most important thing in life.
Part Deux: Emotions Highs and Low
Easter, April 5th, was such a sparkling day, one that I had written about, and was waiting to post. The warm memories still brightened my days. April 5th is Dorothy’s birthday.
Two days later, Dorothy and I drove to Evergreen Woods, a Lifetime Care Retirement Community in Branford, CT, for my after-dinner talk about Retirement, highlighting my book, “The Rogue’s Road to Retirement.” Daughter Jenny joined us at dinner and helped Lauren Agnelli, Vibrant Living Director, set me up for the lecture and reading.
The program was well received. A great moment occurred as we were setting up in the auditorium waiting for the audience to appear. One of the first to arrive was a guy about my age, no gray hair and a sprightly stride. He approached me and unzipped a cloth valise as he started to introduce himself. He handed me a framed picture of the 1955 Yale lacrosse team and asked if I recognized any of the players. I started naming the front row and suddenly realized that the one holding the picture was Bill Bunnell. I hadn’t seen or talked with him in 60 years. Along with Jim Rutledge, we were the 2nd midfield on a very good Yale team. Bill lives at Evergreen, knew that I had been invited to speak, and told Lauren that he wanted to surprise me. What icing on the cake for a great evening!
Evergreen’s auditorium is well equipped with a first class sound system stage and podium. I talked for 10 minutes about the book and how it came into being, the therapeutic value of writing, the joy of being published and the elixir of acclimation! I read three short chapters, and then fielded questions with Jenny’s help. We closed with a writing exercise, by asking anyone interested to write a page or two on their very first memory as a child or describe an article on their desk or night table that has a particular significance.
Then one by one the writers who participated read their work aloud to applause. Those who did participate thanked us later for the opportunity.
At the end of the program, I headed for the Men’s room at the back of the auditorium, opened the door and suddenly realized that my mike was still on. Slightly in extremis, I pivoted and caught Jenny’s eye pantomiming my predicament. She went into gales of laughter and proceeded to turn the damned thing off. Thank God!!
Dorothy was sitting a few feet away next to a very sharp lady who turned to her and said, “Tell him not to worry. We won’t listen!!” What a great evening!
The wonderful stretch from Easter Sunday through the Evergreen evening was about to be shattered. Dorothy and I arrived home from Branford still buzzing from the evening. I checked my emails. The second one started, “Sad News From Andover” reporting on the deaths of two wonderful Andover classmates, and football fellow linemen, Hall Higgins and Lloyd Cutting. That was April 7th.
April 8th brought the equally sad news that hometown friend and Yale classmate John Kousi had passed away. (John was Captain of the Yale wrestling team).
Later we learned of the passing of Betty Bevan, a wonderful lady we had met when we moved here 6 years ago. Betty and her husband Bill had become friends from the time of our arrival.
As class secretary of Andover ’51, reporting the deaths of classmates is an onerous task. John Scheiwe acknowledged my email reporting on the death’s of Hal Higgins and Lloyd Cutting with the following reflection, “The sun takes a reasonable time to set, but set it does.”
One other item occupied, those10 days, this one with a happier ending. We finished gathering and assembling the 2014 tax data and mailed the information to our tax accountant 4/1/2015, for delivery 4/3/2015 with tracking number. I called our accountant on the 3rd to make sure that it had arrived as trying to use the tracker on the computer or talk to someone at USPS was impossible. The accountant had not received our package. I called again on the 6th, still no package. I spoke with a gruff local post office manager, who advised that I wait another day. He informed me that in all probability, my tax information had been damaged and that Homeland had ordered the Post Office to shred all mail that was damaged or the address rendered illegible. With this chilling admonition ringing in my ears, and my red hair bringing me to a fast boil, all I could think of then and for several days later was the work Dorothy and I had done chasing down missing 1099’s and all the items needed to complete the 2015 tax forms, all being shredded and how we would have to start from scratch. What a mess!
Our account immediately filed an extension, a pleasant and diligent lady at the local post office worked to trace the errant package. I was still cursing under my breath and steaming at another government agency gone amok. Between the IRS and the USPS I was fast losing hope!!
With the phone calls I was making to retrieve 1099’s, the accountant filing for an extension and Dorothy and I beginning to reassemble documentation for all necessary items needed for filing, and thoughts of our previous labors being mangled in a shreder, my mood changed from Easter eve’s nostalgia and joy to dark thoughts of punitive retribution or worse!
Around noon the following day, Mary Ann from the accounting firm called to say that they had just received our tax documents, “overnighted” on 4/1/2015. The joy of the news was tempered by the aggravation that the delay had caused, but at least there was something to cheer about.
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
My rebuttal, “Yes, but on the upside: there’s still always writing, spring and my beloved Black Seal.”