By Amanda Cleary Eastep
They were Easter to me as a child.
Aunt Millie and Uncle Roy walked into our living room, childless but carrying two Easter baskets wrapped in pink and purple cellophane, the kind of baskets you bought at the store, not the ones you made yourself out of strawberry cartons.
Aunt Millie, bundled in a red dress coat with a mink collar, would kiss us on the lips with a big “mwah.” Uncle Roy, small and kind and with his good hat atop his Sunday-slicked hair, would hug us and cry “How’s my Pooper?”
My younger brother and I would tear down the cellophane to find jelly beans and wooden paddle ball games and “Easter”-themed coloring books with happy line drawings of the Easter bunny and decorated eggs.
One year there were no bright baskets. My uncle handed my brother a nearly life-sized (for a four-year old) brown stuffed rabbit. Into my arms, Aunt Millie laid a stuffed lamb.
My selfish little heart mourned the loss of fake green grass and hollow chocolate bunnies.
But the lamb was soft and white, with a pink ribbon around its neck, and I hugged it close, a bit sorry for its limp legs that wouldn’t allow it to stand on its own.
As a child, I didn’t realize the significance of that stuffed animal in relation to Easter–to the Lamb of God, the Lamb that was slain, the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. Easter was simply pretty to me. Weirdly-colored eggs and pink cellophane and glowing, risen Jesus Sunday School lessons.
There were no coloring books with a man-god dying on a cross that I would have to color red.
No mourning Peter on his guilty knees.
No grieving mother of Jesus with her heart cried out onto the dirt floor of her “child”less house.
That lamb remained one of my favorite things throughout my childhood until life changed and toys were packed into boxes to make room for Fleetwood Mac albums and 70s unicorn collections.
Life changed, too, because I became old enough to see.
To see the grime of the industrial wire mills on the way to my aunt and uncle’s tiny bungalow on the East Side of Chicago.
To see my Aunt Millie feed everyone else’s children and families, always exclaiming “Mangia! Why you no eat?”
To see my Uncle Roy weeping in the kitchen, as my grandmother tried to convince him that if he didn’t stop drinking he would lose his job at the mill.
To see our desperate need to take the lamb into our arms.
To see the blood behind the pink cellophane.