■ By Rob Lindquist / Contributed
In our rural nestled valley, whose population was largely Christian with an inordinate abundance of Protestant churches, Easter was always a very busy time. My earliest memories revolved around the mystical transformation of whole families of farming folk and small business proprietors into figures from a department store window display or a toy store. Grandparents were squeezed into aging suits and dresses, moms and dads wore their “Sunday best,” and we children were show-boated in whatever would charm hearts and bring boodgy wet kisses to our upturned foreheads.
My first attempt to independently express my zeal for Easter doin’s was in 1949, a block away from our Buena Vista Street home, standing amid a crowd of august, imposing, elderly women in front of Hemet’s august, imposing First Methodist Church. My grandpa Small in Perris had just given me an old roll-out measuring tape which, for days I had been religiously holding in my little hand to admire and adore.
I had also watched a clothing fitter in Riverside’s Rouse’s women’s store measure my mother’s hemline. So I began to measure the hemlines of all the ladies standing on the sidewalk as I dutifully said, “Measure, measure!” while looking up at them and confidently smiling. Their reaction was something like a collective, “What in the world!” Then one big lady bent down to ask, “Where is your mother?” That’s when I saw a whole cluster of grapes hanging from the brim of her favorite Easter hat. ‘Course I wasn’t going back to my house without asking her for some of those pretty concords, and after a burst of laughter from those around her, I was formally escorted home by two dour parishioners.
That was around the time when the folks bought me a little gray woolen suit, just for the Easter service at our old, very Nordic looking, Trinity Lutheran Church. Severely white sided with tall windows, black trimmings and pointed steeple, it stood so close to Florida Avenue that a stumble on the last step could send a parishioner reeling into the traffic lane. That’s where all the Swedes and Norwegians went and, on that bright spring day, it was where I had a perfect fit of the “heebie-jeebies.” You see, my natty little tweed suit had no lining, neither for the sleeves nor the pant legs. So we hadn’t gotten a mile from the house before I started worming and squirming around in the back seat of our ’48 Buick. I continued to suffer through 45 agonizing minutes in the Sunday school basement and another half hour sitting upstairs in the sanctuary next to my sister and parents on what felt like an electrified wooden pew.
The Lutheran church chorus was comprised of a compote of different physical shapes and sizes, all of these vocally vying for primacy in the art of religious choir singing. There was one elderly vocalist who, sang the great Easter hymn “I Know That My Redeemer Lives,” with her mouth shaped into a perfect oval, which despite the lyrical requirements of the piece, remained in the “Oh” position until the last Amen.
And, yes… Oh, but could I go back to those halcyon days when we ran to the barn up at Papa Lindquist’s “Linda Vista Ranch” to gather fresh eggs from beneath the setting hens and take them to the ranch house for coloring and fitting out the baskets. And how sweetly delightful it was to hear, “You can open your eyes now” as we stood before Hemet’s glorious little park that Dr. Weston gave to the city in 1935. There among the varied oaks, deodars, shrubs and roses; there under the little tilt-a-whirl and monkey bars, we would find all those precious eggs that only kids and rabbits could dream about.