Well, here we are – another Easter. A time for reflection and celebration. Different images are conjured up for me when I think of Easters past. As a kid I am reminded of a scratchy suit and tie, sitting through grueling long sermons in church and trying very hard to stay awake. As an ex-Hamiltuckian, unfortunately I am reminded of a brutal Easter massacre. This marks the 40th Easter anniversary for the James Ruppert murders of 11 family members. As a kid, the event spawned a favorite saying – “going Ruppert” on someone preceded “going postal”. If you’re interested in that type of thing, I found this interesting video on YouTube.
Mostly though, Easter conjures up memories of Easter egg hunts with my kids.
My favorite egg hunt and Easter celebration memories are from our five years spent down south in Louisiana. Several of our Easters there occurred during the Spring Break for our Ohio relatives. Louisiana was a long way from Ohio but close enough to drive to, especially when you have ‘Spring Fever’. The Summers in Louisiana could be brutally hot and humid but for the most part, all the other seasons were fairly nice. I really have nothing but good memories from my days there.
We had a nice back yard there. Against the rear of the house itself was a nice large covered patio where we had a big picnic table. Immediately behind our patio area we had a very large swimming pool with a ten foot deep end complete with a diving board and tall slide. To the left side of the pool area and left of the house was a nice sized concrete basketball mat I had laid. My father-in-law had laid out the measurements for me. I dug out all of the dirt, (fairly deep too), and then had a concrete company come over and pour with extra fiberglass to help prevent cracking. I was proud of that court. It was maybe the first time I felt like I had been involved in envisioning and building something.
Immediately behind the court and hoop was a nice outdoor storage shed that I had someone build to replace the ratty tin shed that used to be in its place. Then directly behind the shed was a small area that had a cluster of flowering bushes and small pine trees. The previous owner of the house had really done a fantastic job of ensuring there was something flowering in the yard in every single month of the year. It really was quite beautiful. Behind the bushes, in the corner of the lot, there was a small area just large enough for my oldest boy to nail a few boards in an attempt to construct a no-girls-allowed clubhouse, (like there was a multitude of young females attempting to break into our backyard).
To the right side of the pool, in the rear of the yard was a large, old oak tree. Otherwise that side of the yard was open with a couple of outdoor light posts, the yard full of a grass called Saint Augustine.
This is a short silent video of our backyard in Alexandria. We loved this yard.
Oh, and occasionally fire ants.
What’s that? You say you’re not familiar with fire ants? Well their name is well deserved. Fire ants look like any other red ant. The difference is in their bite. Fire ants are very aggressive. They bite to hold on and then they use their abdomen to inject an alkaloid venom that is particularly painful. One ant all by itself feels a bit less painful than a bee sting. The problem though was that there never was just one.
I don’t know what it was about those darn things but it almost seemed like they could communicate with each other. Rarely would someone get bitten by a single ant. Instead, it always seemed as if a hundred of them would sneak up at once, get onto an unsuspecting victim all at the same time and then, on cue signaled by a lookout, they would all start biting and stinging at the same time. Your best defense was to be close to a pool or a strong water hose! More than once I was grabbing for a hose or dousing a child in the pool. And the pain didn’t end with getting the ants off of you. You were left with an itchy, burning sensation that typically lasted several hours. If you spotted a fire ant hill, you learned to stay clear at a very early age.
But back to Easter and egg hunting.
We lived in LA for 5 years and I think we had family there around Easter 3-4 of those. My wife’s parents would come down and a couple of times they would come down with my wife’s sister and family, my brother in-law and two young nieces. They had two girls and we had two boys. Their ages at the time would have been between 4 & 11.
Two of those visits, the in-laws brought down a candy-filled piñata as an extra activity for the kids. The first year, that activity came off without a hitch. We hung the piñata from my basketball hoop, tied a blindfold around each kid and let them take turns at swinging a hard whiffle ball bat until the piñata exploded into a candy waterfall. At this point, the kids would go crazy filling up their bags. On both occasions our youngest boy required a little help to stay at par with the larger, (and hungrier?), kids.
On the second year, once again a piñata appeared. Hey, it was a success last year, right? We began as we did the previous year except that since last year’s piñata broke rather easily, we decided that this year we’d let the younger kids take a couple extra swings and go first so that possibly they’d be the one who broke it open – no dice. Next up, the oldest girl. Perhaps our process was flawed. We spun each of the kids around several times to make them confused about the direct location for the spoils because we thought it was going to be too easy to break. Instead, all we ended up doing was making the kids dizzy, so dizzy that, (oops), one of them caught the end of the bat in the head, whack!
Ok, so maybe we ought to stop spinning them. Man, why the heck isn’t this damn thing breaking? After several rounds of kids spinning, parents laughing and kids hitting the piñata with no candy explosions, we parents began to get bored and anxious. Meanwhile the kids were getting rebellious and soon we parents feared they would turn the whiffle bat on one of us. So we removed the blindfold.
Next we gave the little guys yet another round of punching the piñata and still, no candy! Next up, the big kids – WHACK, WHACK! Still, NO CANDY! What the…? It still was not breaking. What the heck was this thing made of? On Nicole’s next swing, (she’s the oldest girl), she reared back and gave the piñata a great ride, but the only thing that almost broke was Corey’s head. Corey was the smallest boy. Timeout!
Ok, maybe we need a new tactical approach. We got a big knife and sliced a medium sized hole into the piñata. Luckily I had a knife I had ordered from NASA, one made of titanium, especially made for cutting up small asteroids. It did the job; small incision made.
Next, we put the biggest kid up to bat, Mitchell. Mitch had been playing Little League, a lefty with a good swing. He sized up the prize, took a strong stance, reared back and BAM! Out came only a couple of pieces of candy. Like a hungry pack of lions sensing a weakened water buffalo, the kids were all ready to pounce as the adults, (eager for this activity to end), yelled HIT IT AGAIN, MITCH! The next swing connected directly in the weakest area of the piñata and the prizes were all spilled to the ground. Within thirty seconds, everything was scooped up, leaving nothing behind for the hyenas.
To this day, scientists still have not yet figured out the chemical makeup of that piñata. I have my own suspicions that it was constructed of the same material that is used for those airplane black boxes.
Ok, now that that’s over, let’s do the egg hunt! Grandma would take all of the kids into the house to make sure there was no peeking while we adults hid all of the plastic eggs. The eggs were of different sizes. Each plastic egg would contain candy or money, or sometimes maybe both. We, the adults, would grab a bunch of the eggs and begin hiding them all over the backyard. There were lots of spots to hide the eggs. We could go into the bushes, under the shed, in drain spouts, on the side of the house amongst the mint plants, (yes, we even had our own mint leaves), and there were lots and lots of good hiding spots in the back of the yard, either underneath the holly that grew around the big oak or in the bushes that lined the rear of the yard.
Here is a 5 minute snapshot of one of the great Easter pinata kill attempts
This was the era of the VCR, the early 90’s. And so, we would of course record the piñata attacks and the egg scavenging. We would count the eggs before we hid them. After the eggs were all hidden, the kids were unleashed. Like a herd of zombies, the kids would quickly descend on all parts of the yard, trying to scoop up the most eggs into their bags. Naturally, the big kids had no issues. The younger kids had a natural disadvantage because they were used to following their older brother and sister. So as they were gravitating towards their natural inclination, they would of course come up with, not an Easter egg, but a goose egg, a zero.
We adults were no slouches though, and we were fair-minded. We didn’t have a ‘only the strongest survive’ mentality where it came to Easter eggs. No, we were more socialistic in this department – the wealthy egg gatherers were going to either have to pay an egg tax to the younger ones or the government was going to have to step in. Knowing that the older kids were unlikely to make a donation, we adults stepped in and grabbed the hands of the smaller kids and quickly led them to some of the stash that was harder to find. It was a quick 5-10 minutes of mayhem. When the dust began to settle, we would all take a quick inventory. Invariably there would be one or two eggs not accounted for and the kids would scatter again!
This would always be a fun moment for me because I loved to point the kids into an area where I knew no egg was lying because I loved to laugh at watching them all fight to get to the area…where there was no egg. (Did I mention that there were no eggs there?)
The funnest one I recall was a battle between my two boys when they were at their oldest in LA. It was our last egg hunt there and Mitch would have been 12, almost 13 and Corey 8. Most yards in the south have decent sized drainage grates due to the tremendous amount of rain that can fall within a very short time there. We had a 12 incher, (I think), off the edge of the patio behind the house on the right side of the pool. The boys were searching all over the yard for the remaining two eggs. When I saw them at either ends of the yard, I (very helpfully) simply asked “did anyone check underneath that grate there?” They both took off in a blaze, getting to the grate at the same time at which point the battle ensued. I was cracking up as I watched each of them jockeying for position. Corey had gotten there first because he was closer and had tried to box Mitch out but that was no match for big brother strength. Big brother grabbed ahold of him, both of them playfully laughing, and tossed Corey aside, quickly trying to pry up the grate while little brother was riding big brother’s back. Were they surprised to find nothing underneath? Nah…they knew their Dad. 🙂
Just as many of my own childhood memories are crystal clear to this day, some memories of younger days spent with my children are still so vivid that it’s scary. The look and feel of the freshly dried basketball concrete, the piñata that refused to break, my boys wrestling each other for a prize that would never manifest itself and the sheer look of joy on both of their faces as each tried to come out the victor.
We hear the expression said many times that it’s always the simplest things in life which make us happy. I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that expression. For me, Easter conjures up an image of a much simpler time in life where I laughed at two young boys, (now young men), laughing and wrestling with each other, as young brothers will do. Boys – I know you don’t read these stories, but someday when I’m gone, you probably will. I hope you’re still laughing with each other. I hope you remember well what we all meant to each other. If you’re not, how about one of you picking up the phone and reaching out for the other….right now. You just might find that egg with the prize inside. Love, Dad
PS – if you read this, make sure you click on the Like button else I might have to go Ruppert on your email account. 🙂