Easter Bloomers Waving

Which version would he recite?
Easter Bloomers Waving

I knew there'd be trouble when I overheard Joel's teacher telling Mama that he would have the first line to recite in the group's Sunday school recitation of a poem. He'd been OK in his Sunday school class, excelling at coloring Bible story pictures. But memorizing a poem? Oh dear.

"His opening line will be 'Easter lilies blooming remind us of the day,'" the teacher said. His classmates would in turn complete the additional three lines of the quatrain.

Joel, my little brother, was six years my junior. On my birthday in the summer of 1943 when Mama confided to my older sister and me that we'd soon have a baby join our family, I knew it would be a boy. Despite Grandpa's teasing that I'd soon have another sister, I had faith. I fully intended to remain the official family Youngest Daughter for life, though I was perfectly willing to play the dual role of Big Sister.

When Joel was born in September, I felt relieved. But when he arrived home from the hospital, he proved a disappointment, at least for me. By then I was a first-grader, and playing school was my favorite activity. I'd been counting on this new family addition to join me and my dolls in my makeshift schoolroom. But Baby Joel couldn't even sit up, let alone hold a pencil in his tiny fist. Mama comforted me by painting a rosy picture of the future, when Joel indeed would become my attentive pupil.

I bided my time, helping bathe and diaper him, joining Mama in singing Tura Lura Lural to him at bedtime, admiring him when he finally could feed himself a peanut butter sandwich. I waited for him to walk. I waited for him to talk. At last, at age 3, he began to join in my play school sessions.

But Joel didn't seem to take his lessons seriously. As his teacher, I would be forced to inform him sternly that while the dolls were earning A's, he'd be lucky to get a C. "It's c-a-t," I would pronounce, pushing back my bangs in exasperation.

"T-a-c," Joel would spell back, then giggle and clap his hands. "Better than the dolls, huh?" I'd throw up my hands in disgust.

I fumed all Sunday afternoon about how I knew Joel would flub up. At dinner that night I confided my fears. That's when Grandpa promised to help coach, which further alarmed me. A perennial tease, he'd recently turned his attentions to my innocent brother. Spaghetti, Grandpa told him, came from the worms that inhabited the garden. Joel had ceased eating pasta. Grizzly bears, Grandpa swore, roamed the hills above our Ogden, Ore. home and feasted on wild blackberries. Joel no longer helped pick berries.

The first line of the Easter poem, Grandpa assured my gullible brother, really was "Easter bloomers waving."

Determined that Joel would not disgrace our family by garbling his line, I set up a counterattack. As soon as I memorized my own Easter poem for the service, I began drilling Joel. "It's 'Easter lilies blooming,'" I'd insist. Sometimes he would get it straight and sometimes he'd give me Grandpa's version. I finally called upon divine reinforcement. "Remember," I'd threaten, "if you don't get this right, Jesus will be disappointed."

When we awoke that Easter morning, our baskets magically had appeared at the foot of our beds. I remember savoring first the sweet, chewy, yellow marshmallow Peeps chicks. As I dressed, I downed a rainbow-hued hard-boiled egg, chewed a stick or two of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit, and gazed several times into the innards of my chocolate diorama egg. I counted my jelly beans and offered to trade my sister for the black ones, my favorite. From time to time I would glance nervously at Joel while Mama adjusted the collar of his sailor suit.

Then we went to our church. My sister was the first of our family to perform, her alto soaring on a solo interval during the choir's rendition of The Old Rugged Cross. I was next, reciting my poem, and then I took a seat in the front row to watch as Joel's preschool class marched onto the stage. The congregation chuckled as the toddlers jostled one another to get into line.

Finally, Joel stepped forward. He looked confident. I took a deep breath. "Easter," he intoned, and then paused. His eyes caught mine, then flickered left toward Grandpa, near the end of the pew.

"Easter," he began again. Now I held my breath. "Lilies," he enunciated clearly. "Blooming," he continued. "Remind us of the day." He grinned his jack-o'-lantern grin. I beamed back. The next child stepped forward to add the second line.

Grandpa grumbled a bit on the way home, but I held Joel's hand and told him he would be getting an A on his next report card. And a gold star too. Then I leaned over and whispered that I knew that Jesus was pleased.

"Did I do better than the dolls?" he asked.

"Oh yes," I said. "That's better than anybody in my class. The dolls just mumble."

Even now, Joel still chides me that I'm the overachiever, the "doer," the academic one in the family, always busy trying to teach, to mentor, to influence. That's certainly true. But what he overlooks is that as my first pupil, he indeed proved to be my teacher, teaching me the delights of watching somebody learn and succeed, teaching me to persist and persevere.

And teaching me to appreciate the efficacy of a subtle threat.

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