By Barbara Sherf
Thumbing through some family photos, my heart skipped a beat upon seeing an Easter Sunday photo of our family when I was about four years old, and remembering the life lessons learned that remain with me to this day. Mom always dressed her three girls and baby boy to perfection, parading us down the center aisle at church. We all even have the white gloves on in the photo, but as I looked closer at the image, the memories came streaming back to me in a rush.
While my two older sisters, grandmother and mother are wearing Easter bonnets, I am wearing a baby bonnet. You see, just days before the holiday, my sister, Patrice, and I played “Beauty Parlor” in the basement and took scissors in hand. Let’s just say my haircut turned out worse than hers. Far worse.
Mom took us to a real beauty parlor where the hairdresser tried to undo the damage. Mine was not easily repairable, so on Easter morning mom put this big baby bonnet on my head and tied it under my chin.
After Mass, we went outside to play with the other children, but the play soon turned ugly. In my mind I can still hear the taunts from the other children as if it were yesterday. “Baby Barbie has a Baby Bonnet on, Baby Barbie has a Baby Bonnet on, Baby Barbie has a Baby Bonnet on,” they chanted. The tears flowed as I felt shame and hurt and wounded.
But I perked up upon learning that our family had won a church raffle with an Easter basket with a huge chocolate Easter egg in the center. “Yipeeeeeeeeeee,” I thought, “we had hit the candy lottery.” Mom, however, had her own plans for the sweet treats. She and my father packed us in the beige Rambler station wagon and drove to a Catholic orphanage in the city’s Tacony section. I had never been to an orphanage and couldn’t even fathom children who lived there who had no parents, few visitors and no Easter baskets.
We handed the basket over and played with the children. There was no taunting over my baby bonnet, and the orphans even offered us some of their treats, but mom stepped in and graciously declined. There were so many lessons learned that Easter on bullying and what it was like to feel like an outcast.
Lessons of gratitude for having two parents and my own Easter basket. Lessons on compassion and giving and receiving. The lesson that my hair would grow back and that it was a blip in the scheme of things. Flash forward to this past Easter. Four dozen plastic Easter eggs fell into my hands just before the holiday. My new neighbors, with three young children, did not need them. and the eggs sat in a bag all week. I thought about the orphans, but with Quaker Meeting in the morning and an Easter dinner at my sister’s in the afternoon, I couldn’t get it together to even research going to an orphanage and getting permission to give out the eggs.
Then I thought of the elderly orphans at Harston Hall in Flourtown, where I visit our dear neighbor, Ginny Ashenfelter, former owner of The Happy Butterfly in Chestnut Hill. I knew I wanted to go see Ginny, and the night before Easter I came up with the idea of taking the eggs to the residents there. Instead of candy, I had purchased containers of macaroons left over from Passover and filled each egg with two macaroons.
After Meeting for Worship, I brought my “Free Hugs” sign, the colorful macaroon-filled eggs and a Boston Cream pie to the Flourtown facility. Donning bunny ears, I handed out “free hugs” and eggs and felt my mom was guiding me to these orphans. My timing was perfect as the residents had finished lunch, and we sang “Happy Easter to You” and enjoyed the pie.
A few of the orphans shed tears. So did I. Thanks, mom, for these essential life lessons and for being with me in spirit this Easter and always. You were a remarkable woman, and your legacy lives on in me and these life lessons.
Flourtown resident Barbara Sherf captures stories of individuals and businesses and can be reached at CaptureLifeStories@gmail.com or 215 990-9317. Sherf will be sharing this story at the Patchwork Storytelling Guild Story Swap Saturday, May 6, 1 p.m., in the rear conference room of the Chestnut Hill Library. More information at www.patchworkstorytelling.org