The Easter season began and Grandmama was selling off our belongings. Our sleepy Iowa town sold corn and gossip by the bushel but didn’t have a lot of room for old jazz musicians like Grandmama was. It was the 1950’s.
We were the talk of the town, and not in a good way since our parents died in a violent, submerging car crash. Grandmama moved in to “help.” She was my mama’s mama and she was an emotionally cruel woman who resented being anything but stylish, talented and pampered. “I used to play to full crowds.” She would say and she could see them there in front of her…her adoring fans. When she came back to reality, all she would see was us. The dishtowel over her shoulder seemed to remind her that she was a domestic caretaker now and she’d crack it in the air like a whip when she saw us. Her brown eyes turning black with disgust.
Then she’d day something fresh like, “What are you kids still doing here,” and she would say it with a cruel chuckle. “Quit acting like you are a spy, Johnny. You’re not 007, you’re nothing but a nuisance. I’m too young to be taking care of kids again.” Grandmama adjusted her finger waves with long manicured fingers in the mirror.
She could be a professional piano player in town instead of volunteering at church like she did sometimes. Maybe she was scared she wasn’t good enough, we didn’t know. She also could teach piano lessons or something instead of selling our parents’ things for money. She had options, but she didn’t like any of them.
Grandmama could play that piano and make it sing! But it didn’t bring her an ounce of joy, and so it didn’t bring anybody else any joy neither. There was a dullness in her movements. There was nothing but coldness in the places where love should have been.
“I know you took mama’s broaches. I followed you to the pawn shop.” I said to her boldly one morning. She stared at me long and hard, but she didn’t do anything.
“You look just like my husband who went missin’ after he went off to the war in 1942. Anyone ever tell you that, Johnny? Your granddaddy was the love of my life, but he went off and ain’t nobody ever seen him since.” She jazzed the piano keys a little and took a swig of her sugary coffee, slamming down mama’s good china. Then she inspected it closely as if she had over looked its value, and looked at me… irreverently slamming down the piano lid.
“I know he’s still alive too…I can feel it in my bones. Clean this mess up.” Grandmama said as she sauntered away from the oak breakfast table. She was wearing my mother’s favorite dress. The beautiful one with the embroidered red roses. I couldn’t help it, I could excuse everything else, but the dress? It made my blood boil. The next morning, I found it rolled up at the bottom of grandmama’s hamper and I took it in to be cleaned and pressed. I then took it to the charity where my mother used to volunteer. They collected beautiful clothes for women who needed a second chance in life. She would have wanted them to have it.
“You are a sweet boy, Johnny.” The charity lady said. “Your mother was very proud of you and I know she would have been very happy you did this…I know just the lady it will fit too.” I walked home happily. Smelling the flowers and noticing the leaves blowing on the trees. I took a breath of the fresh Iowa air and I felt mama. She was all around me, hugging me through the wind. I cried a little bit, but no one saw me.
I was only 12 years old the year my parents died and when the magic started. I had this incredible chance encounter with the Hare-man, at Easter, at the height of my sadness. At that time, I thought it all a coincidence, but now I’m not so sure.
I was up late reading by flashlight, and I saw the enormous creature speed through a freestanding portal out in the field. It was Easter’s Eve and suddenly his motorcycle skidded wildly, sending loose dirt raining down my window. It scared me.
I panicked and peeked…intrigued to see a steam powered motorcycle parked. The larger than life creature, a tall dapper Rabbit adjusted his spectacles and waistcoat. He whispered something inaudible.
Fairies brought three, beautiful baskets, through an opening they made in the side of our little blue house. Our place immediately filled with the scent of sage and citrus and was infused with an overwhelming sense of joy. I noticed the feeling right away because the atmosphere was suddenly light and buoyant and took the place of a heavy, melancholy sadness. Flowers started growing in my room. Vines twirled out of the walls and gorgeous blooms busted through, sending plaster and white paint flying everywhere.
The creature was a bunny on top but had human legs. I became petrified at the impossibility of it all and dropped the flashlight. It rolled the length of the floor, stopping with a thud at the wall. I sensed him pressing his ear to the house, and I pressed my ear too and heard him breathing. It wasn’t the sound of a docile bunny and my knobby knees knocked together in fear.
“Bunny?” I said through the wall.
“Johnny, take care of your sister and your Grandmother and find Lenny…” I heard him say.
“Who is Lenny?” I asked the void. The creature wasn’t standing there anymore.
His name was the Hazamann. My father explained to me when I was small. His name meant “Hare-man in German. He’s what most people call the Easter Bunny.” My father knew this because the whole notion of the creature came from Germany to Pennsylvania with Immigrants in the 1700’s and my father himself was a white German Immigrant.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing out there. The huge rabbit beast was retreating, the entire encounter lasted three minutes tops, but it changed my life forever. The vines, flowers and foliage withdrew into the walls and were gone, like nothing had even happened. Some of the peace stayed though, which is a mystery to me.
My mama had been the real magic in my life when I was a boy. I remember her reading me the James Bond novel, CASINO ROYALE the year she died, it was 1953.
I adored mama. She smelled like home, like baby powder and Oxydol soap and was loving and kind. We were all alone without her, my sister Hattie and me. That old red covered bridge just couldn’t carry the weight of them and fell, cascading the black car, our loving parents, our family puppy “Night time,” and the romantic picnic down into the raging waters below.
“Johnny!” Hattie yelled. She must have heard the Hazamann’s motorcycle too. We never woke up on Easter’s eve. I wondered if he revved the engine on purpose to wake us up as he rode back through the portal door.
“Shhhh, you’re going to wake Grandmama up with your carrying on.” I said to Hattie. She came to my side of the room. We pressed our ears to the wall in unison. “See, I think he’s leaving.”
“I’m scared.” Hattie said. She was only 6, so I didn’t make her feel bad for being a scaredy-cat. “It’s ok, I’ll protect you, I’m 007, remember, just like mama used to say?” It calmed her.
“I wish Mama could see this.” Hattie said to me as we watched the portal disappear into thin air. A few magical sparkles were all that were left, and she smiled from ear to ear with excitement.
By the next Easter, LIVE AND LET DIE, the next in the Bond series had been released and a copy was in my Easter basket. The pages smelled so crisp and new. I received spy accessories to accompany my book and Hattie got a new puppy.
“I’ll name him ‘Night’ since he’s black as my other doggie used to be…he’s a German Shepherd Johnny. He can help us find your bad guys! Things are going to get much better now, I just know it.”
“I think so too.” I said, wiping my eyes. “What else did you get?” Both of us stopped as Hattie lifted it up. A new bottle of mama’s perfume. Hattie sprayed it into the air, and we took it in hungrily. Nostalgia and love poured into us from our eager little noses to our dancing, happy feet. Grandmama watched us and smiled with a lost sense of joy. She recognized the smell too and she started to cry.
“Look kids, I know I haven’t been the best Grandmama to you, but I am going to try. I bet you didn’t know that your Grandmama could cook?”
“I thought all you knew how to do was eat.” Hattie said since she had been the one making all the sandwiches since mama had gone.
“Well, I suppose I deserve that. Today is as good a day as any to show you how it’s really done. They don’t need me at church till 2pm.” She said and she started to cook. It was Easter and she was really getting into the spirit of it. She cooked and cooked and cooked. The house was filled with sweet and savory smells and there was music playing and laughter in the air and then suddenly a knock at the door.
Grandmama answered it.
“Rose.” An older man standing at the door said and took his hat off, lowering his eyes.
“Lenny, is that you?” Grandmama dropped the kitchen towel she was holding and ran up to the man. He dropped his hat and they embraced.
“…But I haven’t seen you in 10 years. I was afraid that you were killed in battle…or worse, ran off and found you another woman.”
“Johnny found me, Rose…for the life of me, I don’t know how, but he did and now here I am.” Lenny smiled. I didn’t think you wanted me…you were a big jazz star and I was nothin’ but a soldier, too proud to come on back home after the war ended.”
“Did you do this Johnny?” Grandmama said.
“Yes, it wasn’t as hard to find him as I thought. You can find just about anything at the library. Mama taught me that.” I said.
“She was always a smart one, my Imogene.” Lenny said, hanging his head again. He started to cry, great big crocodile tears. Maybe because he was so glad to be found. Maybe because his baby girl had died. I wasn’t sure, but there was love in our house again that morning. We sang and we ate, and we accompanied our grandparents to church where Lenny was welcomed with hardy slaps on the back by familiar faces. Grandmama was on the piano. Honestly, I didn’t know what awakening happiness looked like…but I saw it that day. She had come back from the dead that morning. She had a twinkle in her eye. Joy poured from her fingers and we all felt it.