Ponce de Leon discovered Florida at Easter time and Easter has always been a special celebration here in St. Augustine. Beginning with the Arts & Crafts festival and Blessing of the Fleet on Palm Sunday on through Good Friday to sunrise service on the beach and winding up with the Easter parade. Just as important – especially as we got older – Palm Sunday weekend was usually the unofficial beginning of beach season. The water was still too cold for swimming, but it was warm enough to show off our new bikinis.
Some of my favorite Easter memories include:
- Each child brought a flower posey to Easter Sunday service at our church. It was placed into one of the many holes drilled in a wooden cross. The result was a beautiful sight – and smell – as this cross led the family service’s processional march.
- Getting new black patten leather Mary Janes from Grandma to wear with the new Easter dresses Mom made us.
- The horse and buggies were decorated as floats for the Easter parade. Each horse wore an Easter bonnet donated by some famous lady. The buggies carried members of the “royal family” dressed in period Spanish dress.
- Anchoring off Quarry Creek to wait for the Blessing of the Fleet to begin. It was quite a collection of watercraft – from shrimp boats to sport fishermen to yachts and sailboats.
- Wandering through the Plaza enjoying the paintings, photographs, jewelry and pottery on exhibit. I was sorry to see this event moved from the Plaza to the “special event field”.
Mom turned our Easter baskets into a works of art. In addition to the chocolate bunnies and jelly beans, there were presents too – including new bathing suits. Even after I left home to join the Air Force, the Easter baskets kept coming. My most memorable basket came while I was stationed in Nebraska. It may be beach weather in Florida, but Easter in Nebraska is still a bit icy. My first Easter there was cold and wet – until the package from Florida arrived. I was on my way to work when I stopped at the mailroom so I didn’t get a chance to open it until I got to the office.
I was in the break room when I opened the box. As soon as I broke through the tape and opened the lid, the room was flooded with the smell of orange blossoms. As an afterthought, Mom had cut a branch off our orange tree and tossed it in the box. For a few delightful moments the sun was shining and warm breezes blew off the ocean – not just for me but for everyone in that room. The blooms didn’t survive the trip north, but it didn’t matter. They had still performed their magic. Don’t ask me what else was in the box. All the delicious goodies paled in comparison to that smell of spring in Florida.
I spent two more Easters in Nebraska – and received an orange blossom special each time. To this day, the smell of orange blossoms reminds me of Mom’s Easter touch.