Every once in a while, my mother would bounce out of a pediatric practice. She would declare that she had grown fed up with nursing, with the corporatization of healthcare, with the bureaucracy of health insurance, with sticking sick kids with the same hepatitis B vaccines, with the flu, with scrubs. She would quit with gusto and embark upon some new adventure of self discovery. She would take time off to tend the vegetable patch in our backyard, where she grew peppers and tomatoes, cucumbers and potatoes. We used to harvest the vegetables in a green plastic, pedal-driven tractor with a detachable wagon on it.
She would make crafts and sell them at Christmas fairs in the basement of Sts. Peter and Paul Church. She’d sit next to old ladies, selling hand-crafted ornaments and snowmen, reindeer and cinnamon-scented and painted pinecones. At the end of the fair, she would let my sister and I count the money and then we’d put it into a jar that had a label on it reading “HAWAII VACATION.” We did, eventually, go on that trip.
One year, she decided that she would work as the Easter Bunny at the Galleria Mall in White Plains. The Galleria had recently been eclipsed by a new upscale mall called The Westchester, which had a designer food court, marble floors, and a raffle in the lottery where you could win a Porsche. By comparison, the clientele at The Galleria was decidedly down-market. Second-rate department stores that were always a mess and a McDonald’s in the food court to which we would beg our parents to take us.
She had to take a drug test. She had to punch in and punch out. And worst of all, she had to deal with exhausted parents, crazed by the hour of waiting in line with a bunch of screaming kids.
But she also got to have kids in her lap. Kids that she wasn’t sticking with needles, but who wanted to be there and who thought that she was magical. They told her that they loved her, that they hoped she would leave them eggs in their backyards or around their apartment buildings.
Anyway. On a random March day, I guess during Lent (this is when I still lived in Chicago), I got a picture in the mail. It was of my father, who had visited my mom in the mall on the last day that she was the Easter bunny. My mom had sent me the picture that they had taken together, which was pressed into a medallion of hard plastic that had cracked in one place. The picture had already started to fade a little. My father was sitting in her lap. He was much younger, in his forties. And smiling broadly.
But the thing that did it for me in the picture is that, because of the cheap costume, the flash revealed my mom’s face behind the lace of the false eyes. And you can see her laughing in the costume, holding my dumb dad there on her knee.