I want to take this time and opportunity to drift down memory lane and reflect on Easters from my past. I know and respect the true meaning of Easter. People, from all walks of life and every corner of the globe, celebrate Easter according to their traditions.
1945-1950…As children, my siblings and I would walk to church on Easter Sunday morning, as we did every Sunday morning. I was a baptized, congregational member of the Camp Bowie Baptist Church at that time (one of the many churches associated with the Southern Baptist Bible Belt in Texas) where we would attend Sunday school, listen to the pastor’s sermon and hang with the other kids while our parents socialized before returning home.
Easter was always a lively time around the Heath household. Mom would boil the eggs and we would dye them, then color them with amazing designs, and place them in Easter baskets so our parents could hide them later for the neighborhood Easter Egg Hunt. Meanwhile, dinner preparations were underway. We chipped in and set the table with our family’s fine china and silver. I had the job of creating a centerpiece with chocolate bunnies, colored eggs, and fake chicks (peeps) all nestled in green strips of cellophane. It was a clucking, bunny-barnyard scene.
I still remember the Easter aromas of honey baked ham, decorated with pineapple, cloves and maraschino cherries, served with baked sweet potatoes topped with toasted marshmallows and accompanied by green beans, black-eyed peas, red cabbage slaw and of course ambrosia salad – my favorite – followed by lemon meringue pie or German chocolate cake with coconut icing. It’s a wonder we didn’t blossom like butterball turkeys.
1959-1963…As I continued to mature, I decided to change my religious affiliation. I came to the conclusion that parents are wonderfully in charge of making decisions about many aspects during a child’s life, but at a certain age, things start to change. My senior year in high school, I switched churches and my religious concepts. I joined the Ridgley Presbyterian Church on the west side of Ft. Worth, TX. My eyes had opened and I suddenly believed in predestination (and dancing it the church basement). I confess, it wasn’t all about religion.
However, I became interested in music, dance and a young girl who invited me to visit her church. How could I refuse? It was a much larger church and had a big choir. Although I had never been able to carry a tune (not even in a bucket), I decided to join the choir, because Sandra sang in the choir. My voice had change by this time, but I was still considered a tenor. Perhaps I should mention…I played the piano, but refused to read the music. I believe you could say, I sang and played by ear. But here’s the catch…I sat next to a guy who had a great tenor voice. His name was Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr., who later became known as John Denver. So as long as I sat next to him, I had no trouble hitting the same notes, right on key. If he was out sick, I just lip-synced the words.
Singing Handle’s Mesiah was the highpoint of Easter. It’s still one of the most moving, spiritual works of music I have ever had the pleasure to sing. Wednesday night was choir practice, followed by dancing in the church basement. Louise, my friend Sandra’s mother, used to bake Hot Cross Buns, twisted breadsticks and all kinds of pastries for Easter. Once again, I had to watch my weight, but I was young and very active. One summer, I even taught five Latin dances for Arthur Murray – the rumba, samba, mambo, cha-cha and the tango.
1969 – 1975…I moved to Los Angeles in 1969 and was soon spending Easter at the beach, Laugna Beach, to be precise. My partner and I lived with a millionaire, Pre Columbian art collector in a Tuscan villa overlooking the twinkling lights of LA. He also had a home at the beach. Proctor enjoyed entertaining with a musical promenade around Easter time. Usually, there would be about 300 people milling around with champagne and hors’ d’oeuvres, while listening to a classical concert music performed by piano and cello or violin and harp. Sometimes we would attend a special concert at the Hollywood Bowl to hear a visiting group from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
1976 – 1994…Still in LA, we later moved to Costa Mesa, then Long Beach and finally to Belmont Shores, but never far from the beach, until we built a house in the Tehachapi Mountains, where we spent many Easters high on the mountainside overlooking the San Joaquin Valley – otherwise known as America’s Bread-Basket, with crops that include cherries, grapes, tomatoes, hay, sugar beets, a variety of nut trees, cotton, potatoes and a multitude of other vegetables.
John’s mom and dad retired to our home in the mountains in 1982 and developed a huge vegetable garden and an orchard of apple, pear, nectarine and cherry trees, all on our six acre parcel. Stella would can vegetables and make delicious fruit liquors. But around Easter she would be hard boiling eggs. Not only did she love to dye them but I will never forget her fantastic “Deviled Eggs.” sprinkled with a little paprika – always a traditional Easter treat. And all seven of our cats loved to play with the colorful Easter Eggs.
1992 – 2012…We quit our jobs working for other people and moved to New Mexico – where we built and opened our very own country inn and restaurant, called the Rancho de San Juan, about 38 mile northwest of Santa Fe. At the age of 50, I suppose you could say it was my “mid-life crisis.” Although I never felt we were in a crisis – more like a funk and bored with our other careers. It was time for a change.
We opened for business in 1994, and our first Easter Brunch was packed with celebrities that we never expected. Who would have thought, when we moved to the rural countryside of northern New Mexico that we would be entertaining such people as Ali McGraw, Shirley McLaine, Robert Redford, Anthony Hopkins, Carol Burnett, Gene Hackman, and Marsha Mason. The Rancho became the “Go To” place among Hollywood’s movie and TV stars. It didn’t take long for famous artists, writers, and politicians to seek us out for their special celebrations. John was honored in Nov. 1999, to receive an award from the James Beard House in NYC. The award was signed by Julia Child…who he also had cooked for when we lived in LA.)
2013 – 2018…Retired – Surrounded by five churches and a cathedral we are blessed with the ringing of the bells on Sunday mornings (and other times as well). Most with clear tones and some with cracks, causing them to sound a little off. But even so, it is a sound we have come to love. Now living in the beautiful, colonial city of Merida, tucked into the tropical heart of the Yucatan just 26 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, we enjoy the Easter traditions of the Maya people. As we delight in our long relationship (49 years), we are enjoying the sunset years of life together, serenaded by the cooing of the Mexican mourning doves and the sound of parrots chattering as they take flight from the tall mango tree close by.
Although we are not of the Catholic faith, the bells beckon to attend mass and to view the ancient rituals of the faithful, performed with such precision and grace. We neither one speak Spanish or Latin, but it isn’t necessary to understand what’s happening. It is the call for peace, love, forgiveness and understanding.
Happy Easter Everyone!
David and John