Easter at Ned’s and Ethel’s By Bill Minus

Vintage department store Easter marketing card from J.W. LeMaistre of N. Eighth Street, Philadelphia. Source: thegraphicsfairy.com.

Easter at my grandparents’, Ethel and Ned’s house, was one of the big four holidays I looked forward to every year–Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and, though not really a holiday, Summer, when my cousins visited.

Like Summer, Easter brought a lot of cousins to visit. The Odell family lived about three hours away and were always there. Billy, one of my dad’s sisters, and her husband, Hank, had two daughters the same ages as my brother and me– Brother Ed and Henrietta/ Cynthia and me.

I remember my dad looking forward to Hank’s visits. I was still young, but their friendship was something I still remember and smile about. They were our Laurel and Hardy and kept us all laughing. They were brothers-in-law and also friends, in the true sense of the word.

When the Odell family arrived, usually on Saturday, Easter weekend officially began. Preparations had, however, been going on for several days before. Other cousins, the yankee bunch, had already arrived by train. Clements had delivered groceries. Ethel had been boiling dozens of eggs for us to dye on Saturday afternoon. We were ready for the big Easter egg hunt on Sunday.

The Presbyterian Church was just across the street and half a block away. All the cousins were dressed and hustled off to Sunday school and church under the supervision of a couple of aunts. My dad, Hank and Ned hid the eggs in the backyard while Ethel and my mom finished off the dinner.

As soon as church was out, we ran down the street like a bunch of wild Indians. Our Easter baskets were lined up on the front porch and after a lecture on being careful with our church clothes and to “stay out of Ned’s garden and barn,” we headed for the backyard. There were prizes, usually candy, in two different age groups–for finding the most eggs and, of course, the Golden Egg. The hunt was always over too soon, but, by that time, we were all ready to eat.

Egg roll on the White House lawn, circa 1929. Source: wikipedia.org.

We kids had looked forward to the big egg hunt, but everyone was looking forward to Easter dinner. There was a long dining room table. One end was pushed up to a window that opened onto the back porch. A table on the porch- side of the window was set-up for the children. Conversation and food passed back and forth through the window.

Ethel did most of the cooking, but I remember aunts and uncles pitching in, trying to show off their kitchen skills. Ethel would only put up with so much confusion and then it was “Everyone out”–except my mother.

Chicken perlo (pronounced and spelled several different ways) was the main dish every year. It is a southern specialty as varied as its spelling. Even in the hardest times, rice was plentiful and inexpensive. Almost anything else could be used in the preparation. In the past, if times were good, it would be chicken. If families were struggling, it might be squirrel, rabbit, waterfowl or any game bird. Cheap cuts of pork were sometimes used. On the coast, shrimp or crab was often used.

Ethel made hers with chicken, mushrooms, onions and celery. The other main dish would be a large sugar-cured ham that my dad or Hank carved. There were always big bowls of bright green English peas, potato salad, pickled peaches and platters of deviled eggs, and hot biscuits or yeast rolls. All were passed family style–left to right–around the table, out the window and back in.

Aunt Billy always brought the best coconut cream pies from the bakery in their hometown of Edgefield, South Carolina. They were sliced and served by the piece.

After dinner, the men stayed around the table swapping stories and lighting up cigarettes, one after another, while Ned puffed on his pipe at the head of the table. The women cleared the table and retreated to the kitchen–bragging on their children, gossiping and washing the dishes.

We cousins were allowed to change out of our church clothes and get down to serious playing. We were soon in the backyard taking turns hiding and finding the eggs again. There were always a few never found, but smelled later in the summer.

By late afternoon, the Odell family piled back in their car for the trip home. The other cousins might leave the next day or soon after, depending on their spring vacation.

Be careful, it’s not over yet. Please get those shots–Everyone!

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