Preparing for an Easter brunch with friends prompted my neurons to pull up a memory. I was young, in my crewcut years. Honing in on the period, I was living in Wilkinsburg, PA, attending Turner Elementary School on Laketon Road, and going to my grandparents’ house in Irwin for Easter. So, it was 1964 and I was seven going on eight.
Dad was in Turkey or Greece on military assignment. He and Mom were divorced, and she was now a single mother working as a Bell Telephone operator, raising me and two sisters. I was the middle in this child sandwich. Mom and my Dad’s parents coordinated an Easter visit, probably so Mom could work the holiday and get the extra pay. She went all out that year, buying us new Easter clothes. It was a suit for me – blue and cream houndstooth jacket with a smart dark blue vest which matched my dark blue pants. I wore a clip-on tie. Black and white photographic evidence exists somewhere, but they’re in boxes on shelves in the garage that require an expedition along the lines of an archaeological expedition looking for a lost civilization, so it’ll need to hold for another day. On that Easter morning, we found three enormous baskets waiting for us. We were spoiled children, so there were large chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, peeps, marshmallow eggs, hard-boiled eggs which we’d dyed the day before, and a large coconut chocolate egg, all in pink, yellow, and green baskets with fake green grass made out of fine, shiny plastic. After discovering our baskets, we hunted for eggs around the apartment and then dressed in our new duds. My Uncle Bill, Dad’s youngest brother, picked us up in his brown Plymouth Fury and conveyed us to grandma and grandpa’s where we dined with all the area aunts, uncles, and cousins. Grandpa prepared his favorite, a ham. He baked one whenever he had a chance. (Uncle Bill would trade in that Fury in a few years and buy a year-old dark green Dodge Charger that had me and my friends drooling on its vinyl bucket seats. It was such a cool car.)
Mom joined us after dinner. The adults told us to go play or watch television while they gathered in the dining room for card games, focusing on the traditional family favorite, Tripoli. They were all smoking back then – Pall Mall, Lucky Strike, Kent, Kool. Several adults enjoyed beer such as American lagers like Iron City and Stroh’s, but whiskey sours were also very popular.
Yes, it’s my favorite memory. Smelling a Pall Mall or one of those other cigarettes whisks me right back there. It’s rare that such smoke touches my nose in these days. As for those beers, I found them light and tasteless. Over in Japan, I often indulged in beer from Australia and New Zealand. In Europe, I drank whatever was brewed in that country, but they had some excellent offerings everywhere. By the time I returned to the US, the craft brew industry was booming.
Today, though, brunch with friends outside, with the sun shining and laughter ringing across the yard, will be another favorite memory. Another favorite, but of another kind. Nobody smoked cigarettes. No alcohol was consumed. A potluck brunch, salmon was served with grilled asparagus along with several sorts of potato dishes, delicious quiches, fruit salad, and cinnamon muffins.
It’s a long, long way from Pittsburgh, PA, in 1965 to Ashland, OR, 2022.