Easter joy no longer on hiatus

Sunday, April 11, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:31 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Easter is one of my favorite holidays. After five weeks without cookies, cake or candy, I’m ready to celebrate. I want to eat my weight in chocolate. I want gooey butter cake, stale Girl Scout cookies, Kentucky High Day pie and a GREAT BIG chocolate Easter bunny (solid, not hollow).

Easter has always been a wonderful celebration in the Harl household. After Mass, I prepare a brunch for 28 (that’s the whole clan sans one daughter who lives too far away to come home). I serve Mimosas and coffee, orange juice for the kids, eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy, French toast, little ham sandwiches, a fruit medley and chocolate-covered strawberries.

After everyone is stuffed, the real fun begins. Earlier in the morning, one of my sons (I call him the pagan because he chooses not to go to church) hides 14 dozen plastic eggs in the yard. These eggs have hidden treasures. I place candy in each one, but what the grandkids like more is the money. Each child is told to find one dozen eggs. To make it more difficult, I tell them they should find two of each color. I give the little ones a three-minute head start, then yell “Go!” and the free-for-all begins. The hunt usually takes at least 20 minutes, and every year there are always one or two “lost” eggs. After the first year, when my granddaughter couldn’t find her last yellow egg, I learned to have a reserve ready. I always find these lost eggs within one or two mowings.

Then it’s the parents’ turn. Each adult finds only one egg. After everyone has found theirs, they open them and find a piece of paper with a number. The number corresponds to a gift that I have laid out on the dining room table. The gifts can be anything from a dinner for two to the grand prize of a DVD player. Who said adults can’t have fun, too?

But last year was not fun. One year ago, on April 7, my youngest son was working under a bridge in northern Missouri. His scaffolding broke, and he fell nearly 30 feet and landed on his head. I got the call at 8:07 that morning. I remember finding out that he had been taken to Quincy, Ill. I remember driving as fast as I could to get to my son. When I arrived, they had just taken him to surgery. The doctor said the outcome looked bleak. IF he survived the surgery, he said he couldn’t possibly predict the recovery.

I wrote last year that what happened that day was a miracle! Not only did my son survive the surgery, he woke up within 24 hours. They airlifted him to Boone Hospital Center four days later, just two days before the beginning of Holy Week. I attended Palm Sunday Mass, but I didn’t listen to one word of the Gospel or the sermon; I was praying too hard for my son. He was transferred to Rusk Rehabilitation Center on Holy Thursday. I ignored the holy day, too, because I was caught up in watching and waiting for signs of recovery. I don’t remember Good Friday. I think it was one of the few times in my life that I didn’t attend services.

I remember going through the motions preparing for Easter. All of the grandchildren were expecting the traditional brunch, but more important, the hunt. They knew their uncle had been hurt, but they didn’t understand the extent of his injuries. It wasn’t fair, I thought, to take away their holiday; my son, after all, was improving steadily.

Easter was cloudy and unseasonably cold for late April. The entire family was abnormally subdued, even the little ones. My daughter-in-law arrived with her 4-year-old daughter and just-turned 1-year-old son in tow. She had a smile plastered on her face, but I knew she didn’t want to be at my house. She wanted to be with her husband. The appetites weren’t as hardy as I remembered and to say the hunt was a disaster is an understatement. A few months later, my daughter-in-law told me it was the second worst day of her life.

It has been a long year. There have been as many downs as ups. I have watched my son and his family struggle just to get through each day. Now my son is back to work part time. He still has more therapy ahead, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

So this year we will really celebrate. I’m making the best brunch ever. I have stuffed the eggs with candy and money that doesn’t rattle. This year my son will hold his son’s hand and run around the yard, searching for the treasure. He will joke with his brothers and give me a disgusted look when I say something stupid. I might even get a hug if I’m lucky.

But before the festivities begin, I will go to church and get down on my knees and rejoice. I will thank God not only for His death and His Resurrection, but also for the return of my son.

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