Growing up, my parents never had a lot of money so gifts were often scarce, but they always tried to give us a story to tell instead. What follows is a story about a time when they tried to give us both, and how in the end, it has become my favorite story of all.
I was 7 or 8, and it was the night before Easter morning, you know when the bunny is supposed to come and leave you all those eggs? Well I was having a horrible day and a hard time believing that it could possibly get any worse. My family and I were in Hamilton, visiting my grandparents for an Easter lunch. Nonna had given each of us kids some Cadbury Cream eggs, which I had never tried before! I was just about to unwrap one when my cousin Jennifer grabbed me by the wrist and warned me,
‘Are you crazy?’ she shouted, ‘Don’t you know what happens when children under the age of 10 eat those things?’
I was immediately concerned. Jen often warned me about dangerous things, like the witch named Zelda that lived in her basement, and the dog next door that ate little children.
‘If you eat that, you’ll turn into a giant egg, and you’ll just keep rolling, and rolling, and rolling until you roll all the way down a big endless hill, and you’ll never, ever be able to find your way back home.’
‘Why not?’ I asked.
‘Because, you won’t have any legs!’
Understandably, I gave her my Cadbury Cream eggs and watched in agony as she gobbled them down. I spent the rest of the afternoon running around the neighborhood, warning every child who looked younger than ten, not to eat Cadbury Cream eggs.
Mom tucked me in around 9 and I laid awake for a few hours, daydreaming about Easter morning. My parents always made us an Easter trail out of little chocolate eggs. It started beside our bed and it traveled down two flights of stairs, through the living room, into the dining room, and ended either in the kitchen, family room, backyard or basement. Along the trail they would place little gifts; knickknacks, sometimes clothes, maybe a toy or two. Last year I had a panic attack when I made it to the end of the trail only to discover that I didn’t get a single present! I started crying when my dad walked in, turned the oven on to start the turkey, and then watched as the whole thing caught fire! Mom had hid a stuffed bunny in there for me, which kind of made sense, since my trail ended right in front of the oven.
I decided to sneak downstairs this year, just to make sure that mom wasn’t planning any fire hazards this time. The basement light was on, so like any curious child on the eve of a special occasion, I snuck my way downstairs and eavesdropped on them. They were fishing through our storage closets, emptying out boxes and bags that I had never seen before. They must have been buried at the very back, where I never dared to go because Jen once told me that a troll lived there.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when dad moved aside and exposed a pile, shoulder-high of toys, clothes, books and other fun looking things. I wondered if my parents were secretly rich, and they were perhaps pretending not to have money just to teach us a lesson in humility? But then I heard my mother say,
‘I hope Julia doesn’t recognize this old bear. Elisa only got rid of it a couple years ago.’
‘Don’t worry about it,’ said my dad, ‘She’ll love it either way. Now what about this movie? Do you think Ryan has seen it?’
‘Oh, maybe once or twice. It’ll have to do.’
I realized in that moment, crouched behind a laundry bin, dressed in my sister’s old pajamas, that they were doing what they had always done; giving us more hand-me-downs and recycled clutter. Only, watching them there, rummaging through everything they had, gave me this warm feeling inside that I get whenever I remember that night… And suddenly the hand-me-downs turned to treasure, and my torn and tattered pajamas felt like silk.
On Easter morning I woke up extra happy knowing what was in store for me. I followed my trail into the family room, picking up my sister’s old toys and trinkets along the way. I looked over at my sister and brother as they collected their things, wondering if they knew my parents secret.
Of course, they had figured it out years before me. They were no strangers to my parent’s tricks. And years later, when my little brother was ready for the hype of his very own Easter trail, we all made sure not to tell him about the little bunnies in the basement with their secret treasure chest…
I did, however, let him in on the Cadbury Cream Egg dilemma.