I was driving past our town park the Saturday before Easter last year and noticed a swarm of adults scattering thousands of plastic eggs around the park in preparation for an Easter egg hunt. The eggs were in plain sight, consistent with the current thinking that no child should be expected to work up a sweat. The children were lined up behind a rope, the smallest in front, to get first crack at the eggs, applying a standard of fairness that exists nowhere in the world that I know of. I’m as progressive as they come, but if we give this social tinkering its head, we’ll soon be breaking the legs of the faster children to slow them down.
When I was a kid, the town kept its nose out of the Easter egg business. The day before Easter, my mother went to Johnston’s IGA and bought three dozen eggs, vinegar, and food coloring. While she was boiling the eggs, we poured hot water, vinegar, and food coloring in coffee cups, spread the Saturday morning Indianapolis Star on the kitchen table, and dipped the eggs in the cups. If we were feeling especially creative, we might dip the skinny end of one egg in one color and the fat end in another color. Occasionally, we took leave of our senses entirely and left a band of undyed white around the middle.
My oldest brother, Glenn, hid the eggs in roof gutters 30 feet above the ground, buried in the center of thorn bushes, beneath foundation stones, in hornets’ nests and rattlesnake dens, anyplace at all that could result in our death or disfigurement while retrieving them. It took us weeks to find them, and some we never did discover until they worked their way to the Earth’s surface the next winter, heaved up by the frost like boulders. Sometimes, years later, we would hit an egg with the lawn mower, a puff of white would shoot out the side, and a sulfuric odor would hang in a cloud over the yard for days.
The tally was always lopsided, with one of us finding way more eggs than the other four of us — usually Glenn, since he had hidden them in the first place. Complaining was useless, since our parents wouldn’t have done anything about it except to tell us to stop complaining. It would never have occurred to them to place the eggs in plain sight, or to take us by the hand and guide us from egg to egg, or to urge the bigger children to leave some eggs for the smaller children. On the upside, cheating was permitted, and we happily stole from one another to even the score, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus with larceny and deceit.
The one benefit of not finding eggs was not having to eat them. The days following Easter were spent choking down eggs, the yolks clumping in our throats like mud. Then plastic eggs, filled with chocolate and jellybeans, were invented, which was a promising development, though it never took hold at our house. In later years, my mother weakened and bought us each a chocolate bunny. I’m using the word chocolate in the loosest sense. More accurately, they were made of a waxy substance that resembled chocolate, not unlike Ex-Lax and producing much the same effect.
People who keep track of such things report that Easter is the fifth-highest-spending holiday in America, between Valentine’s Day and Father’s Day. It would have lapped Valentine’s Day some time ago, except my parents stopped buying chocolate bunnies for us when we moved from home. But then, life is one disappointment after another, which the kids in our town will never learn if we keep coddling them.