by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
The older I get, the less current holidays mean to me… and the more those from years, even decades ago. I see the vivid Easter displays; (these days pharmacies seem to have the most and largest.) But these festive aisles and windows, the bags of candy, and, of course, the seasonal cuddlies do not speak to me. They merely mark the calendar as just another day.
That was not always the case, but years and unrelenting death have so thinned the ranks of the significant players in these annual rites that the dead now significantly outnumber the living, of whom, graying, I am yet one.
I do not mind giving up this present holiday; there is little enough to lose.
But I would mind relinquishing my memories of Easter days gone by, for there are my beloved ghosts, each and every one as vital in my mind’s eye as quick, not long defunct.
And because these folks are even more precious to me now than then, I wish this Easter to remember them through the medium of eggs, colored eggs, hidden eggs, Easter eggs.
My mother’s Easter eggs.
Without any effort whatsoever, I see her in the way the narrator in Thornton Wilder’s play “Our Town” (1938) saw his characters and Granite state denizens. She was young and beautiful then, far, far younger than I am now. She worried, as so many women before and since, about whether she was a “good mother” because she had outside work responsibilities. When I was much older, she would ask me if I minded her being away when I came home from school. I was too young to know just what I should have said. So, I stumbled through an answer I hope gave comfort, but must doubt.
Perhaps it was some scintilla of this guilt (I cannot be sure) that drove the yearly Easter Egg Project, or perhaps it was simply that this messy business was sure to make her laugh. I was there but perceived little; today I see much more, all impressions secure in my mind’s eye.
I quite recall we’d go to Woolworths, first, and then our local general store and post office, run by Mr. and Mrs. Mackey (I never called them anything other); folks who knew all, but were most times (gratefully) discrete.
Both places would have had the Eastern egg coloring kit (by PAAS?) that was de rigueur for this annual kitchen table rite. This kit had the necessary color pellets, special “swirl” colors, too, for advanced egg coloring…. and a host of decals with seasonal themes. We only used the secular ones. Some of these were certain to be later found in my brother’s hair and clothes; he tried to do as much to me, but I was older and wise to his tactics. He can hardly laugh about it even now…
At first. there was strict order and efficiency. Uncolored eggs here; table spoons for these eggs for dipping. Hot water (mind it needed vinegar) on the stove… pellets here… decals there. This sensible ordering of the event was gone in an instant, submerged in uncouth behaviors, reachings around and over, and of course clever sibling sabotages.
And always and again, laughter that firmly established more than any query ever could, that yes she was the best of mothers, how could she even wonder? Thus, some telltale signs of the battle still table top, the now colored eggs packed up (except a few) and driven purposefully to Grammie’s house, where we rambunctious and much loved, visited most every day. Grammie had a task for these eggs… and we knew partly what it was, for these rituals were yearly done.
Each year, Grammie and Grampie, their four adult children and their spouses, would mastermind the family Easter Egg Hunt. There was never any question where it would be held. And while it was not so grand as the nation’s Egg Rolling at the White House, it was as meticulously arranged and punctiliously celebrated.
All aunts contributed the necessary elements — colored eggs of course (always the subject of high scrutiny and devastating comments sotto voce); home-made cookies (the honor of their sex ensured we never had others); and mountains of Easter candy that started with chocolate rabbits and ended with jelly beans. Then circled back to chocolate again. Excess was the order of the day.
Children were encouraged to play outside. Important doings were underway… in the kitchen and in the “rec” room below where the men had the task of determining the hiding places in and out… and carefully writing each location down. These men might grumble… but they never missed this crucial aspect of the affair. They would have been there anyway; we all ended each day in Grammie’s house and kitchen perforce, no invitation ever needed.
At the appointed hour Easter Day, after church and a heavy, formal luncheon which lost nothing of our solid living Hanoverian ancestors, the grandchildren (and that meant every last one of us) were gathered at the starting point in the garage, where on ordinary days Grampie was not above showing off his latest Oldsmobile and his automated garage door. His children, as yet, had neither.
The grandchildren’s Easter eggs.
Grampie and his two sons and two sons-in-law including my father were in charge of Order and Efficiency. This year would surely not be a repeat of what happened last year. But it always was…
The children were all sternly and solemnly admonished to put what they found in their Easter basket and, Above All Else, to let one of the hovering adults know Where They Had Found It.
As always, the organizing theory was excellent… but the reality ensured the customary mass chaos (and much laughter).
The youngest grandchildren could never recall where they had found that chocolate bunny, which was already absent an ear. The oldest grandchildren (inspired by me, the oldest of all) were practised predators. We knew all the best hiding places and went to them like a bat from hell, erasing all order as we went.
Such perhaps was the truest indication that we were a family, each and every one of us.
Unwilling to end this giant game of hide and seek, the grandchildren hid and re-hid the eggs (now mostly broken and inedible) and candies, too. There were only to be found when one of the uncles was sure to find in humid July in the toe of his winter boots, a very jaundiced and pungent Easter egg artifact. So, that’s where that one went….
No Easter, however, would have been complete without my father taking us to the feed store and reviewing the new colored chicks and ducks (red, blue, purple, green). We were allowed a half a dozen or so; before we left Grammie’s we got to show our less fortunate cousins What We Got… pets all, none ever to be eaten.
Now all this exists only in my mind’s eye… but, because I’ve summoned this story, it is all quite clear, so many fond details not lost, but here after all and after all these years.
And so I say to every parent, grandparent and distant aunts and uncles, too: this day, live this day and hug every memory close. Each one is yours… and precious, too; not one to lose. It all starts with a colored egg, my privilege too long forgot, to do this day, in remembrance of all, each one alive in me as I in them.