Mister Boomer’s Easter Flashback

As aging boomers can attest now that six-to-seven decades have elapsed in our existence, there are plenty of flashback memories from which to choose on any occasion. This week, as another Easter season passes, Mister B was transported to the early 1960s. The flashback in question concerned his father and attending church on Easter Sunday.

Lent, that 40-day period set aside before Easter for personal reflection and to ask for forgiveness for past transgressions, is also a time when many Christians “give up” something as a symbolic sacrifice for the season. It was encouraged in Mister Boomer’s parochial school, though not particularly practiced among the schoolchildren, who tended to offer up something that wasn’t that much of a problem for them to do without for a month and a half.

Mister Boomer’s family practiced the no-meat-on-Fridays rule, but other than that, it was not typical for family members to discuss “giving up” something for Lent. So it was with great surprise that one year, his father announced he was giving up cigarettes for Lent. Mister B recalls his mother reacting with skepticism. After all, Mister B’s dad had a two-pack-a day habit at the time. Yet he was resolute. From that day forward, he did not smoke, at least around the family.

If you’ve read Mister Boomer’s posts for any length of time, you know his feelings on smoking. There was nothing about it that Mister B could tolerate, even as a child. So cutting the cloud of smoke in the home (or car!) by half for a few weeks was more than welcome.

So it was, as Lent went on, his father held out while his mother continued to spew smoke. Unfortunately for Mister Boomer, though, Lent does not last forever. Easter Sunday was fast approaching, and Mister B and his siblings wondered what would happen to their father’s pledge. They would not wait long to find out.

On Easter Sunday, the family drove to attend services, parking in the smaller of the two parking lots that abutted the church. It was the early 1960s, and church attendance was at its highest, especially on major religious holidays. Securing a good parking spot was crucial to getting the rest of the day underway, lest extra time be spent in trying to exit.

After the service, Mister B’s parents shuffled the kids along so the family would be in the car and ready as soon as an opportunity to leave appeared. Mister Boomer cannot recall the reason for the rush, but more than likely it was the fact that a visit to both grandmothers would ensue, which meant two Easter dinners awaited that afternoon.

As the brisk pace brought the family to the church doors, Mister B saw his father reach into his suit jacket pocket and pull out a new pack of Lucky Strikes. As soon as he crossed the threshold and was outside, a cigarette was in his mouth and being lit with his Zippo lighter. He did not even wait to get to the car. Cigarette lit, Mister B’s father took a long drag and began coughing, though he never stopped the family’s brisk pace to the car. He coughed and coughed, but the cigarette remained in his mouth. There was the answer Mister B dreaded; his father would smoke again.

In fact, Mister Boomer’s father did continue to smoke for another three decades after that Easter Sunday. Still, for forty smoke-free days from his father, Mister Boomer had a moment to catch his breath.

Was giving something up for Lent part of your Easter tradition, Boomers?

More Easter reading from Mister B:
Boomers Loved Their Chocolate Easter Bunnies
Our Sunday Best for Easter

Boomers Dyed Their Easter Eggs

This week’s flashback is brought to you by Easter. We’ve talked before about how Easter has changed through the years since baby boomers were young, especially in terms of fashions (Our Sunday Best for Easter). Yet there’s one aspect of Easter that has hardly changed at all through the decades: the tradition of dyeing Easter eggs. The concept was easy enough: boil vinegar and water and mix with a colorant, dip boiled eggs in until the desired color was obtained. In the early days a wide variety of vegetables or plants could be used as colorants.

The practice was probably brought to the New World by Eastern European immigrants in the 1700s. It was a New Jersey drug store owner, William Townley, who worked out a process in the late 1800s to make the dyeing of Easter eggs easier. Selling packets of powdered dye to his customers, the leakage from the medicinal wrapping paper he used quickly became too much to deal with, so Mr. Townley moved his packaging to the store’s basement. Before long he wanted a way to dispose of the dye packet — and its mess — entirely, and he experimented with creating a dye tablet.

Having successfully created and sold dye tablets at his own store and to other druggists, Townley incorporated the PAAS Dye Company in 1881 to manufacture and distribute his Easter egg dye tablets. He took his company name from the Dutch word for Easter, Paasdag. PAAS made the tablets in five colors, and even though it was a seasonal business, ran its factory year ’round to meet demand.

No one liked hard-boiled eggs in Mister B’s family, except his mother, so Easter egg dyeing was kept to a minimum: the number rarely rose above six. Mister Boomer recalls both homemade dyes in his boomer youth, as well as purchases of PAAS dye tablets. His mother would pour a little vinegar in four or five coffee cups, add water that had been boiled in a tea kettle, and then it was the kids’ turn to add a few drops of food coloring as the colorant. The food coloring was left over from making Christmas cookie icing, so there was red, blue, green and yellow. The early days were messy and hot, as Mister B recalls trying to fish a hot egg out of the coffee cup with a tablespoon. Mister B and his siblings would remove the eggs and place them in a bowl to dry, often touching another egg in the process (Ma, he’s touching my egg!). Not an ideal situation.

The PAAS package did make things easier. First, it came with a wire egg dipper that was easy for kids to use. An octagon made from bent wire held the egg in place for its bath, connected to a handle that allowed for easy dunking and lifting from the hot liquid. PAAS went one step further and perforated circles on the back of their package. When the circles were punched out, the resulting hole provided the perfect resting spot for a half-dozen of the hot, wet eggs.

After a few years, each of Mister B’s siblings had their own wire dipper that was kept in the knife drawer from one year to another. PAAS also included a clear wax crayon in the package, so any design drawn on an egg with the wax would resist the dye. Mister B did that on occasion, but preferred to try his hand at two-tone or three-tone eggs by dipping only part at a time.

As was the family tradition, Mister B’s father or mother would hide the eggs for Easter morning. When the family returned from church, the kids would search for the eggs and their Easter Baskets. Inevitably, his mother would ask if all the eggs were found, as a hard-boiled egg left hidden would not remain aroma-free for long. Most years, the eggs were discovered quickly enough, especially once the family got a dog, as hiding places became a bit more limited.

One year, one egg was missing. The bowl set out to hold the colorful seasonal symbols looked forlorn as only five of the eggs had returned to their holiday nest. No child had found it, and Mister B’s parents couldn’t remember where it was hidden. The crisis was averted later that day as Mister B’s mother recalled the hidden location. She cracked an Easter egg to celebrate. The kids munched jelly beans instead.

Was the Easter egg tradition part of your upbringing, boomers?