Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Rabbit on the Roof

Maybe the passing of my aunt A. has prompted this Easter memory. Maybe we are becoming nostalgic in our old age ...

When we were young, the two Alfano families (including my dad's oldest brother's family) and the Mattelianos (my mother's eldest sister's family) would have these marathon Easter celebrations at one of our three houses. There were three huge family get-togethers annually: Christmas, New Years and Easter. The families rotated hosting and cooking for the holiday.

We would start with lunch or dinner on Easter Sunday and then everyone would stay over, staying up as late as we could and then have breakfast, lunch and dinner together the next day. Six adults and seven kids ... ai yi yi the old school Italians knew how to party.

It was a sit down dinner for thirteen on the Sunday. I can't even fathom how we did this in our small house on Cannon Street in Hamilton. No paper plates, no plastic cutlery, no store bought dishes only homemade food. A table set for thirteen with our best dishes and cutlery and unfathomable quantities of food ... stracciatella soup, the obligatory pasta dish, lamb or rabbit and sometimes chicken, plentiful side dishes of vegetables, mounds of fruit - melon, grapes, fic d'india - endless desserts including cannoli from Sam's Queenston Bakery and homemade cookies ...

Another tradition: My father would bring home a cute little lamb or rabbit around Easter. It lived in our basement and my brother and I named it and played with it and petted it and then ... you guessed it! Little Fluffy or Sparky, or whomever, would end up on the dinner table three days later. Of course, horrified, we kids could never partake (at least I could not). Today, it still rankles a bit and I have never, ever been able to eat rabbit.

During the festivities, the kids played cards (Scopa), listened to Italian pop songs like Cuore Matto by Little Tony and Canadian pop songs, videotaped each other mugging with these monstrously large video cameras, gorged on Easter chocolate and food, ragged on each other. The cousins were all born within six years of each other with the exception of my sister F, the youngest - twelve years younger than the eldest.

Oh yes, another "fun" game  ... and the eldest male cousin would make us play "king". He chose his queen (invariably lovely cousin A. with the long, luxurious dark hair) and we, his humble servants, would bring him food which he graciously accepted and ate. All of us. We never questioned the hierarchy or his orders nor staged a rebellion. We just did it. And, odd as it sounds, we loved it and vied for the privilege of bringing the food and being allowed to sit beside him on the couch.

If the weather was good we played on the enormous driveway in front of our house on the corner lot under the legs of the giant billboard which sat in front of our house in the east end near Ivor Wynne stadium. We raced maniacally in endless circles around the property. We played basketball. There was a short fence which we used as a ladder to go up on the garage beside the house which faced Belview Ave. to survey the neighborhood in all its spring glory. This memory is bathed in the endless sunlight of an early April day.

And the merriment continued unabated until my late teens.

Flash forward a few decades and now I have a child of my own. Our traditions are more humble. My kingdom of three: R, J and myself. When J was little we baked Easter cookies adorned with pink bunnies and sky blue eggs. I created baskets filled with chocolate eggs, a stuffed toy and gold tin foil wrapped bunnies.

Early Sunday morning I would rise and create a chocolate egg trail from J's room to some hidden location in the house where she would find her Easter basket. Sometimes I would deliberately lead her astray and she would end up in the middle bedroom or a closet before she found the treasure. When we had cats it was harder because the cats would bat the chocolate around and destroy the trail before J woke. It was a race against time - get up before J but not too early so the cats would get to the chocolate. (The then kitten Sugar once tore through the bottom of the Lindt chocolate bunny R had bought for me and chewed its toes off much to R's consternation and horror - I thought it was funny.)

One Easter morning J couldn't sleep and ran up into our bedroom on the third floor and crept in between R and I around dawn, she was perhaps five or six ...

"Sleep J, sleep!" I begged. It was so early, I was so tired ... she and I never slept very well.

She looked up towards the roof, her eyes got big. "But mommy, I hear the Easter bunny on the roof!" she said with wonder. "I can hear him!"

"But you can't see him or he won't leave the chocolate ..." I said. She tried to contain her excitement but couldn't sleep. We lay in bed and talked about what he would bring. After a suitable interval, we crept downstairs following the chocolate trail and she found her basket hidden under a bed or in a closet.

What can I say? The Easter bunny's a pro - the chocolate was exceptionally good that year.

Easter morning Post-Script: Woke J with a trail of chocolate eggs which lead from her bed to her Easter gifts in our bedroom. Of course, being a newly minted teenage she moaned that she did not want to get up - I'm so tired! - but I told her it would be worth it as she received a new DVD copy of New Moon.

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