THERE is nothing in the world that could ever dim my childhood memories of Easter, or the warmth and joy that went with it, writes Margaret Watson.
It always reminds me of my mother who loved Easter more than any other time of the year, and in many ways she passed this love on to me.
When the first daffodil appears in my garden heralding Spring, and the first hot cross bun appears in the baker’s window, I think of her and the life I once knew and the people who shared it with me.
I think of the hustle and bustle of spring cleaning which started on Ash Wednesday and continued right through Lent to Good Friday.
Everything in the house was scrubbed and polished, the cellar white-washed, the drawers and cupboards lined with clean newspaper, the bedroom walls painted with distemper bought by the bucketful at Ruddlesden’s decorators at the top of our road.
Mother’s rule was “everything had to be done” by Good Friday lunchtime, or else.
Carpets were given a good beating, mattresses, a good shaking, furniture pulled out, fireplaces black-leaded, front steps and outside lavatory washed and scoured, curtains washed and dolly-creamed, furniture polished, floorboards scrubbed and windows polished till they sparkled.
By Good Friday afternoon, “everything had been done” and mother would start setting the table in preparation for tea on our return from church which involved laying it with a white cloth and placing a vase of daffodils in the middle.
Then off mother and I would go, hand-in- hand, up Halifax Road, to St Joseph’s Church, Batley Carr, to take part in the longest – and saddest – service in the Catholic calendar.
On the way, mother, with her rosary beads rattling in her pocket, entertained me with interesting stories, both factual and fictional, about the people who lived in those fine, big houses which we passed on our way.
She had worked for many of the mill-owners who lived in these houses, but she was never envious of them because she felt they had their own crosses to bear.
Mother said they were the pillars of society and because of this they lived in glass bowls, some of them were magistrates and town councillors, and were well-spoken and well-dressed, and rarely, if ever, were permitted to let their hair down.
At least that was mother’s interpretation of their lives because in her view, people who weren’t laughing and singing all day and making light of their troubles, as she did, must be leading very unhappy lives.
Their children, she assured me, were not as lucky as we were because many of them went away to boarding school, and when they came home they always had to be dressed in nice clothes.
She didn’t think they would be allowed to go potato picking at local farms in school holidays or to run wild in Caulms Wood as we were.
Nor would they have been allowed to dance “The Black Bottom” on the kitchen table to entertain neighbours, as we so often were called upon to do.
No wonder by the time we arrived at church, I was feeling very relieved that we were poor and healthy and didn’t live in glass bowls.
There were never any flowers in church on Good Friday because we were still in Lent and the priest was dressed in black because this was the service where we followed Christ to Calvary.
The longest Gospel in the Bible lasting 15 minutes was read, and the nuns promised if we stood perfectly still throughout, we’d receive a plenary indulgence, which meant a few days knocked off our time in Purgatory when we died, the Catholic equivalent of time off for good behaviour.
Easter for mother began when this service ended, and on our way home, we would call to Verney Woods in Batley Carr for hot cross buns, and then on to Brown’s greengrocers in Halifax Road for spring onions, lettuce, tomatoes and a dozen duck eggs.
Catholics couldn’t eat meat on Fridays and that is why we had eggs instead, but why we had duck eggs on that day and never on any other, still remains a mystery, but it was a tradition which mother kept right up to her death.
Perhaps the humble egg from ordinary hens wasn’t good enough for a Good Friday tea, or was it mother’s way of making this day more special than any other?
Once home, mother put on her white apron and sat down in front of the blazing coal fire and lit her first cigarette since Ash Wednesday because she always gave up smoking for Lent.
But it was always a Senior Service, never her usual Woodbine, because this day was different to any other, and that included her choice of cigarettes.
Lent with all its disciplines and deprivations was over, and everyone who had given up sugar in their tea, could now enjoy their first sweet cuppa, while I could gorge ourselves on barley sugars and bulls-eyes mother had bought from Talk of the Town on Dewsbury Market.
Many Christians still argue with me that Lent doesn’t end until Easter Sunday, but mother always insisted it ended on Good Friday afternoon when our Saviour died, and I agree with her.
When she lit her first cigarette on Good Friday afternoon, she believed that the discipline of the church had been followed to the letter and we could all relax and feel cleansed and self-righteous, which we did.
Most important of all, we could now put up our feet for a few hours knowing that at last “everything had been done”, and mother had had her beloved duck eggs and daffodils, and the house was sparkling clean.
Who needs a big, fine house and money in the bank to be happy when you have such treasures as these.