Easter always reminds me of the year the Seagrass Clan insisted I come with them to see their eldest son perform in something called a Passion Play. I had no idea what a Passion Play was but their eldest daughter Connie and I had just become friends and she really, really wanted to introduce me to her brother.
My parents had no strong religious beliefs. We went to church from time to time primarily for appearances and they joined the closest church to our house so that we could walk to Sunday school classes while they slept off their hangovers. Saturday nights there was always a party somewhere.
To this day, I cannot tell you what distinguishes a Methodist from a Baptist but the Methodists seemed like decent folk.
The Seagrass Clan, on the other hand, lived and breathed Jesus Christ, all of the Angels, all of the Saints, the current Pope and, oh yeah, the Virgin Mary. They were also all about food. The morning of the Passion Play, I arrived at their house to find them packing the back of their station wagon with baskets of food: frosted brownies, cheesy lasagna, chocolate chip cookies and freshly baked rolls they called Yeast Bunnies. All homemade and all smelling divine. They been up all night cooking, Connie told me.
I’d assumed this seminary would be somewhere in Reno Nevada where we lived. But after climbing into the car next to Connie, her eight year old brother and six year old sister, Mother Seagrass (the driver) announced that it was snowing over the pass and we needed to recite several Hail Marys and invoke the mercy of some saint whose statuette she affixed to the dashboard. We were going to California. We would be back that night but possibly quite late. Lord have mercy.
We said a lot of Hail Marys going over the summit. The snow blew sideways and the bridges were covered over with black ice but once we began to descend into the Sacramento Valley the sun came out and ignited a dizzying sea of vivid greens on the foothills. The further into the Sacramento Valley we drove, the greener it got. However, Mother Seagrass wasn’t used to driving on freeways the size of those in California and so slammed on the brakes when unsure which exit to take. “Lord, which exit should we take?” she would pray as the rest of us peed our pants.
A passion play, Connie finally explained to me, depicts the trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. To this day, I don’t understand what’s so passionate about such a grim subject and I don’t really want to know. Over the many, many years since then, I’ve seen that … such intense devotion and strict adherence to religion has a dark side. But I do remember that day well, all those bright young men, dressed in robes and sandals and sporting ill-fitting beards, their joy at greeting loved ones and their joy at seeing the feast awaiting them after the play. And the green of Spring all around.