A pair of bored teens transform their small California town, one painted egg at a time.
Author Job Brother Illustration Robert Nicol
ADULTHOOD TENDS to sneak up on you. One minute, you’re an easygoing kid; the next, you’ve got a house, responsibilities, assignments piling up. You still listen to the music of your youth—only now it’s on an oldies station. And more and more you forswear nights on the town in lieu of relaxing in front of the TV with a nice glass of Merlot or Shiraz (as opposed to the ring-top alternative). As David Byrne of Talking Heads put it: “How did I get here?”
I’m an average guy now: refined, hardworking, up-to-date on the topics of the day—a total square, basically. It seems like only yesterday I would drive eight hours to see a band. Or cruise around on a skateboard instead of behind the wheel of a hatchback. But every spring I’m struck by a wave of nostalgia for those carefree days. The first sight of an Easter egg always triggers it—instantly transporting me to a distant September afternoon when my most memorable high school caper was, well, hatched.
“I miss hunting Easter eggs,” said my friend Autumn. Even then, we were becoming nostalgic.
We were in her room making a mix tape (remember those?) and playing Trivial Pursuit. I thought for a moment, and then I agreed. I missed it too.
We lived in a tiny Gold Rush hamlet tucked in the Sierra Nevada Mountains called Nevada City. With a population of less than 3,000 and a downtown district that could be circumnavigated in a brief jog, the only trouble a teenager could get into was what he made.
Autumn was the prettiest girl in town and my best friend, and we spent our restive teenage years doing the things that teenagers do: We hung out at the local diner loading up on caffeine, we collected records and lawn ornaments, and we spent an inordinate amount of time devising “experiments” to test the patience of our fellow Nevada City residents. Some called us practical jokers; others called us worse.
That afternoon we sat in Autumn’s upstairs bedroom, surrounded by a menagerie of lawn ornaments we’d been collecting: weathered garden gnomes, a headless bust of Beethoven and, finally, our favorite, Toad from Wind in the Willows, dressed in a dapper blouse, ascot and waistcoat sitting on a giant egg.
That’s when the fantastic idea occurred. I remembered how, at age eight, I learned the sad truth about the Easter Bunny. It was an abrupt awakening. Easter was the last holiday I could enjoy with the sense of magic only a kid can feel. Looking at the absurd frog-and-egg lawn ornament, and the joyful expression on its face, I decided we should break our routine. I wanted to recapture, if only for a day, the magic I remembered from childhood holidays. And I wanted to share it with everyone else.
“We should hide Easter eggs for the entire town!” I cried. “In the middle of winter. We’ll shock Nevada City.”
We hit every grocery store that afternoon and for weeks afterward, accumulating hundreds of eggs (and almost as many suspicious looks). We also loaded up on white vinegar, food coloring and caffeinated soda. Then we boiled them in batches in Autumn’s family kitchen and stored the cooked trove in her mother’s basement fridge.
Every spare moment for weeks thereafter we locked ourselves away in the bedroom, surrounded by pens, pipe cleaners, glitter, cups and bowls. Our hands were stained with muddled shades of red, green, blue and yellow. The acrid fog of vinegar so permeated the room that when we occasionally left for food, the outside air actually smelled like vanilla marzipan.
We colored the eggs carefully and drew on them furiously. No two were alike. You might think that after days of decorating eggs, we’d become careless about how they looked. On the contrary: We became more obsessive and, I’d say, deranged. After hundreds of hours hunched over uncountable dozens of eggs, breathing dye and vinegar, our sensibilities turned toward the surreal. Some eggs bore simple, almost modernist color squares, while others offered cryptic messages, such as “Happy Holidays” and “Incubate Me!”
It was mid-November when the eggs were finished. Now came the fun part: hiding them for the good citizens of Nevada City to find. We changed out of our dye-stained work tees and into nice clothes—dark colors, of course, the better to remain inconspicuous.
Well after midnight, we snuck around the deserted streets of downtown, laden with backpacks full of eggs. It was a cold, drizzly night. As we hid the eggs we got soaked to the bone, but our adrenaline was pumping. We made sure every business and home in town had at least one egg on its property—some in plain view, others that would take some searching.
When we had finally emptied the last backpack, it was nearly sunrise. We slinked back to Autumn’s house to warm up. Shaking with excitement and devouring cinnamon toast, we counted the seconds until sunrise. Then we raced into town and took a seat on a park bench to await the day’s first pedestrians.
A thirtysomething couple approached holding hands, out for an early stroll. Soon enough, the man stopped, pointed to an egg dyed green and red and perched on a fence post, and said, “Hey, look, an Easter egg.” “No way!” his girlfriend replied. “It’s November!” They walked off chuckling. We strolled through town and watched as business owners arrived at their shops. They’d see one egg nestled in a bush and think it curious, but when they noticed others—atop a fire hydrant, resting on a window sill— they registered stronger reactions: bafflement, usually, followed by fleeting concern and finally the smile that Autumn and I were hoping for. People started to huddle, to theorize, to exchange information, as it gradually became clear that the eggs were indeed everywhere. We overheard salutations of “Happy Easter!”
Just before lunch, we saw something that exceeded our expectations. Standing near the town square, we spied two girls about eight years old skipping down the street dressed in rain slickers. Between them they carried one umbrella, which they were holding upside-down and filling with eggs. It was the moment we had been waiting for: cheerfully incongruous and transformative.
These two girls had no concern for the rain and couldn’t care less that Easter was actually five months away. Colored eggs were for the hunting, they well knew, so that’s what they did.
Autumn and I took a booth at our favorite diner and ordered coffee and pancakes. The restaurant was buzzing with talk of the eggs. We listened and ate, blissful, silent and exhausted. The sheriff came in and sat at his usual stool at the counter.
“Happy Easter, Mike,” a waitress said. “You did notice it’s Easter, right?”
“Yeah,” he snorted, and he turned to look at us with a knowing, weary grimace. “Let’s just hope those eggs get found before they start smellin’.”
And that was it. We’d somehow rekindled our own lost sense of childhood exuberance, and we had done it for others, too. And we’d stayed out of trouble. That was a bonus.
Until the next summer, when we decided it was time for an early Christmas…
California-born JOB BROTHER is slightly allergic to cellophane grass.