It's Not About the Eggs.
So, it’s not about the eggs; not really. For 60 years it’s not been about the eggs, although that’s what they are making: Easter Eggs. They make peanut butter, maple nut, coconut, and fruit nut. (They used to make a fruit concoction of red cherry, pineapple, and green cherry. I remember those and they tasted like fruit cake and you know what happened to those!)
No one is exactly sure about how or even when it started. Perhaps 1958? That’s what we settled on, anyway. Some say it was in Blanche Clawson’s kitchen. The church didn’t have a kitchen and so they started it in Blanche’s kitchen. Velma Gamble made them in her kitchen too. Then they moved it to Dolly Clawson’s kitchen. But eventually, the Ladies’ Aid at Hopewell got their own kitchen and the annual Easter Eggs were made there. And so, for 60 years they have made the eggs to raise money for mission and outreach. They also had spoon suppers, apple butter and the chicken bar-b-q dinners. The spoon suppers and the apple butter have gone by the way side. (Much to my own chagrin! The apple butter was amazing!) But the Easter Eggs have endured longer than anything else.
Anywhere from 10-14 women and hopefully a man or two, work at a steady pace for 3-4 days making 400 pounds of the most delicious nugget centers you can imagine. That’s down from the 1500 pounds they made back in ‘the day’, when things were much different. They work in their centers like a well-oiled machine. It all starts with the Karo or corn syrup. You add water and sugar. (I’m sworn to secrecy on the recipe. It’s sort of like the Chick-Fa-La sandwich or the Colonel’s famous chicken recipe.) That concoction has to be put to boil to a top-secret temperature just until you see the ‘string’ on the syrup. (That’s Easter Egg talk!) On the other side of the room, they are separating the egg from the yoke; the yellow from the white. The reasons for this are as confusing to me as changing brakes on a car. But, it’s important for reasons that these ladies all understand. Then, someone puts the whites in the mixer and beats it into whip. This is what my mother does. It’s a very important job and requires someone with infinite skill. This is why my mother is in charge of it. Now, they have two commercial grade mixers. “Back in the day” they used hand mixers. No one will admit to it, but I like to think they beat the whites by hand when they first started. It sounds every exciting, anyway. Then you add the syrup mix and voila! The gooey white centers are filled with nuts or fruit or whatever you’d like to add to give the egg, extra flavor. I’m up for Oreo cookies or M&Ms. What about a mystery flavor? By the way, this is the spot you want to be in if you are NOT helping and just standing around providing the entertainment as you get to lick the mixing spoon.
Next up is the shaping station! Someone takes all that goo and measures out a pound or half pound and shapes them into Easter Eggs. They used to make ¼ pound eggs when there were kids in the Sunday School program upstairs. That’s about the time, I was coming through the church as a child. But, I don’t remember ever getting a ¼ pound Easter Egg! We did, however, always have a half pound egg in our baskets and they were certainly treasures. Usually, they would last for a week or two. You would cut off portions of the egg and eat it in chunks.
And there I go again. You see, it’s really not about the eggs. That’s why I went up there in the first place, you see? I had this niggling…it’s that persistent thought won’t go away. The thing Farmer Hogget had about his pig being a sheepdog in the movie, “Babe”. I wanted to go up there and watch the ladies make eggs. I thought I could write a story about it; perhaps a play, like Steel Magnolias. I just wrote my first murder mystery. Maybe I could set my next death scene in the kitchen of the church where the ladies make Easter Eggs. I could call it “Death by Nuts”?
But, what I really wanted was to go back and connect with my past. The whole thing is about nostalgia and memories. 1958 was the year I was born! These ladies have been making these Easter Eggs as long as I’ve been alive. We’re all a dying breed! These woman; this process; me. We’re all getting old. These people represent a heritage of country people, who gather together like country people used to do when they built barns, made apple butter, sat on country porches and visited and worked in the fields together at harvest time. I remember those days and like all of us who get old, I like looking back on them. My grandmothers, Luella Smith and Geraldine McCrea both worked on Easter Eggs. I remember others like
Dolly Clawson, Ruth Carlson, Joanna Carlson, Margie Johnson, Twila Dunlap, and others who were committed to this work all their lives. They watch from the sidelines now; a cloud of witnesses. Their children and their friends continue on with the work. Karen is Dolly’s daughter. Three sisters from the same family work at the same jobs their mother used to do here.
It’s definitely not about the eggs. They may make $2000 to support local ministries and missionaries. They will support a program stuffing backpacks with food and supplies for underprivileged kids in the area. Some monies will be donated to recovery programs in a sister church. Hands of Hope is a handy man ministry for widows and elderly. There is also the food bank ministries and goodwill services.
And it’s about the relationships. They talk and chatter while they work. These are friends too. Rarely is there silence. They make jokes and laugh. They talk about what’s going on with their kids and their community; straining from gossip, of course. I mean, it is the basement of the church, right?
Tomorrow is chocolate day. It’s the day you lick you fingers. There’s white chocolate and milk chocolate covers. They melt the wafers and then drop the bottom of the eggs into the vat. After it dries, they dip the tops and spread them over the top until they meet the covered bottoms. They do this with their hands. It’s quite a messy ordeal I’m told. But how bad can it be to be covered in chocolate?
The piece de resistance, however, is the crowning moment of the process. The flower is set upon each finished egg like the official seal of the king on royal documents. This is the mark of an egg that is ready to be presented to the world: The royal baptism. Margie Johnson was the first to add the tiny pink momento on top of the egg. She did it by hand and it caused a problem because the egg couldn’t be packaged until the flower on top dried. Eventually, they ‘streamlined’ the process to make the royal rosebuds in advance and just sit them on top of the egg when they were finished. Who said old dogs can’t learn new tricks?
Today, a homeless man came in looking for help and food and money. It certainly caught us all of guard and for a moment the mood quickly changed. But once their safety was secured, these ladies responded just the way they should have. They gave help and food and money and sent this ‘angel unaware’ on his way. It certainly gave them something to talk about and even more to consider. I wonder if when they are making eggs ten years from now, someone will remember the story of Paul from Montana who stopped by the church looking for some help while the ladies were making their Easter Eggs. Maybe my name will be mentioned during the conversation. Just like that, I’ve become part of the story too. It certainly was worth the trip. It’s not about the Easter Eggs.