Tag Archives: Easter

Exceeding Expectations–Three Score Years and Eleven

Exceeding Expectations: Three Score Years and Eleven    —by Jinny Batterson

My birthday happens this month.  As I age, the years tend to go by more and more quickly. Overall, it’s been a marvelous ride so far. 

Having a spring birthday is a quirk of my arrival on earth for which I’m very grateful—spring is generally such a hopeful time of year.  Most of my birthdays have long since slipped out of memory, though a few have associations that persist: 

—my 5th birthday, the first after the birth of my younger sister, when my mother staged outdoor scavenger games in our small yard. The weather was wonderfully warm and sunny; several friends came to enjoy prizes and homemade birthday cake. For one glorious day, I didn’t have to share the limelight with the cute, dimpled new baby.

—my 11th birthday, the final year I spent in the cramped first house our family lived in, before moving to a much larger house that summer.

—my 21st birthday, when I was nearly finished college and got engaged over my birthday weekend to my future husband.

—my 30th birthday, when I was pregnant with our younger child, and we staged an “over the hill party” with friends and colleagues.

—my 50th birthday, when our children were both grown and living elsewhere and I treated myself to a decadent chocolate cake.

At the time I was born, between 1940 and 1950, life expectancy for white women was between 67 and 72 years, increasing each decade. The small liberal arts school I was attending when my twentieth birthday arrived had a college springtime tradition: attaching short poems to a weeping cherry tree in front of an ivy-festooned brick classroom building. Often a handwritten copy of A.E. Housman’s “Loveliest of Trees” was among the offerings:

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

Back then three score years and ten seemed impossibly old—older even than my parents, aunts, and uncles in our long-generation family.

In the part of North Carolina where I now live, early spring days in 2018 have seen more than one frosting of actual snow, so warmer days and cherry trees hung with blooms are most welcome.  In our woodlands, white-blossomed cherries share center stage with white and pink dogwoods plus redbud trees whose smallish flowers are more pink than red. Along major roads and interstates this year, an extensive array of big, blowsy lavender wisteria clusters has draped adjacent trees. 

And I’ve had the chance to watch the “woodland ride” now for threescore years and eleven—a wonderful bonus. Happy springtime, y’all, wherever you spend it!       

Teaching about Easter in Zhengzhou, China

Teaching About Easter in Zhengzhou, China  —by Jinny Batterson

By now, I’ve spent several springtimes in various parts of China. In most places, I’ve not been very aware of Easter. Christianity is not a strong part of Chinese tradition, and at certain times and places the modern Chinese government has discouraged or even banned celebrations of the Easter holiday. Of course, most of our Easter decorations are made in China. In 2018, over 200 Chinese companies manufactured or distributed Easter decorations —might a bit of the festival’s flavor rub off on factory workers who fashion bunnies and candy and greeting cards? 

The first time I taught English in China, in 2002 in the central provincial capital of Zhengzhou, Henan, I happened to be there when Western Easter fell. Easter Sunday would occur about midway through the several weeks I spent at a private high school that specialized in preparing students for advanced study overseas. The previous week, I’d noticed that the city’s most upscale hotel had a rain-resistant outdoor display of larger than life bunnies and decorated plastic eggs. 

“Aha,” I thought, “an intercultural teaching opportunity!” 

Not wanting to be viewed as a religious proselytizer, something uniformly frowned on by Chinese authorities, I scoured the city’s markets and stores for the more secular accoutrements of this springtime festival, with help and advice from the school principal’s wife. After several shopping expeditions, I’d scrounged up jelly beans and chocolate bunnies, plus fabric, poster paper, glue, staples, and fake flowers to make Easter bonnets. I scheduled a “foreign teacher’s Sunday afternoon Easter social” for one of the larger indoor classrooms and publicized the event to all my classes and to the school staff. Although Sunday was not an official teaching day, the social drew the majority of my students,  plus a few of the Chinese teachers and staff.

“Many American towns,” I explained, “hold afternoon Easter parades. Everyone is glad when the weather turns pleasant after the chill of winter. People dress in their finest spring clothes, including elaborate flowered hats for the women. Sometimes people bring their dogs along and put costumes on them, too. In my city of Richmond, Virginia, people walk up and down about a mile of a major street which has been temporarily closed to automobile traffic. They show off their fine outfits and greet their neighbors.”

Some of the Zhengzhou teen girl students crafted elaborate flowered hats. The most chic pretended that our room’s center aisle was a fashion runway. Some English got spoken, if the conversations rarely moved much beyond the level of “Nice hat!” All the candy and snacks got eaten.

This year I’m spending springtime in the U.S.  Easter is fast approaching. I miss the pageantry and excitement that I’ve usually noticed in previous years spent in America.  The Christian message of forgiveness and redemption seems notably absent—we often are too busy sniping and snarling at each other, discussing the latest scandals on social media and rarely talking with our physical neighbors.  I wonder sometimes whether my Zhengzhou students might have been closer to the spirit of Easter than our purportedly Christian-majority U.S. has become.  How would it be to put aside our perceived differences and to take an afternoon stroll together? Even if our conversations rarely get beyond “Nice hat!”, perhaps we could make a start toward healing some of our self-inflicted societal fractures. 

My Cousin Bill

My Cousin Bill       —by Jinny Batterson

This time of year I often think about my cousin Bill. Bill was a cousin-by-marriage, wed for nearly thirty years to my mother’s second cousin Jen. Before I remember meeting Bill, I met the small “gentleman’s farm” that he and Jen owned in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. One summer in my young teens, I spent nearly a week at their place on a return visit after their only daughter Grace came to stay at our much smaller homestead in the suburban fringes of Washington, D.C.   Bill and Jen’s place wasn’t near any large city. Their farm of a hundred acres or so had a small herd of beef cattle and was way out in the country. The closest town of any size was the college town of Lexington, Virginia, about twenty miles away. What I mainly remember of that visit was not Bill or Jen, but how scared I was of Grace’s two horses, huge animals compared with the dogs and cats at our house. Over the course of my visit, I managed only one brief ride on the gentler and smaller of the two mounts.

Several years later, Bill and Jen came to Maryland for my grandmother’s funeral. As they gave me a ride from the cemetery back to our house in their car, I got my first direct exposure to Bill, who regaled us with stories about Granny and how much she’d enjoyed racy anecdotes, despite her somewhat stern Presbyterian upbringing.

A couple of years after that, as Grace went off to university in Atlanta, I began attending a small women’s liberal arts college near the Shenandoah Valley. Once I got access to a vehicle at school, I went to visit Bill and Jen, driving my little car through the verdant countryside of a Virginia spring to their front gate. Bill welcomed me and gave me a house and garden tour while Jen fixed lunch. He’d filled the walls in their parlor with “ancestors,” a portrait collection of Indians and Africans decked out in ceremonial dress, plus assorted other individuals that were no biological relation, but struck Bill as having character.  He’d made up stories about each one. Outdoors, in one of their several flower beds, Bill pointed out the “night-blooming enuresis,” a yucca to which he’d attached the label for childhood bedwetting as a joke on some of the snootier but vocabulary-limited ladies of the local garden club.

Later, when I began seriously dating a young man who was a student at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, I brought Jim with me to meet my sensible cousin Jen and her eccentric husband Bill.  Bill and Jen would invite us to their place every couple of months. Bill entertained us with more stories, while both he and Jen plied us with home cooked meals more varied and nutritious than we’d get at the cheaper town restaurants that were our typical date-night fare.  I began noticing the extensive collection of fine china and cutlery that filled a long wall of cupboards in their remodeled kitchen. Only gradually did it slip out that Bill had inherited a large fortune from his now-deceased parents. It also gradually slipped out that Bill was a gentleman alcoholic as well as a gentleman farmer. He was generally good at staying away from drink, but every year or two his disease would get the best of him. Neighbors knew to phone Jen and to manage to get Bill home from wherever he’d fallen off the wagon.

When Jim and I got engaged in the spring of 1968, Bill wanted to throw us an engagement party. The party didn’t happen—coordinating schedules for our out-of-town families proved too complicated—but Jim and I continued occasional visits to the farm. Early that December, I completed my undergraduate schooling and moved home to Maryland to begin graduate work and start planning our wedding. We’d get married in the chapel at Washington and Lee the next spring. Of course we’d invite Bill and Jen.

In January 1969, we got word that Bill was seriously ill.  He’d been feeling a little rundown when we’d last seen him in the fall. Jen eventually nagged him into seeing a doctor. The diagnosis was dire—acute leukemia. At first I was sure Bill would bounce back, his wealth giving him access to the best medical care money could by. However, later news from the farm was not good.  About ten days before the wedding, I talked by phone with Jen, who explained that Bill was quite weak and no longer able to drive, but that she’d do her best to arrange a driver to bring them to the small college chapel where our ceremony would be held.

Our Saturday wedding day dawned clear, but brisk and windy. Once or twice during the early afternoon ceremony, I looked around to see whether Bill and Jen had slipped in at the back of the chapel, but they never appeared. Our simple wedding was followed by an equally simple reception at the college’s alumni house. By mid-afternoon, the festivities were over. Our best man retrieved our car. Despite his best efforts to hide it, it had been festooned with shave cream slogans and peppered with jelly beans. We drove back toward Maryland at a leisurely pace, with no extensive honeymoon in prospect, but no work or school until the following Monday. At the turn-off to Bill and Jen’s, I hesitated. Would they welcome a short visit?  We decided to try it—Bill and Jen hadn’t come to the wedding, but the wedding could sort of come to them.

We knew by now to ignore the “Unruly Dog” sign at the gate. We went straight to the front door and knocked. Jen opened it. We could see Bill, wheelchair bound, behind her in the parlor, along with a neighbor who’d come to help with nursing and provide support for Jen.

“Howdy,” Bill croaked, his voice weak and slightly slurred. “It’s so good to see you. I’m sorry we couldn’t make it to Lexington. The powers that be (here he nodded at Jen and the neighbor) forbid me to go out into the wind.”

He had a small tumbler of whiskey in one hand—one side-effect of his disease was the capacity to absorb alcohol without the likelihood he’d do any further damage to himself or others.  We chitchatted for a few minutes, but could see he was very tired, though glad we’d come.

“Y’all go on now,” he said. “I expect you have other things on your minds than visiting with your old cousins.”

We left.  A few weeks later we got news that Bill had died. When we first learned of Bill’s leukemia, Mom told us that Bill had lost his first wife to a different, but equally aggressive cancer, a number of years before he met Jen. He was no stranger to death.

It’s early spring again. Easter and our wedding anniversary are not far off. The slopes of the Blue Ridge mountains in Virginia will soon be filled with redbud and dogwood blossoms, and the pale, almost iridescent green of newly sprouted leaves—nature resurrecting herself. I don’t reflect all that much about death, afterlife, or resurrection, but I often remember Bill, especially at this time of year. I think perhaps it’s enough that Bill, and others like him, live on in the memories of those whose lives they touched.

Easter Finery

Easter Finery    –by Jinny Batterson

(The most openly egotistical of the writings on this blog so far, this prose poem celebrates my April 8 birthday. )

People tell me I was due to be born on Easter Sunday. I was late–by the time I put in my appearance, it was early morning two days later.  I don’t remember ever seeing a snapshot of myself newborn; hospitals in those days contented themselves with vital signs and footprints. Photography had not yet invaded the nursery. The earliest picture of me in our family annals is one my father took about six months later.  I was outdoors, sitting up sturdily  in an old-fashioned baby carriage, wearing a decidedly sour expression beneath my sunbonnet.  A spring or so after that, Dad posed Mom and me, dressed in our Easter finery, among blooming irises.  For that picture, I almost cracked a smile.

Once I got old enough to sing in the choir in the small Episcopal church in our smallish town, I would sometimes, during boring sermons or lulls in the service, check the chart of Easter’s variable dates in the back of the Book of Common Prayer, hunting for when my birthday would fall on Easter.  Bummer!  It would take me into my seventh decade before my April birthday and Easter coincided. Being born two days late had cost me.

Years later, traveling in Japan, I learned that my birthday there is celebrated  as the Buddha’s birthday, every year.  I relish the idea of sharing a birthday with a jolly-looking, rotund, aging Eastern sage.  Having an Easter birthday occasionally is fun, too.  So when I can, I  celebrate the spring with Buddha, with flowers, with Easter finery, and with a wide smile for the camera.