Ballard: Of eggs and Easter baskets

April 20, 2014 

When I was growing up, my mother always told me not to put all my eggs in one basket.

“Mark, you need to be sure you spread them around so they won’t all be in the same place,” she would say. When I was younger, I thought she meant real eggs but, as I matured, I realized her life lesson referred to more than actual eggs.

In my lifetime, that metaphoric basket has been emptied and its contents relocated more times than I can count. But, since today is Easter, I’m going to zoom in on the memories contained in my real Easter basket. Even though it’s small, it has the power to hold many memories.

I don’t have to worry about trying to recall a visual of my Easter basket when I was a little boy. I’m lucky enough to still have mine complete with its “gave up the ghost 40 years ago” green-colored plastic grass.

When I was unpacking Easter decorations recently, I came upon it. It still looks as good as the day it was purchased more than 50 years ago for a mere 69 cents. What a great investment!

I held it in my hands much the same way I did every Easter growing up. My grip was just as tight now as it was then as I remembered my little sweaty hands carrying it around in pursuit of eggs. I stood there, a middle-age man, holding my Easter basket, and my mind went wild with pastel-colored memories. I sat down on a nearby sofa to hippity-hop back in time.

Even though Mother suggested I didn’t, when I was a little boy, you could bet I always made sure to put all the chocolate eggs in my Easter basket -- especially the ones that were filled with creamy peanut butter and sugared coconut.

I never really cared what happened to the real eggs we always colored because I didn’t like to eat them. However, as an artist, I did want them to be beautiful. During the years, we certainly colored some beautiful Easter eggs. When I try to recall them in my mind, all I end up with is a blur of every color you can imagine merging together like traffic on a congested highway. Thinking back, we even invented some colors because of various mishaps during the dying process.

A mishap involving a new pair of white jeans comes to mind. I was already married and had children when this unfortunate event occurred. I knew better. We were all gathered at my parents’ house prepared to dye eggs. There, in Mother’s kitchen, almost overcome with the vapors of vinegar, we began to dunk each hard-boiled egg into various coffee cups filled with vinegar-laced water and fizzing, colored tablets.

The clever wire instrument that was invented to allow you to slowly lower the egg into its color-changing bath malfunctioned, and my egg took a nose dive knocking over several of the mugs. A colorful tsunami ended directly in my lap onto my white jeans.

I smiled as I remembered. No one uttered a word! I took off my pants! Mother grabbed the bleach! I still associate the smells of vinegar and bleach with Easter!

Never did an Easter Sunday come and go without a fluffy coconut cake. And, of course, that cake had to have a bed of green flaky coconut grass and blue, candy coated, speckled robin’s eggs nestled in it. Back then, there were not many options when it came to dyes. Food coloring was packaged in a box of four small, rounded plastic bottles with pointed tops. Red, yellow, blue and green were your only choices. Since I had some painting experience, I could mix colors with the best of them. Even back then I added some yellow food coloring to the green to give our grass a brighter look.

Easter lilies, new clothes, white shoes, special church services and melodious cantatas swirled through my mind like they had just happened yesterday. But one image stands out in my Easter memories as vividly as its color -- purple thrift.

Thrift is a ground cover that is compact and grows close to the ground. It is completely covered in tiny purple blossoms making it appear to be a velvet rug. Granny had planted some at her house between the sidewalk and the road. Just like movie stars walking down the red carpet at award shows, Easter after Easter we pranced down my grandparents’ purple-fringed sidewalk in our best Easter finery.

My grandfather, with his shaking hands from the beginnings of Parkinson’s disease, filmed this parade almost every year. The Oscars didn’t have anything on our family. Our carpet was just a different color.

I glanced down into my Easter basket and abruptly came back to reality. A lot has changed since our days as children sashaying down the purple-lined sidewalk. Gone are my grandparents. Gone are my parents. I’m still very blessed to have my sister Denise and my little Easter basket.

Trying to fluff out the severely crumpled plastic grass I muttered the words, “What I would give for one more walk down that sidewalk with everyone present!”

I understand what Mother meant about not putting all my eggs in one basket but I don’t think that should apply to my Easter basket. I think she would agree. Within its woven sides and carefully nestled in its fragile grass, are memories of more than 50 Easter Sundays, dozens of colored eggs, egg hunts and giggles, multiple delicious Easter lunches and coconut cakes, special church services filled with music and celebrations, white Easter lilies and so much more.

There’s no doubt all my Easter memories are in one basket. And it’s full, as it should be!

More with Mark

• Mark’s cooking at the Vidalia Onion Festival at 6 p.m. April 24 at Southeastern Technical College in Vidalia. The Vidalia Onion Cooking Show features the cooking show, tastings, vendors, door prizes and great fun. Call Jan for tickets and information, 912-293-2407.

• Check out Mark’s web site at www.markballard.com for current projects, recipes, Mark’s T-shirts, prints and collectible porcelain plates.

• Mark is on www.macon.com 24 hours a day. Videos, columns and articles are featured.

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email markballard@cox.net; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.

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