I never know what I’m going to write until I sit at the computer and hover my fingers over the keys. I’ve learned not to fret about that. Throughout high school and college, I operated the same way, not knowing how I got the grades I did in some cases. What I know now is that power of the back burner, the power of the subconscious slogging away while I’m at the edge of the present, focusing on the future, reflecting more than I would like to on the past. However, I work hard to find times within each day to be present only. And it is work. To feel my fingers on the keyboard, my butt anchored in a library chair, my breath evening out the longer I am still.
On the way to the library today, my sister called me. We hadn’t spoken in a few weeks so we brought one another up to date on bits and pieces of our lives, our families, our worries. She was on her way to spend time with our sister-in-law who had surgery yesterday to reconnect her colon after several months of treatment for colon cancer. It has been a kind of “Hallelujah” inspired surgery; the last major medical step in putting that year and the disease to rest.
We talked about a friend of mine who is undergoing significant medical procedures for a rare disease. With her husband by her side, Mary is in the hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. From here, I can only funnel prayers up and positive thoughts over to them. I have dug a pipeline between us. And truly, that is the best and only thing I could do whether living 1,600 miles away or just around the corner from them. The expertise of medicine and doctors is what she needs close at hand. From here, I keep the pipeline full.
I wind up the conversation with my sister telling her I only have a brief window to write since I have an appointment at 11:30, only a couple hours after the library opens. “What are you writing about?” she wonders. I explain that I never know until I sit down at the computer. “You know, I think you need to write about something bright and beautiful – like Easter eggs! Do you remember how Grandma Murphy used to dye them with onion skins? I need to work out how to do that!!... Hey, I just drove by a sign that said ‘Malcolm’ – that’s a sign: you really need to write about dying Easter eggs.”
Indeed. For I’ve been in a conundrum about dying eggs most of the week. I grew up living near our cousins, and often times for Easter dinner, we would go to Grandpa and Grandma Mill’s house. On my mom’s side I am the oldest of twenty-one grandchildren, so of those living locally, there would be at least thirty people that could make it for Easter dinner. Bottom line: We could decorate a few dozen eggs and all of them would get eaten. Celebrating on a smaller scale, I cannot justify coloring two dozen eggs for the two adults who eat them in our house. (Sidebar: I laughed about this on Skype with my mom. Can I not waste a few dollars on hard-boiled eggs that will not get eaten? It goes against my waste-not-want-not genes, shared with me from both Mom and Dad’s sides of the family.)
My sister and I both wondered when was the last time we dyed eggs with our kids? Weeks ago, I saw the beautiful Pinterest idea of rolling eggs in aftershave tinted with food coloring. However, our conversation about the way Grandma Murphy used onion skins made me shun the idea of leafing through screen after screen on Pinterest. Even away from a Google search. Instead, I searched the library's inventory for a book on “how to dye eggs with onion skins.” I didn’t want the computer to tell me how my grandma did this forty years ago. I found a book with step-by-step directions.
My house is going to stink today, for I’m going to boil eggs in some natural ingredients – perhaps three batches… red onions, purple cabbage, and coffee. It will be a little science experience with Liam and a couple of his buddies after school. I’ll march through it with them, knowing full well that I may enjoy it more than they will. We’ll stew the white eggs in pots of water with a couple teaspoons of vinegar and a cup of “natural dye ingredients” for 20 minutes, then let them set to cool for an hour in the dye. Coloring Easter eggs this way will leave them with a tangible memory like my sister and I have for Grandma’s eggs, for it will appeal to their sense of sight as well as smell, plus the weirdness of it all. A triple whammy.
Next year, Liam and his buddies will be thirteen. Perhaps then I will coach them through making Ukrainian eggs the way my friend Mary did with me many years ago. We sat in her cold garage with her Ukrainian friend and worked over a table covered in newspaper. First, he had us dunk the fresh eggs in a light yellow dye. Then, where we wanted the yellow to remain, we painted on wax before the egg went for another dip in perhaps pink. Then, where we wanted the pink to remain, we painted on wax… And so it went for over two hours. The final dunk was in deep purple. Black? At the end of the session, our cold fingers had created the ugliest, globby eggs I’d ever seen. Completely covered in bumpy, black wax. Her Ukrainian friend gently packed our wax-coated eggs and took them with him to process: he blew the eggs out then melted the wax off by baking the eggshells. What he returned to us were spectacular pieces of art.
Sadly, my egg didn't fare too well in the semi-truck from Illinois to Massachusetts. Still, I don't need the egg. That early spring afternoon with my friend etched a vivid memory, and this year it keeps my heart full, despite distance and time.