It was Good Friday. Afternoon. The 1970s. My cousin, Jed, and I were sitting at the table, painting Easter eggs in Grandma Mac's kitchen. We occasionally looked back through the living room passage way where her Admiral box TV, a black and white early '60s model with a big fat gold-colored round knob, was tuned to The Flintsones. Grandma was drinking coffee, made from a metal percolator on her gas stove, white as the kitchen walls. Jed and I were drinking Kool-aid from wooden cups with ice cubes inside that came from metal trays.
Earlier that afternoon, I'd cried like a baby when I dropped the Easter egg I'd painted on to the sidewalk, shattering it into a million little pieces. I had painted it in Mrs. Alley's kindergarten class at Hattie O' Mattfield Elementary in my hometown of Jett, Kan. (pop. 4,000 in the '70s) My mom, sitting at the wheel of her fire brick colored Ford Pinto, tried to console me. "It wasn't a real egg. It was just an egg shell," she said. But that was all forgotten and I was happy again as I sat in my grandma's kitchen, applying colored dye to eggs. Somehow, the table conversation turned to my cousin explaining the Easter holiday to me. Jed was a month older than me, hence bigger, tougher and smarter. I deferred to him.
"You see, Jeff, Easter is when Jesus died," Jed said.
"No, Easter is when he arose," Grandma corrected.
"Oh yeah," Jed said. "Easter is when Jesus rose." from the grave
Years later, I would learn how Easter eggs, like the Easter bunny, originated in pagan fertility religions and were incorporated by the Christians. The eggs came to symbolize an empty tomb.
A couple of days after we painted the eggs, on Easter, Grandma would hide them outside and us kids would go looking all over her big yard for them. Later that Sunday, my siblings and I would do the same thing at my grandma and grandpa Guy's house in Marshallville, Kan. (pop. 700)
I guess it's significant to add that in those years of what the psychological experts call "middle childhood," I became a Christian. In Sunday school at the Bible Baptist Church when we sang "come into my heart, Lord Jesus," boy, I meant it. I was never any model kid and after a week of mischief at school and home, it seemed like I was always playing catch-up on Sunday mornings, but there was no doubt I was Baptist, I was Christian, I'd accepted Jesus into my heart and that was that.
"Okay, I shouldn't speak so profane and hateful especially on Good Friday," I said, while drinking a Guinness Stout.
(But hey, that's what I come to the bar for, right?)
"There's a guy out there in the ether. I've heard it said that in another world we might be friends and have a few beers together. Maybe go fishing. But this is the real world and I hate the motherf___ with every last fiber of my being."
Then after telling my friend, Janie, how I was mad as piss, I said I had an idea for a blog post.
"But I'll have to wait a few days after Easter to publish it 'cuz what I got on my mind ain't nothin' holy," I told her. I was almost bragging. Like I was going to spew out some lurid tale of sex and drugs.
"You know I'll read it," she said.
Janie has a special place in my heart because she's a big fan of this blog. In hindsight, her praise of me just makes me feel more guilty. Writing -- not even the praise you get from people, but the technical act, itself -- is ego food, a mood accelerator. A writer has to be careful not to live off that, to know there's more to life and to be straight in his, or her, mental health.
The next morning, I went on Maggie's Facebook page, said I felt better and that I didn't want to be a hater. I'm glad there's non-judgmental people at Maggie's. I made jokes that night to Maggie about how I'd have to do penance like saying Hail Marys, drinking Shirley Temples or something.
Maggie is fourth or fifth-generation Irish-American and a devout Catholic. Her ancestors settled in the East Coast, but through migration, as people are apt to do, she came to be born in the San Joaquin Valley of Northern California. She got an associate's degree in business from Bakersfield College and after living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, she wound up owning a bar in Wichita, Kan. When she started brewing her own beer in the back of the bar, Maggie invited Father Kelly from the Wichita Catholic Diocese to say a blessing over the stainless steel vessel with the decorative copper. I wrote a 12-inch piece about the event freelance for the entertainment/lifestyle section of The Wichita Eagle.
The father sprinkled holy water over the vessel and bowed his head in prayer. "Our Father, we thank you for the blessings of this beer for the refreshment of our souls."
Help me in my weakness
My ex-wife, Maria, private messaged me Saturday. It was in the 3 p.m. hour. She told me I needed to download the app to NewSpring, a non-traditional, megachurch on the east side of Wichita and listen to Senior Pastor Mark Hoover's Easter sermon. He gives about five sermons in a row to different crowds on Saturday afternoon/evenings and Sunday mornings.
Pastor Hoover talked about the Disciple Thomas, also known, probably unfairly, as Doubting Thomas because after Christ rose from the dead, the disciple said he wouldn't believe it until he touched the holes in his hands and on his side.
I'd stopped going to church by the time I was in junior high. My friend at school, Conner, used to try to get me to go back, but I didn't care for it at the time. If anyone led me back to God and the church, it was Maria.
She worked in the Jett Public Library when I met her. I used to hang out there all the time in those days. One day while there, I picked up a Bible -- I'm sure it was more for educational than spiritual reasons. Next, Maria walked by to stack books when she caught me sobbing in the back of the library. I told her how I'd read that verse, Mark 14:65.
Some began to spit at Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him with their fists, and to say to Him, "Prophesy!" And the officers received Him with slaps in the face.
"How could anyone be so cruel?" I said.
"Come to church with me, Jeff," she said intently, looking deep in my eyes.
Maria has long forgotten about that exchange, but I remember it as vividly as if it happened 10 seconds ago.
Years later, I would feel like Judas Iscariot. Fighting these horrific, hellish temptations to cheat on my wife. I was driving in the 500 block of North Woodlawn in Wichita just before the Central intersection, telling it on my phone to my sportswriter friend, Seth. As always, he was calming.
"Well, you're a Christian, Jeff," he said.
Flash forward again to this weekend. I didn't feel like a Christian after I'd shown anger and hatred at Maggie's pub. It's not the way I want people to see me. I'd say I'm mostly a mild spirited person, but when I do lose my temper, it's pretty bad. It's one of my biggest downfalls. There's those verses in the Gospels about how a good tree bears good fruit, a bad tree bears bad fruit and how the world will know you're a Christ follower if you have love for people. I do love people, I really do. I'm really sorry I have these problems with anger and jealousy. I'll never stop striving to do better.
I received a text message from Maggie, Easter Sunday.
"You know you're forgiven," she said.
Jesus -- Glen Campbell