My mother feared imagination, but since I didn’t meet her until she was all grown-up, I couldn’t know what in her childhood made her feel that way. Whether she was traumatized by a fairy tale or put off by a sci-fi movie, by the time she was my mom, she only put her faith in things she could see. And what she saw was a cracked ceiling in my room right above my bed.
But I saw Jane, my imaginary friend, holding a stick.
On the third Sunday morning in April, when I was 6 years and 364 days old, Jane, as always, waited for me to awaken.
Her outline was created by cracks on my bedroom ceiling that randomly merged to form her. I greeted her first in the mornings and wished her, “Good Night.” at bedtime. When I centered myself directly under her, I could see she was taller and whether I jumped up or wriggled, Jane remained calm and still. The fissure that formed her stick was far from ominous, but rather, like an older sister’s discovery; a treasure she found under our backyard cherry tree. I didn’t know it then, but Jane’s days were numbered. Mom had already called Mark Marcus’ father-the housepainter. Together they conspired to scrape and spackle Jane to death.
“French toast or waffles?” Mom called from the kitchen.
“Do we have Log Cabin?*” I tossed back.
“I have raspberry jam. It’s the same thing.”
No, it is not. Jane and I agreed. “I’ll be there in a minute, I’m saying goodbye to Jane.”
I sensed mom bristling at the stove, “No, you’re not. You’re talking to ceiling cracks. Hurry up, now.”
I took my Easter hat from the closet, plopped it on my head and skipped to the bathroom. “Here comes Peter Cotton Tale, hopp’n down the bunny trail. Hippity-hoppity, Easter’s on its waaay!”
“Smooches first!” Mom lips daubed my cheeks, forehead and nose in rapid fire kisses.
At breakfast, my parents shared the Daily News: sports section racing results for him, the entire rest of the paper for her. They’d flirt with each other shamelessly, until she’d nod in my direction to remind him a child was watching. I had seen enough to know what married couples should look like.
The sky had remained gray as a few brave raindrops sidled down the kitchen windows. Between bites of sweet sticky French toast, I watched the fog lower onto the top branches of our backyard tree, slow and comfy, like a dove hunkering down on her nest.
We were headed out the door for Easter lunch at Grandma and Grandpa Leslie’s by the time the drizzle had turned to rain.
I didn’t need my mother to openly confess she preferred the company of her family to my father’s. There was a lightness in her demeanor at our home that would disappear as we opened the front door to leave. Yet, Mom was always respectful and kind to her mother-in-law; visiting her every Sunday, calling her each afternoon and later nursing her for 12 years as Grandma Leslie fought a valiant but losing battle with cancer.
“You’re leaving now?” Grandma Rose called out the obvious from the top of the stairs. “Send our regards to your parents, Dave. Why don’t you bring them back for dinner?”
My father had grown comfortable with Grandma’s instructions from upstairs whenever we left the house. “I’ll ask, Mom, but with the rain… They’ll be here next week for Adrienne’s birthday.”
I’d turn seven on Monday, but wisely chose next Sunday for my family party. Even at a single digit age, I knew if I celebrated on Easter, some relatives might stick another chocolate bunny into my basket and call it a present. I was an only child who preferred a whole day in my honor.
Outside, even as the rain picked up, the block was astir. The Graffininos were in their Easter best and heading for church. The Goldsteins were loading casseroles and covered pots into their station wagon on their way to their daughter’s for Passover. I sat in the middle of our De Soto’s backseat bolstered by a lily plant and box of Loft’s chocolates.
Dad cranked open the driver’s window as he and mom called out their greetings to the neighbors. My father spoke in three languages, “Buona Pasqua, Salvatore. Buona Pasqua, Carmela! “Hey Irv, need a hand? Zisn Pesach, Ida. You still make the best matzoh brie in Brooklyn!”
While Irv assured my father he could handle the load, Ida Goldstein blew Dad a kiss.
Across the street, an upstairs window opened wide when my friend Maria’s Nona heard the voices below. Tiny and bird-like with a razor sharp nose and dark eyes, she shouted down to my father, “Davide, Davide, He parted the clouds. I watched His sign this morning—early, like every year. Cristo e risorto! Did you see it?”
Dad fibbed to please the old woman, “Si, si. Mrs. Vitale. I saw it too. Buona Pasqua!”
I wondered if someday, when my mother grew old like Mrs. Vitale who could see miracles in clouds, Mom would see Jane among the ceiling cracks.
Eleven more birthdays would pass before I’d know the real splendor of Easter and Passover. Already able to believe in things unseen helped.
Log Cabin* - a popular substitute for maple syrup
Buona Pasqua - Italian for “Happy Easter”
Zisn Pesach - Yiddish for “Have a Sweet Passover”
Matzoh brie - French toast made with matzoh during Passover
Nona - Italian for “grandmother”
Cristo e risorto - Italian for “Christ is Risen”