Easter has always seemed to me to be a mystical holiday. We have the darkness of Good Friday, the quiet of Holy Saturday, and then the glorious brightness of Easter. Growing up, my whole family would attend the 9 a.m. Mass at St. Mary’s, Star of the Sea, in City Island. Even my father, who normally went to 6:30 a.m. Mass by himself on Sunday mornings, or so we thought.
I found it odd that on Easter, when Dad joined us at Mass, no one seemed to know him. The other fathers didn’t greet him as they did each other, and he was never asked to be an usher. As we got older we learned that dear old Dad had never gone to that early-morning Mass, but instead sat in the Orchard Beach parking lot with a sweet roll and coffee and the Sunday Daily News.
My siblings and I found out later in life that my father had a lot of secrets, and not going to church was the least of them. The subway secret was the classic, though, and involved another woman.
My parents’ marriage was a struggle for both of them and ended in divorce. But there was a time when we would all sit together and watch the nightly news on television. Once, when we were watching during a crippling New York City subway strike, my mother jumped up and changed the channel. Not fast enough. We saw our father standing on a subway platform with another woman, someone we had never seen before. That was interesting.
Other childhood secrets that have nothing to do with my father continue to haunt me at Easter. I grew up in a mostly Catholic neighborhood, and the parish was a very active part of our lives. One year at Easter, a friend told us that she had to go to church on the Saturday afternoon before Easter Sunday and walk around the church, by herself, three times, and stand on the cement steps for a few seconds each time. She confided in us, her gullible girlfriends, that she had to do this. We could come if we stayed inside, but we couldn’t ask any questions and we weren’t allowed to tell anybody she was doing this.
We were very young, I’m thinking maybe 10 to 12 years old, and this great mystery fueled our imaginations, especially because we were all reading the old Nancy Drew, girl detective, books. I called her on it and accused her of making up this ritual, but she insisted it was something her parents made her do.
I don’t know that she did this every year, because we dumped her from our circle of friends soon afterward. She was just too strange. She wasn’t a particularly pretty girl, so I think she tried to wrap herself in a cloak of intrigue to seem more alluring to the local boys, most of whom were buck-toothed and dirty, as in not washed every day. It didn’t work, because we never told them about her — mainly because we forgot about it as soon as we went home to color eggs.
I’m reminded of this episode every year at about this time. I wonder what happened to her. If she’s not in the loony bin she might still be walking in and out of churches searching for the light. Or, she could have become a nun and the whole thing was a type of ritual that we knew nothing about.
It no longer matters. But to me, it’s still one of the great mysteries of Easter.
Janis Hewitt is a senior writer for The Star and its Montauk correspondent.