As children everywhere go on the hunt today for pastel-colored treats, I'm reminded of my first-grade Easter egg hunt, where I gained something much more valuable than first prize.
Schools back in 1956, particularly those in rural areas like my home in Macon County, N.C., operated under different rules than now. Teachers and parents felt completely comfortable loading up kids in cars and trucks — no seatbelts in those days, either — and taking them on a learning experience. That's how we all got to the big field adjoining my classmate Mike's house.
It was the last day of school before Easter and we were instructed to bring hardboiled, dyed Easter eggs to school. Colorful plastic eggs were yet to be, and since most of us were from farm families, real eggs were plentiful anyway. We carried our handful of eggs carefully — for most of us, that meant on a school bus — and gave them to Mrs. Arnold, our teacher, and she gave them to Mike's mom, "Miss Betty." Off she went carrying a basket filled with our eggs and before we arrived that afternoon "Miss Betty" had hidden those eggs in the big field.
All 20-some first-graders had baskets in hand, ready for the fun. Mrs. Arnold lined us up and gave general directions for hunting eggs. The child who found the most would earn a prize. We all raced into the big field, except for Bertie, a little girl who arrived mid-year and was prone to frequent outbursts with loud crying. Today was no different.
As I look back, having spent more than 30 years as an elementary teacher myself, I wonder if Bertie may have had emotional difficulties that would be identified and addressed in schools today. Or maybe she was just frustrated with new experiences, on top of being new to a class of kids where many of us had known each other since birth and felt almost like family. Bertie was the youngest of three children in her family, with two brothers already grades ahead, so she may have been the center of attention in her family and not able to handle being outside the spotlight.
Regardless, Bertie seemed heartbroken, standing at one side of the field, sobbing, empty Easter basket in hand. I found a few eggs but, with tenderness toward another's sadness or plain curiosity, I edged my way back, with another little friend, to where Mrs. Arnold stood with Bertie, patiently explaining the activity. Mrs. Arnold looked at me and my friend and gently suggested that perhaps if we each put an egg in Bertie's basket she would feel better. Right away, I took two of my eggs and put them in her basket. I recall Bertie staring down at them, then looking at me and a smile spread across her tear-streaked face. I glanced in my basket and knew I would never get that first prize but, even at 7 years old, helping Bertie felt much better than winning.
Easter is a special time of year when we recall the significance of giving and the great sacrifices others have made for us. With the fresh burst of spring, it's a time when we can renew our own plans to be better and to work harder to do what is right and do what will bring positive changes in others' lives.
The years have rolled by, but the lesson I learned with Bertie has stayed strong. Often when I've had reason to question something I'm about to do, I think of how the decision I make will affect or influence others. Often Bertie comes to mind. There are times when I've missed the mark and I've made many mistakes, but I'm thankful for those early experiences that have provided a foundation upon which I can attempt to make good decisions, even if it means not winning first prize.