On March 24, 2021

Easters of Yesteryear

By Mary Ellen Shaw

It’s hard to believe that it’s almost Easter. This holiday can fall any time between March 22 and April 25 (this year it’s April 4). In Vermont the earlier dates mean the possibility of snow on the ground. That just doesn’t seem like Easter!

In a picture from the 1950s my mother was dressed for the occasion in a suit with a fur stole over her shoulders. There was a corsage pinned to the stole. In spite of the snow around my mother’s feet she was wearing high heels, not boots. Of course, back then an Easter outfit wasn’t complete without a nice hat and my mother had one of those.

In the same picture I was wearing a lightweight coat and Easter bonnet. My corsage was pinned to my coat and shiny patent leather shoes graced my feet. A perfect outfit for an 8-year-old girl! As was the custom back then, both my mother and I were wearing white gloves.

No doubt my father dropped off the two of us at the church sidewalk as our shoes were not made for navigating snow or ice. It was all about fashion back then!

During that time period women were required to have their heads covered during a Catholic Mass. That requirement was a bonus to The Mayfair, a millinery store, on Center Street in Rutland. It was a fun store to visit and my mother liked nice hats so we were in there quite often.

Speaking of hats, many people from my era will remember a well known local woman named Mildred Accavallo. She attended our church and was definitely the “Queen of Hats.” They were a fashion statement in size and design and she wore them well. Among us kids she was referred to as “Hats” and not by her name!

I was curious to know what Easter hats cost back then. The Mayfair advertised their prices with a range from $5 to $25. For those who didn’t want to spend that much money you could take a short drive to Fair Haven and visit the Factory Outlet Store where hat prices ranged from 86 cents to $1.96. In fact a young girl’s entire Easter outfit was a bargain at that store. Dresses could be purchased for between $1.84 and $4.84. You could buy a young girl’s patent leather pocketbook for 94 cents.

I have fond memories of going downtown on Good Friday afternoon with my friend, Barbara. Our mission was to get some of the little things that were needed to complete the Easter outfits for her and her younger siblings. It was a rather long list as Barbara has three sisters and one brother. The girls needed such things as: socks, white gloves and corsages. Woolworths had a small flower section where corsages could be made using whatever color carnations we requested. Shopping for Barbara’s brother was easy. A new white shirt was usually all he needed. Barbara’s mother was a wonderful seamstress and the girls’ Easter dresses and coats were a fashion statement!

The abovementioned trip downtown never happened until after 3 p.m. as most stores closed from 12-3 p.m. on Good Friday. Those hours represent the time of Christ’s crucifixion. I attended Christ the King School and all the students attended a church service for part of that time period. When the service was over we were asked to remain silent until 3 p.m. Not easy for a kid!

Easter Sunday Mass was a joyful experience as we celebrated Christ rising from the dead. After church we always went out for breakfast. I looked forward to getting home as I knew there would be an Easter basket waiting for me. I was told that the chocolate bunny and jelly beans would have to be stretched out over the next several days. But I always managed to eat the chocolate ears right away. I have to confess that I still do exactly that as my husband, Peter, has continued the chocolate bunny tradition. What can I say? I’m a kid at heart!

And what would Easter be without a ham dinner? My mother always cooked one and relatives filled the seats at our dining room table to enjoy a delicious meal.

Although the pandemic will no doubt cause smaller celebrations for everyone again this Easter let’s hope that next year the gatherings can include as many people as we want. After all, holidays are all about making happy memories that we can enjoy looking back on over the years.

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