When I plan Easter dinner, I know I must include Jell-O with bananas on the menu. A spring movie in my head begins playing on repeat and keeps adding more and more forgotten memories as the season goes on. One memory will trigger another. A smell may take me back or a sound, a song, a food. Being the oldest of the five, I have memories they don’t, which seems funny. But, I forget how much older than them I was when certain things occurred. I also seem to have a memory for odd things, likened to that of an elephant’s memory by my siblings.
Jell-O with bananas. In our family, it is a long-standing joke that if the meal doesn’t contain this simple side dish, it is not a real meal. Strawberry-banana Jell-O in an antique milk glass bowl with scalloped edges, bananas sliced on top and a layer of whipped cream on top. It’s placed on the table alongside a perfectly glazed ham on top of a pristine white tablecloth Mom saved for special meals. Mom would be in her white button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled for kitchen tasks at hand and a long, flowery skirt she probably made herself. To complete her Sunday outfit, a simple waist apron was tied over the top.
The vase holding the lilac branches with our blown and painted eggs dangling from the branches sat as the special Easter centerpiece. The fruit salad was there as well. Not just any fruit salad but my dad’s favorite recipe. Chopped apples, oranges, grapes and bananas mixed together with Cool Whip. The special cutter, used to cut slices of cheese into circles, star and flowers for Sunday dinners or when celebrating special events, is on the counter waiting for the lucky child to press it neatly into the cheese. The inside porch is cleaned of its customary spring mud and set with an extra table. Mom always made sure we had room for extra guests at meals. The Rev. James Ennis, the gentle priest in town, was a mainstay at meals celebrating First Holy Communion and Easter for years. Our table was usually filled with the likes of Grandpa and Grandma Ike, Grandma Monroe and an assortment of godparents, cousins and friends.
This flashback movie includes the purple crocuses Mom would point out to every child as a sure sign spring was coming. These flowers are at least 40 years old and will likely outlive us all, greeting the spring snow yearly. There are brightly colored Easter eggs hidden among stumps and bushes in the yard before it was so lovingly landscaped by my master gardener Mother. Eggs stuck out underneath the cement cow and calf placed on a bed of white rock. The Easter Bunny preferred years when the weather permitted outside egg hiding on account of the year one hard-boiled egg was forgotten until it began to smell funny from some unknown location within the house.
I can see Stacy and I walking, cold and proud, to church on Easter morning wearing our new Easter outfits. There we are in our new lacy pink and yellow dresses, with white strappy shoes. To really complete the ensemble, we donned dainty white gloves and plastic-type white broad-brimmed hats with ribbons to match our dresses. The boys would be dressed in little man outfits: white shirts and handsome bow ties.
Then, there are the animals. You know it is spring when the lambs arrive and start bouncing around the yard. When we were young, Mom gave in to her longtime desire to have sheep and invested in a few Jacob ewes. Jacob sheep are native to England, which is undoubtedly where she first fell in love with the creatures. The Jacob rams typically have four horns, two go up and two curve around the ears, and their wool is spotted black and white. The females have horns as well but usually only two that curve around the ears. As she began her little flock, she also took up spinning the wool and creating knitted treasures.
Mom named her lambs according to the year they were born, each year having a different letter to spell our last name: Mlsna. I can’t remember them all, only a few popular ones along the way. There was Muriel (one of the original ewes and a namesake of a dear friend in Wales); Lambchop and Lilac (twins born on Easter morning); Samantha (with two perfectly curved horns); Nellie (very spunky); and Armella (named for her grandmother). The sight of those bouncing lambs is one of my siblings’ favorite memories. We also had Tubby and Fritz, two Karakul sheep known for their large size and the ability to hold Peter and Thomas’ weight as they were the original mutton busters on our farm. In addition to this crew, Mom had Vanna White, the elderly Angora goat, that consistently got her head stuck in the woven wire fence. Rosie and Willie were the two donkeys we would parade around for friends and served the purpose of protecting the sheep from coyotes.
As I start planning Easter brunch this year, I don’t have many ideas beyond cheesy potatoes and ham, a bright spring punch and a French toast bake. Well, and Jell-O with bananas so we can call it a fancy meal.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wisconsin. Her children, Ira (14), Dane (12), Henry (7) and Cora (4), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.