As a child our family’s Easter traditions were nearly the same as the other families in our small West Virginia town. I would be roused before dawn for sunrise service, always slightly miffed at Jesus for rising so early that He interfered with my sleep schedule. After church, we would go home to diligently hunt for our Easter baskets that had been expertly hidden by the Easter Bunny. We never had to look very hard, as they were predictably in the dishwasher or toy cubby. We’d then gorge ourselves on chocolate rabbit heads, never making it past the necks, until our grandparents arrived for Easter brunch. After tucking away slivers of baked ham, pink pickled beet eggs, and homemade potato salad, my brother and I would drift back to our Easter baskets. As we rescued and ate stray jelly beans that were in danger of drilling their way down the mounds of plastic grass, lost to us unless we dumped our entire basket, the grown-ups would wash the dinner dishes and chat. One would think that this would give my brother and I a drowsy, homey feeling that would last the rest of the holiday, as our family pleasantly talked and we complacently browsed on the bounty of treats left to us, but this was not the case. Our tiny stomachs were in knots for the Easter activity that was to come. It was the event that the entirety of well fed, well groomed, and well-mannered children of our small town feared; the annual Chamber of Commerce Easter Egg Hunt.
This affair took place in the small park in the center of our town, and expectedly everyone turned out to participate. The chamber members had taken special care to hide hundreds of plastic eggs, filled with candy, small toys, and money, in every nook and cranny that our minuscule park possessed, including the coveted first prize golden egg that contained a fifty dollar bill. Because this was one of two major social events that my town had each year, our mother had taken special care to make sure my brother and I looked our absolute best. I can still see myself in my pink, hand-smocked dress with its stiff crinoline petticoat and my perfectly polished white Mary Jane’s with ruffled lace socks. My face was scrubbed to rosy perfection and my hair was in perfect blond ringlet curls. I looked just like type of little girl that nothing bad could happen to on such a perfect spring day, but I knew my appearance provided a sense of false promise. Pain was coming, and it was coming in the form of the Hufflebergers* and the Snipes*.
The Huffleberger and Snipe kids lived on Berry Hill, an area of our town near the only cemetery. As I grew older I suspected that the “Berry” must have once been “Bury” in reference to its location. Berry Hill was the roughest area in our town and home to a few families that could easy provide excellent case studies to any geneticist wishing to observe the outcome of interfamilial breeding. The Huffleberger and Snipe families kept to themselves, not even sending their multitude of unregistered children to our town’s two schools. There were scores of sordid stories about the criminal activity that occurred on Berry Hill and these tales were often confirmed in our local paper’s Magistrate Report section. At school the words Huffleberger and Snipe had become eponyms that we would often hurl at a classmate during a playground scuffle. In truth, we knew less about them than we proposed, as the only two times we ever saw them was when they left Berry Hill twice a year to attend the Fireman’s Carnival, and the annual Easter Egg Hunt.
So here I stood with my brother and our classmates in our best Easter finery, holding fast to the delicate handles of Easter baskets that our parents had lovingly intended for us to fill with plastic eggs, staring certain defeat in the eye. Our opponents, brought roughly down Berry Hill by a collection of sister-mothers and daddy-cousins, held a motley collection of pillowcases and buckets that were sure to be brimming with booty at the end of the battle. The mayor, dressed in a tired Peter Rabbit costume, blew the ceremonial whistle and the egg hunt began.
The beautiful thing about children is their eternal sense of hope even in times of certain despair. For even as I knew that I every egg I procured would bring a kick to the shins or a punch to the gut before a Huffleberger or Snipe purloined it, I still had scoped out several brightly colored ova to make a run for when the bunny blew the whistle. My predictions were soon validated as a Snipe, who appeared to have been born with an extra earlobe bent my fingers back to filch my first find. I quickly retreated to an area behind the bandstand where I found my brother nursing a bruised shin. From the corner of our refuge we spied our parents, happily conversing with the parents of our classmates. All of the adults seemed blissfully unaware that their tidy offspring were being bludgeoned by a group of mutant graveyard dwellers.
When the last egg had been found and the Mayor Bunny had heartily congratulated a skinny blonde boy in a dirty Dukes of Hazard t-shirt and torn jeans for finding the fifty dollar egg, we climbed into our Buick and drove to complete the last tradition of our Easter holiday; a visit to Dairy Queen. As I slowly licked the circumference of my dripping cone, my mother commented on how glad she was that the boy who won the fifty dollars had been from Berry Hill, because his family so needed the money. I quietly savored my ice cream, noticing only the well-scrubbed well-dressed members of my community in the booths surrounding us. I supposed she was right, as always. The Easter routine that I had taken so for granted hadn’t happened on Berry Hill. The egg hunt was the only thing those kids had, and even then they had to fight for it.
Ideally, I’d like to end this story by saying that I never ever again called a boy, picking on me on the playground, a dirty old Huffleberger, or that the following year I made a trek up Berry Hill to donate my own Easter goodies, but I can’t. I was subject to the same peer pressures, egocentricities and lack of introspection that most kids possess. However, in the years of my youth that followed, I smiled inwardly while rubbing a sore shoulder or shin, as the mayor held up victorious the small, scruffy hand of a Huffleberger or Snipe grasping the golden, fifty dollar egg.
Happy Easter to those of you who celebrate!
*names have been changed to protect my ass