Easter: warm weather, colorful dresses and “Rabbit Nests”

As little girls, my sister and I couldn’t wait for Easter to arrive each year. Not only did the holy holiday mean warmer weather and the chance to sport colorful dresses, but it also meant the chance to get down and dirty constructing our “Rabbit Nests.”

We didn’t have regular Easter baskets like normal families; Rabbit Nests required much more skill and imagination. They were a work of art. The brainchild of my father who employed them when he was a little boy, the nests were holes that had to be dug and decorated on Good Friday afternoon with the right amount of creativity and manual labor. My sister and I were under the impression that if they didn’t appear presentable to the Easter Bunny, he wouldn’t leave any presents. We also felt guilty because it was Good Friday, so the thought of Jesus suffering on the cross made our work ethic even more intense.

True to sibling rivalry, we assumed that the bigger the nest holes were, the more presents they would contain. Year after year, though, they consistently yielded a fair and reasonable amount of chocolate-covered eggs, stuffed bunnies, beach towels and Barbie dolls on Sunday morning, regardless of how deep and wide they were. Still, the hole excavation and nest decoration process gave us Beardens another excuse to venture into the woods with a mission.

We discovered that nothing made better nest-liner than fresh pine needles. This meant standing in the bed of a cattle-scarred pickup truck, occasionally half full of feed, and pointing out the right limbs for daddy to carefully remove from the tree. Not only did the needles smell good when we were arranging them to cover the red clay hole bottom and sides, they also made everything else stick to our fingers for the rest of the nest decorating session.

But the nests couldn’t just be green. So we’d spend the entire afternoon searching the hilltops and creek bottoms for the perfect array of springtime color. From purples and pinks to yellows and reds, the wildflowers of Alabama on the Bearden ranch always seemed ready for action on that fateful Friday. Depending on how early or late Easter fell in the calendar year, crabapple blooms, dogwoods, sweet shrubs, wild honeysuckles, jessamine, violets and phlox might get the chance to encircle the celebratory cavities. The result was a beautiful, natural springtime sampler—proudly displayed in two holes in our backyard. (Well, the dogs and cats had nests prepared for them too, even though they very rudely consumed the dyed Easter eggs that we gingerly placed along the edges.)

We would arrange and rearrange until sundown, and then mama would flip the back porch light on for us to make the final touches to our masterpieces. The next morning, two sleepy-eyed sisters and their parents would amble into the yard to discover the dew-covered goodies the Easter Bunny had brought. Removing the candy and toys from the cool, wet Rabbit Nests, lined with slightly-wilted flowers and half-eaten eggs, we couldn’t help but notice that the real treasures were the nests themselves and the time we spent as a family creating them.

As we tugged at our scratchy dresses and contemplated the true meaning of Easter during church later that morning, feeling guilty for our sins yet joyous for a risen Savior, we wondered what kinds of flowers were in the Garden of Gethsemane the night Jesus was arrested and what it looked like outside the tomb when He appeared to Mary Magdalene after His resurrection. We hoped they were the most beautiful flowers God ever created. We figured our Savior deserved nothing but the best.

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