Valentine’s Day hadn’t even grown cold when the heart-shaped boxes of chocolates in the supermarkets were replaced with chocolate Easter eggs, jelly beans, marshmallow chicks and baskets…an early reminder that Easter was just around the corner.
Unfortunately, the chocolate Easter eggs also served as a painful reminder of what my husband still considers to be one of his biggest failures in life.
You see, I’m Russian Orthodox and he is Irish Protestant, so our cultures vastly differ. The very first Easter my husband spent with my relatives, he learned just how vastly.
The moment we entered my grandmother’s house, where all of my aunts, uncles and cousins had gathered, we were greeted with the traditional Russian Easter greeting, “Hristos voskres!” (Christ is risen!), to which I replied with the also traditional, “Voistinu voskres!” (Indeed he is risen!).
While my husband stood there looking totally confused, one of my uncles, holding a plate of hard-boiled eggs that had been blessed by the priest, approached and shoved a big piece of egg into my husband’s mouth (another tradition).
All I can say is the look on my husband’s face was one I’ll never forget. His eyes were wide and filled with panic, his lips were clamped shut, and the lump of egg, which he didn’t chew, bulged in his cheek. Unbeknownst to my relatives, my husband hated – no, make that loathed – hard-boiled eggs.
I could read the poor guy’s mind. He was wondering if he might be stricken straight to Hades if dared to spit out an egg that had been blessed by a priest. But even worse, he probably was thinking if he swallowed it, he might end up vomiting on one of my relatives. Finally, and with an obvious struggle, he swallowed the piece of egg whole.
To this day, I’m still grateful no one needed to perform the Heimlich on him.
Shortly after we entered my grandmother’s house on that first Easter, my cousin and her new husband also entered. When they were greeted with the traditional Easter greeting, my cousin’s husband, Jack, responded flawlessly with, “Voistinu voskres!” to which he received a round of appreciative cheers from my relatives
For some reason, this bothered my husband. “Is he Russian?” he whispered to me.
“No, I guess my cousin must have tutored him beforehand.”
“Well, I want to learn how to say it, too,” he said.
“Fine – I’ll teach you.”
Never in the history of foreign languages has one little sentence caused so much difficulty. In the weeks and months that followed, I must have repeated, “Voistinu voskres!” to my husband 9,000 times, and each time, he found some new, creative way to mispronounce it.
Most of the time, it came out sounding like, “Vice Tina watercress!”
When he was in the bathroom, I could hear him rehearsing the sentence in various ways, with various accents, over and over again. Not one was right. Then he’d come bursting out of the bathroom and shout excitedly, “I think I have it!” and revert right back to his “Vice Tina watercress!”
He reminded me of my friend Janet, with whom I studied Spanish in high school, who had a similar problem. She never could remember how to say pen and pencil in Spanish.
Our Spanish teacher had taught us to say “lapiz” for pencil and “estilografica” (rather than the shorter and easier “pluma”) for pen. For some reason, Janet never could remember them. So I grilled her over and over again until she finally seemed to have “lapiz” and “estilografica” imbedded in her brain for our upcoming Spanish test.
As it turned out, she ended up writing “estilografica” and “estilo-pencila” on the test. We laughed about it for years.
Anyway, by our second Easter together, my husband was pretty sure he could nail the “Voistinu voskres” Easter greeting at my family gathering. As we headed toward my grandmother’s house, he repeated the words over and over again. I didn’t want to burst his bubble, but the more he said it, the worse it sounded.
Finally, as we were about to enter the house, my husband took a deep breath, exhaled and said, “I’m ready!”
We entered to cheerful shouts of, “Hristos voskres!”
To which my husband responded with…“Happy Easter!”
Now, nearly 40 years later, he has given up entirely on even attempting to say anything in any language other than English. Coincidentally, over the years he also seemed to have a lot of ailments that mysteriously cropped up right on Easter Sunday, so he had to stay home in bed.
Maybe this year will be different. Maybe I’ll tape the greeting and play it over and over again while he’s asleep, so he’ll wake up saying it perfectly and then have the confidence to face and impress my relatives on Easter Sunday.
On second thought, it might be easier to just let him and “Vice Tina Watercress” stay home in bed.