On Easter Sunday, 1979 I met a mysterious, pent up cage-dwelling creature in my own living room. I was six years-old. Every egg-in-basket holiday since that one, the image of the Easter hound comes to me with all the fury that she and her stud did at eleven a.m on Easter morning.
Her name was Lucy and she was a one of a pair of hunting dogs our neighbors kept in a free standing kennel in the side yard between the two properties. On warm spring days, the smell of dog shit and stale piss would waft up from their 10X10 keep to the second story dining room window of our house-which we kept closed always for that smell.
Looking down from our deck at the twin hounds hunkered on the sun-bleached concrete slab always gave me a sinking feeling. I sometimes tried to imagine what living in a kennel of my own shit and stink would be like. For the way the Vale’s cared for those dogs, I hated them and their one daughter, Lindsay, who never seemed to mind that those dogs were living in filth in plain sight (and smell) of the neighborhood children.
I imagined that they were kept in that cage because they were purebred hunters. Being held against their will as rare and dangerous animals who had no desire to play frisbee and run free the way our scrappy mut dog did. What would they do if they ever got away?
On weekends when the sun came up over the Rainier Valley through the trees our un forested property would flood with the light of the unblocked sunshine–the deck sliding doors were opened and the entire living room was warm and sunny.
Especially on this particular Easter morning.
So it happened that my mom was on one of her religious experimental bouts this year and had heard of a non-denominational church where non members could worship the big Easter bunny God and his resurrected Christ.
I had awakened to a sunny living room and a bright orange and green basket full of treats and had just popped a speckled jelly egg into my mouth when I heard my mother’s voice.
“We are going to church this morning!” it rang out in her weekend morning cigarettes-and coffee-with-cream voice. “Go and put your new dress on.”
Surviving memories of my childhood are the stuff of miracles to me now. In the drumbeat of time and tested ways of forgetting the past in two-year intervals, the remaining bits and vivids to fill in the cache of brain are holding true.
I savored a single jelly bean and put down my bright shiny basket. In a quick inventory I gauged there were about thirty nestled in the soft green plastic grass and at least another six bright foil-y chocolate eggs, crested by the big sugar-eyed milk-chocolate bunny keeping watch in the middle of my stash.
Church was uneventful and my shoes were tight. The wierdo songs and cross-eyed children made my stomach upset. My mom was the strange unmarried mom. The divorcee who was trying to be as unassuming as the christian mob around us.
That was an hour of my young life that I would never get back and I will admit to whispering a prayer to the savior on his cross that my mom let me go in with her rather than down the stairs to the kiddy pit for sunday school.
I was a young pagan. A feral child of sun and sky, cedar branches and tree-climbing. I was bicycle wheels and scabby knees. I was a leaf-born native as wild as the climbing ivy deceiving the clipper claws.
I felt as trapped as the hunting dogs in the cage while I clung like a hunk of shit beside my mother, the concrete lady. I remember staring at the hands on my mom’s little gold watch just to keep from listening to the sermon on the mount and the cinnamon-stick colored benches we all perched on rattled when the organ played or the PA system hissed with the Jon the pastor’s microphone breath stops.
When the endless drivel of sermon and song finally stopped and the pastel people all stood up for the juice and cracker communion, we made our exit. No one tried to keep us from slipping away unsaved.
The little portable church could not have been more than two miles from our new house and when mom and I sped off in our burgundy Camero with a cigarette in her teeth and a lollypop in mine I knew we still had most of our Pagan holiday to ourselves and my basket of candy was getting closer too.
[The rest of this story is not so bright and sunny. It is dark and disturbed. Read on if you have the stomach for it, otherwise pretend it ends here.]
The front door of our house was just as we had left it. Dark and heavy and shut tight. Mom pulled out her key and waved me up to the steps to hold her purse while she opened the door. The key turned fast and the door opened into a flood of mid-morning sunshine and the smell of dog.
Dog drool, dog shit, dog wrestling dog. The growls from the top of the stairs echoed as my mom rushed into the house and up the stairs startling two angry hounds.
As my mom began to shriek they rushed past us out the open door so quickly I nearly lost my balance and fell back down. The last one out the door had a tuft of plastic grass sticking from its asshole and blood dripping on the floor.
My mom’s voice was screaming and she tried to cover my eyes before I reached the top step.
The room at the top of the stairs was completely mined with shit, drool and vomit. Each runny wet pile of shit was laced with easter grass and bright slivers of pink wicker shavings. Some of the shavings were tinged with blood.
Lucy and her stud hound had wrestled with my basket and devoured it; pink wicker, grass, candy and all. The lingering smell of marshmallow, milk-chocolate, dog food kibble, and bloody stool could send Christ back to his tomb.
Every plastic egg was laying in the carpet. Yellow and blue plastic halves soaked in drool and even a few with teeth marks were found on the back porch as if one beast had come through the left-open glass door and scouted for the other for a veritable candy feast, bringing a few bright playthings along as booty.
In a little less than 90 minutes, the two busted into our house, found the basket there on the couch and shook, clawed, wrestled, swallowed, spouted, choked, and shit out the contents of my morning basket as if it were a nest of pheasants.
I do not remember shedding a single tear for my basket that day, but my mom cried in her anger for hours. The neighbors recaptured their hounds and my mom made the hunter pay to steam clean the floors and clean up the Easter massacre.
In thirty-five years, I still can’t separate the smell of sick dog from Easter basket treasures. Milk chocolate eggs from smears of feces, plastic grass from cracked shells, hemorrhoids, and splinters of wicker stained orange and green.
The Vale’s dogs survived another year in that cage without ever breaking free again before the sale of their house. The same year Dave the hunter divorced his wife and moved away with his dogs. Lindsay and her mom moved back to Alaska.
When the house sold the new owners used the kennel to store their recyclables and compost bin and on warm sunny days the scent of turning worms and dirt and beauty bark wafted through our upstairs window and mingled with the sunlight and the dust rising from the cane bookshelves along the dining room wall.
There is my Easter memoir.