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Easter Procession

ISSUE:  Spring 1939

Well, Clark had it coming to him,” she heard her father say. Mary cracked her egg carefully and peeled away the purple shell. The broken chips looked pretty on the white tablecloth. Martin had an orange one, but he didn’t eat it. He liked to put the napkin ring on its head and pretend it was Humpty Dumpty. The morning sun poured in across the table and made the lilies burning-white. The whole room smelled of the Easter lilies.

” ‘You’ll embarrass the church,’ Reverend Sarpy told him. ‘You’ll make a mockery out of religion.’ But Chebar comes back with a note saying he ain’t interested in what the deacons think—’and if this be mockery,’ Luke said, ‘then Christ needs more cartoonists!’ “

Mary saw her mother smile a little doubtfully down at the coffee cup. “Clark had it coming to him, I guess,” she said, “but this—”

“Mr. Clark talks to us in Sunday school sometimes,” Martin announced suddenly. “He’s got striped hair.”

“Mr. Clark makes very good pecans,” Mary said inform-ingly. “They come in two kinds—Clark’s Mammoth and Clark’s Selected. Only the Selected ones aren’t so good. They both come in cellophane and cost a lot. Peanuts’re cheaper.”

“Luke Chebar’s a fanatic,” her mother said.

Father picked up his fork again and broke off a bit of bacon, but he didn’t eat it. He was staring absent-mindedly at the lilies. “Not a fanatic,” he said. “Just a literal man. When a person says something, he thinks they mean it. That causes a lot of misunderstanding.” Mary completed the last gold crumb of her egg and looked out the window hopefully. If the sun kept on like this, she could wear her yellow hat with the cherry on it.

“What time’s the procession begin?” Mother asked.

“Twelve noon,” her father said. He raised one eyebrow and gulped his coffee. “Luke’s a smart man.”

“Oh,” her mother said; and then, “Will they go right by the church?”

“Right by the church and then his house, and end up at the factory again.”

“Pick up your shells, Mary,” her mother said, “and go get dressed. We don’t want to sit on the aisle again.” She looked worried.

Mary gathered up the wrinkled purple shell and went out to the kitchen door. The lilacs were in bloom near the steps, and the smell of them heavy in the sun; big purple pyramids of sweetness. Martin was outside already, grubbing in the grass, his egg bulging out of his pocket. “Christisrisen Christismen sonsofmen and angelssay . . .”he chanted to himself. He mounded up a big pile of clover and balanced the yellow egg on top of it. Then he lay down on the grass and kicked his heels at the sky and laughed all by himself.

Mary picked a bunch of bright gold dandelions to pin on her coat, and stained her fingers. “The littul flowers came through the ground . . . at Easter time . . . at Easter time . . .” she hummed. It was a most unusually beautiful day. Most unusual for Easter.

They walked down the street slowly. Her father pointing out the clusters of maple seeds that broke and spiraled down toward the walk. Martin stopping to stare solemnly at every person that passed. You could see people strolling slowly along other streets, couples and families in three and four, coming toward the church; little boys in white panamas with blue ribbons, and one little girl in bright yellow like a goldfinch. Mary fingered the cherry on her hat and wished she could see herself.

Daffodils were yellow along the public parkway, and a Japanese cherry tree in bloom. The cross on top of the church glittered and looked black against the white clouds. Other church bells began to ring in scattered places over the town—loud and joyfully, it seemed to Mary. She lifted her face up and squinted at the sun. “What’s going to happen at twelve o’clock that you said?”

“A demonstration,” her father answered. “A procession of pecan shellers. The ones at Clark’s.”

“What’s a demonstration?” Martin asked. He was listening hard.

“People carrying banners,” Mary informed him. “Like a circus parade, but no elephants.” She wondered hopefully if they would give bags of nuts away.

Martin lost interest with the absence of elephants, and mounted the church steps in his one-leg-at-a-time motion which carried him triumphantly through the arch and into the dark vestibule, chilly even in summer. The smell of lilies poured out as soon as the door was opened, and the deep lung-sound of the organ.

“There goes Mr. Clark,” Mary whispered loudly. “Won’t he be late for the procession?”

“Sh!” her father said. “Hush!”

Mr. Clark turned around and looked down at Mary. He smiled and said, “Hello, lady.” Mary’s heart warmed and stretched toward him. He looked rather handsome in his dark Sunday clothes with pin-stripes on the pants, and his half-gray half-black hair brushed back smooth. It looked striped like a skunk, and he had a white daisy in his buttonhole. There was a faint silverness around his jaws, and a smell of fresh toilet water. Mary decided it was amazing what a difference happened to a person’s face when it smiled. Mrs. Clark had round vague cheeks and a stiff mouth. She had worried eyes, and carried a stiff embroidered purse. She seemed very attached to her husband. They had one young son about sixteen; he never came to church, though. They lived in a house with stone pillars at the gate, and in summer pink and purple petunias sprayed down from the urns on top of them. . . . “Mr. Clark had it coming to him. . . .” Mary repeated her father’s voice in her mind. She wondered what mysterious thing was coming, and if he would look so calm and fresh if he knew. She felt a vague sympathy for him, sitting there all unmindful — a sympathy somewhat diluted by a delicious sense of impending doom.

Her father shook hands with Mr. Clark in a sort of good-natured duty way and gave him the Rotary grip, but sitting down in the pew afterward he looked grave and withdrawn. Every now and then he would start to reach for a cigarette, and then shove them back in his pocket again.

The smell of lilies got stronger in the warm air as the service went on. There were red tulips in the windows, and lots of young girls had gardenias on their coats. Everyone looked fresh and happy except her father.

“For I, being taken up, will draw all men to me . . .” the minister read slowly. The white choir rose up like a gentle wave, and the anthem began. Mary drowsed comfortably against her father’s sleeve. She wondered what sound the stone made when it was rolled away . . . rolled away . . . rolled. . . . She sat up with a jerk, hearing the sound of the clock striking twelve, and the whistle of a train.

“Ye must be born again,” the minister read. He was closing the book, and one of the choir boys picked up the heavy gold cross. The organ began again and the choir filed out, singing. Everybody started picking up their coats and gloves and programs. Mr. Clark leaned over and helped Mary on with her new blue serge. “A very nice service,” he said and looked at Father. Mrs. Clark smiled and bowed. Mary’s father bowed back at her. His eyes had a grave, expectant look.

In the vestibule Mr. Clark slipped one of the lilies into Mary’s hand. “Here, little lady,” he said. He was an usher and had a right to give lilies away.

Outside it was glaring-bright and hard to see. She clung to her father’s hand and stumbled down the steps. Martin was yawning and blinking in the light.

“I think we ought to go home right away,” Mother said. She sounded nervous, and lingered her gloves.

“Just a minute. They’re coming now,” Father said.

Mary looked up the street and saw a strange, wavering cluster of white things moving down toward them, marching down the street under the spring elms.

“The procession!” Martin whispered. He ran out toward the curb and jumped up and down with excitement.

Mary heard Mr. Clark make a queer snorting sound. “Well, for God’s sake!” he said.

“Yes, for God’s sake,” her father said. He was smiling a little.

The people coming out of the church stopped and gathered on the sidewalk. They clustered together.

As the procession got nearer, Mary could see Luke Chebar marching in front. He was a big man, although more tall than wide, and you couldn’t very well miss him.

“It’s amazing,” she heard her mother say. “Incredible. John, let’s get out of here!”

But her father didn’t move.

Luke marched in front, carrying a big white banner by himself. YE MUST BE BORN AGAIN was printed across it in bright orange letters. He had on his work clothes still, but he wore a neat red tie, and his bushy hair was brushed and parted.

Behind him came a long trail of people. They were all marching rather quietly, but some of them smiled and talked to each other in snatches. They were mostly young Negro girls in bright shabby dresses. One had a pretty purple skirt, but it was torn at the hem, and her shoes wobbled at the heels. She was a pretty girl and carried a big bunch of white paper lilies. Mary remembered seeing her lots of times coming back from the pecan place in the evenings. They all walked very slowly so you could read every word of what was printed on the banners. They stepped together as though to music, but they didn’t have any. After Luke, came a sign saying THOU SHALT LOVE THY NEIGHBOR AS THYSELF. Just like that. Purple letters on a white flour-sack.

Martin pointed at a big banner behind the purple one. “What’s that one say?” he piped. It was carried by two skinny girls who looked tired. “WHATSOEVER YE WOULD THAT MEN SHOULD DO TO YOU, DO YE EVEN SO TO THEM” Mary read. “That’s out of the Bible, too. But the next one isn’t!”

It was a big banner, and two older men carried it up on poles. It was printed in bright red and still looked almost shining-wet in the sun. WOULD YOU WANT US TO WORK YOU FOURTEEN HOURS A DAY? WOULD YOU WANT US TO PAY YOU FIVE DOLLARS A WEEK? WOULD YOU WANT US TO SEE THAT YOU LIVED IN A RAT-HOLE SHACK?

“It’s blasphemy,” somebody murmured.

“What’s blasphemy?” Martin said.

His father fumbled for a cigarette with his hands shaking. “Truth,” he said.

“FOR NOTHING IS SECRET, THAT SHALL NOT BE MADE MANIFEST,” Mary read aloud, and then looked quick for the one that came after it.




She looked around at the people near her. They all looked queer. One man changed from gray to a purplish red and clenched his fists. Somebody laughed. People were peering back and forth, looking for Clark. He was just standing there. You couldn’t tell what he thought at all.

The banners kept going by . . . WOE UNTO YOU THAT ARE RICH, FOR YE HAVE RECEIVED YOUR CONSOLATION . . . WOE UNTO YOU THAT ARE FULL, FOR YOU SHALL HUNGER . . . Mary saw the white banner waver in a thinnish hand, and the sweat running down an old man’s face. More paper lilies and then GOD FORGIVE MR. CLARK was all that one sign said. A bunch of ragged children carrying dusty paper palms, some of them marching solemnly with rapt faces, and one little Negro giggling and hiding his mouth.

“This is a terrible thing I” Mr. Campbell muttered.

“Practically un-Christian, isn’t it?” Father said. He was grinning.

i’ Mary saw a big banner coming, with great purple letters on it. It was the largest of all, and looked like a verse printed out.








“Say, what is this?” a man said. “A masquerade?”

Her father smiled on one side of his mouth. “An un-masking, it looks to me,” he said.

“It’s revolutionary!” Mr. Campbell said. His hands shook on his cane.

“Profoundly,” her father murmured.

“What’s going to happen now?” Mary said. “What’s going to happen next?” Her eyes were glued on the last great banner, a big sign painted in blazing orange: WHY CALL YOU ME LORD, LORD AND DO NOT THE THINGS I SAY? it shouted.

“John,” Mother said, “let’s go home.” She took Martin’s hand and started to turn away.

Father looked over at her, then down at Mary, f “I’ll meet you a little later,” he said. He dropped his cigarette and took Mary’s hand. “Hold on to your lily there,” he said. “We’re going to take a big step!”

She felt herself swung out over the gutter and into the street, and smelled the warm tar and sweat and the lily in her hand, all mixed up together.

They were right in the last of the parade. The great orange banner overhead, and the palms and wrinkled lilies all around, bobbing in the children’s fists. “Hi,” a little girl said. Mary looked back at the sidewalk as though it were miles away—a confused cluster of black and spring-colored things moving and murmuring, like ants, and the black opening of the church door, and the sun on the steps. She looked up at her father, excited. He was carrying a pole of the orange sign, and one of the kids had shoved him out a green paper palm.

“Where’re we going?” she asked him.

“Oh, a far long way,” her father said. “But we’ve got good legs!” He was really smiling.


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