When I was seven, I participated in my first Easter Egg Hunt. I was in the first grade.
This I remember vividly: it was the perfect spring day with an abundance of new green leaves on the massive oak in the front of our school house. The sky was gentle blue. I wore a pale yellow, cotton dress with a sash tied in a bow. Mama had made it and she trimmed the neck and short, puffed sleeves with dainty lace.
Grade parents lined up to watch. They were the mothers tasked with bringing the cupcakes and ice cream for the party. It was, perhaps, the day that I learned about competition and how joyous it could be.
I did not find the most eggs but I found one of two prize eggs. It was pale pink and filled with tiny candies. I kept it until I was in the fourth grade when I was too big for any such. Besides, that year, I won the spelling bee and the awarded book, along with a certificate for first place, became my new reminder of the fun of competition. Especially when you win.
The reason I had never been to an Easter Egg Hunt is because it took a long while for our mountain people to participate in such frivolous pursuits. The only holidays celebrated when my parents were growing up were Easter and Christmas, religious holidays for special worship. They did have pine Christmas trees, dragged from the woods, and a church play starring Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus.
Easter was a somber but happy day. It recognized the day that Jesus arose from the grave and declared victory over death.
But Easter Eggs? No.
It changed with my generation but I lagged behind because I was a “late in life” child with all of my siblings already out of the house by the time I was six. Too, we lived on Rural Route One, far out in the country, so there were no kids with whom to play.
I suppose we could have had an Easter Egg Hunt at church but those mountain people were much like my parents. They considered it a bunch of foolishness. Plus, there were only four kids who regularly attended church, at Christmas; two more kids usually showed up to be in the Christmas play and get a gift off the tree — so it added up to “not much use to do any such.”
Here I venture a reasonable guess: my frugal Mama, still working through the difficulties of growing up in the Depression of the Appalachians, then suffering through the severe food rations of World War II, wasn’t terrifically interested in wasting eggs for the sheer delight of burying them in a bush or behind a fence post.
To my happiness, she relented when I was in the second grade. She boiled the eggs, brought food coloring, and taught me how to dye them to the most glorious pastel shades of yellow, pink, blue ,and green.
But, on the day I left for school, toting the pink plastic basket from the dime store, it came with an instruction.
“Now, bring home all the eggs you find and I’ll make egg salad with them. Your daddy loves egg salad sandwiches.”
On white loaf bread, may I add.
I grew up, hearing the country people say when something was impressive, “That’s the greatest thing since sliced loaf bread.”
They had grown up on biscuits and cornbread. No one knew what yeast was – except the city folks – or how to bake a loaf of bread. When sliced loaf bread, tasty and sweet, made it to the mountains in the late 1930s or so, it became a treat as treasured as a Baby Ruth candy bar.
Let us remember with respect why we celebrate Easter but let me also add that I hope your Easter basket is filled with beautiful pastel eggs.
[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “What Southern Women Know About Faith.” Happy Easter.]