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By Tom Palen 

All Your Eggs in One Basket


Just the other day, while walking through Walmart, I noticed their Easter supplies were marked way down. I stopped to glance at the selection. I noticed the PAAS egg coloring kits. Wow, I remember those from when I was a kid. I wondered how long they've been making those.

As I kid, I thought PAAS egg coloring dye tablets were made from Crayola Crayons. As an adult I know the tablets are not chunks of crayons, but I wondered if they were made by the same company; it seems logical since both products are colorful. I know Crayola Crayons are made in Easton, Pennsylvania. I've seen the company several times when driving through Easton, but I didn't know about the PAAS Egg Coloring Kits, so I went home to do some research.

PAAS egg coloring dye tablets were invented by a druggist in Newark, New Jersey, in the 1880s. The Crayola Crayon company was founded in 1897. The two towns are only about an hour away from each other, and both companies deal with bright colors, however the two companies are not related. I was somewhat surprised to learn that both companies are over 120 years old; I never would've guessed they had been around that long. I started reminiscing how PAAS Egg Coloring kits and Crayola Crayons had a lasting impact on my childhood Easters.

In Mrs. Murphy's kindergarten class at Horace Mann Elementary School in Ottumwa, Iowa, we made Easter baskets. We cut strips of colored construction paper and wove them together to make the basket. More strips were used to make a band around the top of the basket, and another strip was cut to make a handle. The baskets were held together with Elmer's Paste. I fastened two strips with Elmer's Paste to make a taller handle for my basket. (Elmer's Paste sure smelled nice and tasted pretty good, too, but I digress; that's another story.)

Every kindergarten student had an 8-pack of big, fat Crayola Crayons, which came in a box with a removable lid. We used our crayons to color paper cut-out eggs, Easter Bunnies, and flowers, which were also pasted to the basket. Finally, we used Elmer's Paste to attach the handle, and our baskets were complete.

The baskets were displayed on the window sill in Mrs. Murphy's classroom for several days. Then, we each took our basket home with us for Easter break. (Today, it's spring break.) Eastertime was special at home, too.

On Good Friday before Easter, Mom would prepare a big pan of hard-boiled eggs. Then, on Saturday, we would color the eggs, always using the PAAS egg coloring kits. The PAAS kit came with five colors: red, blue, green, yellow, and pink.

Mom would pour a little vinegar into five different containers, then drop a different color dye tablet into each, and finally add about a cup of water. She used old cottage cheese or sour cream containers because they could be thrown away. Good table dishes were never used, and heaven help any poor fool who used any of her Tupperware, because the dye would permanently stain a dish.

The coloring kit came with a dipping tool, which was a thin wire with a loop on each end. We had to bend a 90° angle at the larger end to make a hoop to hold the egg. With the tool, the white egg was then dipped down into the colored dye, and voila, you had an edible Easter egg. But we soon wanted more than solid-colored eggs.

If you wanted a multi-colored egg, you would put the egg upright in the coloring tool and dip the bottom half first. Then, when it dried, you would turn the egg over and dip the top half. We also experimented to get new colors beyond the basic five in the PAAS kit.

From playing with my Crayola Crayons, I knew that mixing yellow and blue would make green, but green was already in the kit. However, if I mixed yellow and red, I got orange, and blue and red made purple, two colors that were not in the kit. Even using the dipping tool, my hands were also speckled with different colors of dye; it was rather pretty, which gave me an idea.

One time, I tried dipping a white egg into all the colors. As a kid, I honestly thought it would make a rainbow, but to my dismay, it just turned the eggshell dark grey, almost black. But I didn't give up. I cut very thin strips of colored paper and pasted them onto an egg; I got my rainbow.

PAAS Egg Coloring kits weren't available with any self-adhering stickers back then, so we would cut out little shapes, or maybe a bunny we found in an ad in Better Homes and Gardens magazine, and use our Elmer's Paste to stick them to an egg. When all the eggs were decorated, they went into the refrigerator to be served Easter morning. But there was always one more egg to be colored.

Inevitably, one of my older siblings would color a raw egg; a special egg placed on Dad's plate. Sunday morning at breakfast, my unsuspecting father would tap the egg until the shell broke, and the egg ran all over his plate. The time I remember this happening, Dad laughed, although, I don't believe he thought it was funny. In subsequent years, he'd say, "Come on, guys!" By the time the prank had run its course, Dad would complain, "This is a waste of a perfectly good egg!" By the time the younger kids would color a raw egg, Dad learned to spin the egg before breaking the shell to ensure it was cooked.

Easter Sunday always started with my family going to church. With sixteen children, plus Mom and Dad, we took two full pews. Dad was mighty proud of his family. After mass, we were excited to get home to see if the Easter Bunny had visited our house. Dad would go to the living room to check. "The Easter Bunny has been here," he would announce. There was a ritual before the kids rushed into the living room.

Dad would line up all the kids, from the youngest to the oldest. No one was allowed into the living room until the line was formed. Then, Dad would go to the living room first and pick up his Bell and Howell, eight MM camera mounted on a bar with two flood lights. Once the lights illuminated the hallway, Dad would call out, "Okay, let's go," and the line would proceed and Dad got it all on film.

The youngest kid, the baby, could never move fast enough for the older, eager kids following. You could go around the toddlers once you passed the doorway's threshold. My brothers, sisters and I rushed into the room, looking for the treasures.

One year, one of my older brothers ran into the living room making a B-line to the couch. Lifting the cushion on the couch was like lifting the lid on a pirate treasure chest; the motherload of goodies lay there! Unfortunately, there were no prizes to be found for the rest of the siblings!

It seems that said brother had snuck into the living room un-noticed, found all the Easter eggs, then stashed his ill-gotten booty under the cushion. Far be it from me to name names, but that's where he gained the nickname 'Peter Pig.' Well, that, and then there was the time he and my brother Danny had a pancake-eating contest during breakfast. The nameless brother ate thirteen pancakes to win the challenge. I think he could have eaten more, but Mom had this strange fetish about all the kids getting something to eat for breakfast, but again, I digress.

Easter came late in my kindergarten year, and the weather was nice. After we found all the eggs in the living room, Dad announced, "I wonder if the Easter Bunny hid any eggs outside?" The kids rushed out the back door – except my oldest sisters. They didn't care much about Easter Egg hunts in their teens but followed along, obligated to participate in the family event. The older kids also helped the smaller kids by lifting them to reach an egg on top of a curtain rod or a tree branch, outdoors. They also carried the youngest siblings outside so the little ones wouldn't be trampled by the mob of competitive treasure hunters. I rushed outside with the rest.

Most of the kids carried store-bought easter baskets (that were re-used year after year), with that fake plastic Easter grass. In contrast, I sported the paper basket I'd made in school sans the fake grass; I didn't want any.

Plastic Easter grass always seemed to get charged with static electricity, clinging to my clothes and arms. Plus, I had more room for Easter Eggs without that grass taking up valuable space in my basket. Outside, I found more eggs; my basket was soon mounded with eggs and wouldn't hold any more; they'd just rolled off the pile. Mom called out the kitchen window, "Breakfast is on the table. Everyone, inside before it gets cold!" I shoved an egg in each pocket and called it a wrap. Besides, I wanted to get inside to see if Dad would get his annual raw Easter egg.

The Easter eggs sought in the hunt were two-piece plastic and came in various pastel spring colors. Each egg was filled with jelly beans, chocolate candies, or those sugar-coated orange slices. (I still like those even though they are grossly sweet.) Other eggs would have coins inside. My paper basket was rather heavy, being full of loaded eggs.

The construction paper handle broke in my haste to get inside for breakfast. My basket fell to the sidewalk and shattered. Eggs rolled around on the concrete, and many split open, scattering loose jelly beans, chocolates, and coins. One of the other kids stepped on an orange slice, smashing it while running into the house. I started crying.

Dad went in the house and came back with a paper grocery sack, then helped me gather my spoils – but not without a lesson: "There's an old saying, never put all your eggs in one basket; you never know when the basket might fall, or break." When I tried to collect the flattened orange slice and a few mashed jelly beans, Dad said, "Why don't you leave those here. The animals will eat them." Dad explained what it meant, carrying all my eggs in one basket, but I wasn't paying much attention. I just didn't want to miss breakfast. Maybe I should have listened to him more closely.

This past weekend, we were gathering Saturday at my daughter's house in Duluth to celebrate Easter; I asked Sydney what she wanted me to bring for the meal. "Pie and dinner rolls," she said. No problem, I can do that. Ten people were expected to attend, so more than one pie would be needed.

My granddaughters have developed a passion for coconut, so I planned to make a coconut cream pie. Sydney enjoys my mixed berry pie, which would be the second pie. Melissa mentioned peach pie a few times; I use her Grandma Lucille's recipes, and it's Melissa's favorite. I wouldn't disappoint her, so I made a third pie. But I also knew John was crazy about blueberry anything, so I made a fourth pie, a mini blueberry pie. I spent over two hours baking on Friday evening, placing the coconut cream pie in the refrigerator to chill overnight.

Saturday morning, I topped the coconut pie with real whipped cream and garnished it with toasted coconut. The pies were so beautiful, I placed them together on the counter for a photo. After the picture, I returned the coconut cream pie to the fridge.

I had to keep the cream pie chilled, so when it was time to go, I put the three large pies inside individual plastic pie containers. I wrapped the mini blueberry pie with cling wrap and placed all four pies inside a large Styrofoam box, which was made to ship frozen foods. I packed several ice packs around the coconut cream pie, then carried the large box to the driveway. I would transport the pies inside the camper in the back of Willie, our old Ford pickup.

My truck and Melissa's car were parked fairly close together. The box didn't weigh much; it was just bulky. So, I lifted it, one-handed like a waiter carrying a tray, while I squeezed between the two vehicles. I walked sideways, throwing my chest outward and arching my back inward to clear the big rearview mirror on Willie, while keeping my arm clear of the protruding oversize mirror brackets. Then, I sucked my gut in to get by the driver's mirror on Melissa's car. "Easy-peasy," I said, "I've got this made," and started to walk a little faster. Except....forgot about the posts that stick out on the camper jacks. Walking a bit faster, I rammed the back of my rib cage into one of the sharp posts, and it hurt! "Ouch," I screamed. The post stopped me very suddenly as a burning sensation flared through my torso. Then I watched helplessly, grasping with both of my hands, as the Styrofoam box (held six feet in the air) slid right off the fingertips of my right hand. The world started moving in slow motion. "NOOooo, no, no!" I yelled at the box.

The box went inverted, and the lid came off as the container sailed away from me. Next, the four pies fell away from the airborne box like bombs dropping from a B-52. The lid hit the ground first, then the blueberry pie landed face down on the gravel driveway, next the coconut cream pie crashed topside down on top of the blueberry, spurts of whipped cream squirted from the lid, both were upside-down. Next, the peach pie landed on its top in the Styrofoam lid; the mixed fruit pie, also inverted, hit the peach pie, bounced off, and crashed into the coconut cream pie, finally skidding to a rest in the gravel.

"Mother, son of frick and frack," I cussed a lot (although those may not be the exact words I used) as I looked at my four pies face-down in the driveway. I knelt beside my pies, in total disbelief, hoping for some salvage.

Miraculously, the pie container lids popped loose, but all the pies landed in their respective covers! As I carefully turned each pie upright, I imagined Dad was kneeling next to me, helping me clean up my mess just as he did over 55 years ago when my Easter basket broke - but not without a lesson: "There's an old saying: never put all your eggs in one basket," Dad said. "You never know when the basket might fall or break."

The fluted crust on the fruit pies was broken up, and the tops cracked in a few places, but overall, they took the fall quite well. I turned the coconut cream pie over. I won't describe what it looked like, but it was a mess!

My once beautiful pies now looked like a train wreck, but I still counted my blessings. "They may not be pretty," I said, "but honestly, I could put those pies in a blender, and they would taste the same." I re-attached the lids, put the pies back in the Styrofoam box, and put the box in the camper, then Melissa and I drove to Duluth. I never mentioned the incident on the ride there, instead I waited to tell everyone the story together.

At Sydney's house, John was smoking a ham outside for dinner. That boy works magic with his smoker. When he carried the ham inside, he was white as a ghost. "What's the matter, John?" someone asked.

John said, "I slipped and dropped the pan. The ham landed upside-down in the snow." I truly felt his anguish.

"Well, John," I said. "Let this be a lesson to you: never carry all of your ham in one pan...."

Easter dinner turned out great!


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