Some of our past Easters have been spent at church. Some with relatives. Some on day-long hikes. Some at Eugene O'Neill's house. No, not really, there was only one Easter at Eugene O'Neill's house.
I didn't plan it that way. Last year, I'd called to schedule a reservation at the Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site & specifically asked about "off hours" so we could avoid being added to a crowded tour group. "Oh, well then, you'll want to come Sunday, March 23. We're going to be open & no one's scheduled that day. All of the other times and days are pretty much full." Then she added, a little tersely I thought, "You could come that Sunday if you want. We have to be open anyway."
Perfect, we'll take it! I hung up thinking how lucky I'd been to not only get a spot, but to get one all to ourselves on such short notice. We weren't going to be in California for long, so this was our chance. I ran to my calendar to jot down the particulars when I finally understood her tone. That Sunday, just a couple of weeks away, was Easter Sunday - in March this year, not April, I'd forgotten.
I picked up the phone to cancel, but then I reconsidered. When would the girls get this opportunity again & how could I, their loving mother, deny them the joy of modern realism, abject pessimism and unresolved tragedy? I did make sure Aunty Monica would accompany us, and then assured myself that it was indeed a relatively festive way to celebrate Easter, after all.
Katrianna was not so easily persuaded. I tried to convince her that, since we weren't going to be at home in Houston, the Easter Bunny might have difficulty finding us. So, he had told me to meet him at Eugene O'Neill's house on Easter day at exactly 1:25 pm. Wasn't that neat? And, didn't she want to get her presents?
She didn't buy it, not even close. OK, go with a different approach:
"Well no, honey, I know we haven't read anything by Eugene O'Neill yet... But, he did write a play called The Hairy Ape! It is almost exactly like Richard Scarry's cartoon where Bananas Gorilla finds and eats all of the bananas in the hold of that ship, then has to swab the discarded banana peels off the deck as a punishment. You really used to like Bananas Gorilla, remember?...
"Well no, Eugene didn't draw comics. He kinda preferred the format of dreary one act plays or four-hour long modernist sagas that examined the savagery and despair of humanity. But, other than that, it's exactly the same as Bananas Gorilla!"
She told me she had been over Bananas Gorilla for several years now & she didn't have any interest in Richard Scarry, this Eugene O'Neill fellow or any other "baby stuff" anymore. As an alternative to breaking out my anthology of O'Neill's one acts, I suggested, "Well, we could go out for pizza after the tour?"
Done! Easy parenting coercion 101.
The Easter Bunny did in fact find us in the morning that became electric with egg hunts, baskets of chocolates & brunch before we had to drive over to Danville. We arrived in the parking lot with time to spare and it was blissfully empty. Until another car arrived. And then another. And then another. And then the van, which we all just barely squeezed into so it could shuttle us up to the Tao House. Mostly I was upset our private tour had been usurped. But, I chose to focus instead on the weak moral character of these heathens who would so readily violate the sanctity of a holy day by going on a literary tour. They obviously had no sense of pro-piety.
Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and also clearly felt that there was no better thing to do on Easter Sunday than discuss Eugene O'Neill. He did take a moment to acknowledge that there were 'some younger than usual visitors with us this afternoon,' but he was a purist. That segue way over, he proceeded to display his exhaustive and intimate knowledge of O'Neill's life, including but certainly not limited to: alcoholism, child abuse, abandonment, collegiate suspension, depression, extramarital affairs, divorces, drug addiction, excommunication, banishment and multiple suicides of just about everyone connected to O'Neill in any way. Of course, he didn't realize it and nothing would have constrained our devout guide anyhow, but all of this was "old school" for my 7 and 10 year olds and they barely blinked - well, unless a big yawn sort of forced them to.
However, they did perk up when talk turned to O'Neill's daughter. Because they finally saw some way to relate perhaps? Was it the mention of a child or the father-daughter dynamic? No, it was because Oona had run away with and married Charlie Chaplin, 36 years her senior, and had been disowned by her dad forever after. He never saw his little girl again - very sad. It was hard to gauge M&K's reaction, however, because they were too busy nudging each other repeatedly, giggling and pointing at their own dad who had made them sit through hours of Charlie Chaplin movies saying, "Now, just wait, it does get funny. . . the good part's coming right after this!" It brought up such nostalgia in them for Modern Times, I mean their quality-filled 'Dad Times.' Still, at least the Noble Prize laureate's life had finally become relevant in their eyes. Plainly, Oona was wrong for what she did. Not the marrying a much older man part. But, the part about choosing to spend the rest of your life with someone who thought slapstick (not to mention silence) was funny.
A few other things caught their attention, too. The fact that inside the Tao House, which O'Neill had specially built based on the principles of Taoism, mirrors were strategically placed to ward off evil spirits and were tinted a disconcerting shade of green (perhaps to reflect the envy of all onlookers?). The fact that his third wife had changed her name from Hazel Neilson Taasinge to Carlotta Monterey to appear more exotic.
The fact that their dog was dotingly referred to as their "baby" and, unlike the husband, got to share its room with Carlotta. The fact that the neckties hanging in O'Neill's bedroom closet matched those of their dad (proving that Chris is at the height of 1940s fashion). The fact that his study was designed and decorated to replicate a ship captain's quarters. The fact that they were the only ones on the tour allowed to sit in his chair and fiddle with his vintage pencils, always kept meticulously sharp on his two desks. The fact that, in his last years, his handwriting was so tiny that the guide supplied us with magnifying glasses so we could make out the words.
And, the fact that the outside of the house had stairs leading straight into walls, going nowhere, prompting Mikaela to observe that the Tao House seemed a lot more like the Winchester Mystery House than a soothing, feng shui environment.
But, what about the fact that he was born and also died in hotel rooms to which he reputedly decried from his death bed, "I knew it! Born in a hotel room and, Goddammit, died in one!" Or, the experience of overlooking the same hills and scenic views that had captured his imagination? Or, what about perusing his personal bookshelves full of literature and philosophical works? Or, how's about seeing his actual Nobel Prize for Literature award? Ehh, not so much...
Back outside the kids went, much more interested in the fact that all of the garden walkways and paths zigzagged to throw off the 'negative powers' that, we were told, could only travel in straight lines - which, of course, induced M&K to 'positively run amok' and play tag in the estate's backyard until it was time to leave.
Still, they had given their mom a memorable Easter present - the certainty that one day this would mean something to them, too. Or, even if not, that they might at least know enough to avoid life's (and/or ENGL 401's) Strange Interludes as a result.
After our Long Day's Journey into Easter, we were playfully ushered Into Night with the help of large pizzas, sodas & tunes on the ipod shuffles that the Easter Bunny had managed to slip into a couple of eggs found at Eugene O'Neill's very own Tao House.