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  You could have a big dipper   

Basket Case by Bill Harrison

Easter Sunday, 1962. The morning was thick and pallid. My father Bernie piled our family—my mother Barbara, sister Betty, and me—into our '58 Chevy sedan and drove us from our apartment in Flushing to somewhere in Manhattan. I was six, my sister fifteen months younger. Our nominally Jewish family celebrated Passover, not Easter, so as far as Betty and I knew, this was just another Sunday. Except that we'd normally still be in our PJs, parked in front of the TV, waiting for Mom to call us into the kitchen for Corn Flakes or, if we were lucky, crisp french toast made with challah.

Instead, my sister and I were hustled into dress-up clothes and bundled into the backseat of the car. Mom sat up front, uncharacteristically mute, as my father piloted the Chevy to his destination.

Dad pulled over on a sleepy side street and hopped out. It had begun to drizzle.

“Be back in a jiff.”

Moments later he returned, beaming, gliding side-by-side with a petite woman wearing a canary yellow dress and a toothy smile. Dad held an umbrella over her chestnut beehive, something I'd never seen him do with Mom.

Yellow Lady carried two enormous baskets, bristling with green and yellow straw, one on each arm. Dad waved Betty and me out of the backseat. My mother did not move.

“This is Billy and Betty. Kids, say hello.”

“Hello?” I squeaked. Betty half-hid behind me.

The woman crouched and rested the baskets on the damp sidewalk. She rubbed my sandpaper skull, then reached around me to give Betty's arm a little squeeze. The heady aroma of candy and perfume filled me with want. Yellow Lady handed each of us a basket.

“Happy Easter Billy and Betty.”

“Thank you!”

“Thank you!”

With a brief nod from Dad, my sister and I leapt back into the car and busied ourselves rifling through our treasure. We'd never seen anything like those baskets. Brightly painted eggs basked in a sea of technicolor jellybeans. A giant chocolate bunny, wrapped in golden foil, perched regally in the middle of the whole beautiful mess.

“Don’t eat it all at once,” growled Mom. “You’ll get a tummy ache.”

We never saw the Yellow Lady again. The events of that Easter Sunday faded into obscurity. Even at those tender ages, my sister and I somehow already knew not to ask questions about unexplained things.

In my late teens, Mom revealed that the woman had been the most recent of my father's girlfriends. He'd been cheating on her from the time Betty and I were toddlers. Yellow Lady wanted Dad to divorce my mother so she could marry him. And she expected him to bring us along as part of the deal.

We thought we’d hit the jackpot, but that day must have been a gut punch of humiliation for Mom. Why did she agree to go along for the ride? What kind of perverse chutzpah did it take for my father to schlep all of us to meet up with his mistress on Easter so she could ingratiate herself with his children?

Last year, shortly after Mom died, I asked Betty what she remembered of this incident. She didn't recall it. Perhaps she was a bit too young for the sheer weirdness of that morning to lodge in her long-term memory.

As for me, the sight of an Easter basket or a chocolate bunny evokes shards of images from that long ago Sunday: The chilling drizzle; the sickly sweet smell of the Yellow Lady; my mother's bitter, silent collusion.


Bill Harrison spent many years in the music business and is now enjoying a second career as a psychotherapist in Chicago. He's written extensively on music- and psychology-related topics for such publications as Bass World, The Intermezzo, Bass Musician Magazine, Counseling Today, and Performink. Like everyone else, he's at work on a memoir.

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