Create your own moral for my Easter story.
I was pulling into the YMCA parking lot for my fix of Friday basketball when an Easter memory from my childhood popped into my head.
Decades earlier, my mother had taken me and my friend John to this very spot to participate in an Easter Egg hunt. Many of the details are fuzzy, but I remember it being a warm, spring day (with Easter so early this year, I expect the Bunny to freeze his tookas off. A low of six degrees here). My mom had some errands to run and she dropped John and I off an hour before the event was to begin.
Anyway — I do not remember the rationale, probably the "Opie factor" with my red hair, rosy cheeks, and freckles — but an adult organizing the egg hunt asked John and I to guard the woods from children trying to get an unfair advantage.
Um, sure. We can do that.
As the adult disappeared and with no one else in sight, I immediately crept into the little shack that held the prizes.
I held a sheet of paper that held a list of colors and numbers. The criminal area of my brain hummed into action and I did the math. The colors must refer to the eggs. The numbers must be the point values of the eggs. Points = prizes!
As I looked around the shack, there was a bike, a model airplane, and stuffed animal that was bigger than John and me put together. The ramifications of this discovery boggled the mind.
I left the shack and relayed my intel to John. The yellow eggs were worth 20 points, let’s get to work.
Free of any supervision and with hearts pounding, we scurried into the woods. I whispered to John that if we were caught, say we saw a kid and went in to flush him out. Agreed.
As we picked our way through the forest, the colors stood out. Pink. Blue. Orange. Yellow!
John lived only two doors down. Surely we could devise some agreement to share the bike.
We used our shirts like baskets to collect the yellow eggs. We dumped around twenty of them at the base of a tree and quickly covered them with a few sticks and leaves.
We made our way back to the little shack where the adults were back and other kids began congregating. Thankfully, no one was asking any questions.
We milled about anxiously, waiting to execute our plan.
The starting whistle blew. Adrenaline surged. John and I raced to unearth our treasure in the woods.
Dozens of other kids screamed among the pine trees, scattering in all directions. There were squeals of delight as the kids gathered eggs hidden in plain sight. The fools knew nothing about the scoring system. The ubiquitous blue eggs were worthless. If they only knew the truth they would not be so pleased with themselves.
John and I raced to our tree. I’d guard our spot and John would collect whatever eggs he could find — producing only yellow eggs would tip off the adults. We’d then bide our time until the contest ended before making our triumphant march to the winner’s circle. Remember to look surprised.
We arrived at the tree. No eggs. Wait a minute.
This isn’t the right tree.
Full of children high on Easter morning chocolate, the forest became a labyrinth. I realized I could not remember exactly where we had hidden the loot. I knew we were in the right area, but all the trees looked the same. There were kids all around us… we had to hurry now… there wasn’t much ti….
"OH MY GAAAAAD!" the little boy in the Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls said.
And just like that, the mother lode was lost. Twenty feet away, the little boy clapped his hands as he collected the gold in his basket. Our gold!
John and I looked at each other and then down to the ground. There was nothing to be said.
Minutes later we stood in silence as the little boy beamed in disbelief as he collected his new bike. I bet he couldn’t even ride without training wheels — what a waste — but then I saw how happy his mom looked too, like she might cry.
And I felt the first pang of shame. *
When my mother picked us up, of course she noticed my subdued affect.
What’s wrong? Nothing.
We drove home in silence.
And in the four years that remained in the friendship between John and me, we never again spoke about the Easter Egg hunt of 1977.
* Just typing this story, thirty years later I can still feel that pang of shame. This is the power of conditioning.