Sunday, March 27, 2005

Easter Bonnets

"In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it,
You'll be the grandest lady in the Easter Parade.
I'll be all in clover and when they look you over,
I'll be the proudest fellow in the Easter Parade.
On the avenue, Fifth Avenue, the photographers will snap us,
And you'll find that you're in the rotogravure.
Oh, I could write a sonnet about your Easter bonnet,
And of the girl I'm taking to the Easter Parade."
Irving Berlin

My sister found the box with our Easter bonnets in the closet of the room we shared as children. The two hats were packed in tissue paper. I am sure the box was tied with white string, although she didn't say. She had been in a lot of interesting boxes in that closet Wednesday, finding many sentimental gems.

In this photo from Easter 1960 I'm wearing a little blue hat with flowers and an itchy net tie that made a big bow under my chin. I think the dress is coral pink with little bees on it. I'm not wearing the matching coat, though. The hat might have been a gift from my maternal grandmother. I say that because it was not something my mom would have chosen for my coloring, but Effa Dale liked blues and lavenders. My brother wears a little blue cap. He is two, and I am almost five. We are holding the begonias given to children at First Plymouth Congregational in the hallway after the Easter service. Just thinking of it brings the scent of clay pots with nursery dirt, the feel of purple florist foil paper, and the sound of high heels on the stone floor of the hallway. My sister was only seven months old.

Over the phone she tells me how the hats are still in perfect condition, then surprises me by saying she was always so envious of my Easter bonnet. That blue hat with the big bow became HERS, probably by Easter 1961. I reverted to my original bonnet, which looked like a one-layer round cake frosted in fancy pleats of white chiffon, and accented with black velvet ties. The ties were more like a stuffed cord than a ribbon.

The neighbor girls told me my hat wasn't a real and proper Easter hat, as it wasn't straw, pastel, ribboned, or flowered. I was always very self-conscious wearing it, and secretly wished I could wear the more normal blue hat with flowers. My sister wore the blue hat because she got blue eyes, and I wore the black and white hat because I didn't. That was how I saw it. I think it was also that she had such a square jaw as a little kid that the big bow was pretty darling softening the bossy look.

How strange. I always thought I was the sister who had to wear pink because I didn't look good enough in blue. "Purple and blue," Mom told me, "accentuate the dark circles under your eyes." Turquoise was the only blue for me.

There was one Easter when we didn't wear the bonnets. Mom made us look-alike spring coats with little hats that looked like inverted tulips. Mary Jane's was light blue, of course. Mine was a pale yellow. I only remember the coat in black and white like a photo, but I know it was yellow because my Barbie had a coat made from the yellow scraps. Barbie didn't get a tulip hat, probably because of her bouffant hairdo.

For most of my adult life I refused to wear pink in passive-aggressive rebellion. I shied away from turquoise and coral even though I know they do look good on me. I was leery of blues and florals, and avoided purples like the plague. Stripes and plaids, red and greens were what I chose. What strange and ancient limitations we hold tight! I'm breaking free slowly. Nearly fifty, I bought a pink striped shirt, and a blue floral one. What distances over insecurities and old envies...

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