Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Easter Egg Hunt

Hear the story read by the author.

In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church at the corner of Wilson and Elm. Every year the church holds an Easter party and egg hunt for the Sunday school kids the day before Easter. This year the weather forecast was ominous so Karen Winslow, the Sunday school teacher, decided to do the party inside.

Karen also had a special surprise for the kids. Ever since Gerry the Gerbil had passed away the
previous summer, the class had been without a pet. Karen decided it was about time they replaced Gerry. Since it was Easter, she hit upon the idea of getting a rabbit. She would unveil it at the party - an actual “Easter bunny.”

Her timing may have been nicely symbolic given the holiday but it was not entirely serendipitous. Usually, church secretary Tammy Billings cared for the Sunday school class pets during the week. However, Tammy was going to be taking a two week vacation with her husband Ralph to greet the arrival into the world of her very first grandchild. This meant that Karen would be taking the rabbit home with her for the next two weeks.

Party time arrived and Jill Boyer dropped four year-old Mary and her two year-old sister Susie off at the church. Some of the parents helped with the event, but Jill desperately needed the hour and a half break from her kids. Jill’s in-laws were coming for Easter brunch the next day and she needed to go grocery shopping. The two kids made the chore difficult, especially when the store insisted on putting Easter candy at the end of each aisle. Jill left her cell phone number with Karen in case there were any problems. Where Mary went there were frequently problems.

Karen introduced the kids to the rabbit. It was white with pink eyes and cotton tail. The kids had a vote to name it and settled on Barry the Bunny. Mary could barely contain her excitement over the new member of the class. She loved cute animals with a frightening passion and this was about the cutest she had ever seen. Karen had to repeatedly defend the poor creature from Mary’s enthusiastic petting. Rabbits could only take so much handling.

Barry was granted a reprieve when Karen announced it was time for the Easter egg hunt. There were a few things Mary liked more than cute animals and one was candy.

The rules for the Easter Egg hunt were these: Karen had hidden plastic eggs with jelly beans in them all through the church except the restrooms and Pastor O’Donnell’s office. The child who collected the most eggs would get a prize. There was to be no stealing eggs or fighting over eggs or the participant would be disqualified. When Karen rang her cow bell all the children were to return to the classroom. Karen made sure the kids understood the rules - especially Mary.

It was a good thing she did because Mary was very determined to win the prize for most eggs collected. When Karen said “go,” Mary tore off like a tornado demolishing room after room. Her sister Susie was a little slower. She didn’t care about the prize, she simply enjoyed the searching game. However, every time Susie started to look somewhere Mary would rush over and snatch any eggs before Susie could get to them.

Once Susie actually got hold of an egg before Mary could. Mary tried the “I saw it first,” argument, but Susie countered with the “no stealing, no fighting” rule. The debate had drawn the attention of Karen, so Mary decided to let the issue drop. Karen suggested Mary go in one direction and Susie go the other.

Susie scurried off on her own happy that she wouldn’t be competing with Mary for awhile. However, she couldn’t seem to find any more eggs. She came around a corner and saw Tammy Billings, who had volunteered to help with the party, stationed at the door to the kitchen.

“Finding many eggs?” Tammy asked Susie.

Susie held out her basket to show her single discovery.

“Well, lets try in here,” Tammy said and held open the kitchen door. But before they could enter there was a loud crash down the hall and they heard Karen shout, “Mary!” in a frustrated voice.

“Wait right here a moment,” Tammy said, “I’m going to see if Mrs. Winslow needs help.”

Susie waited dutifully for a few minutes then grew bored. She wanted to get more than one egg before Mrs. Winslow rang the cowbell! She decided she could manage to search the kitchen without Mrs. Billings help. She went on in and soon found a purple egg behind a pot in the cupboard. Then she checked the refrigerator.

Jackpot! There were eighteen eggs in a cardboard container in the door! They weren’t the colored plastic ones, but Mrs. Winslow hadn’t said white eggs don’t count, so Susie dumped them all into her basket, miraculously only dropping one on the floor. The dropped egg broke, but Susie carefully collected the pieces of shell in case Mrs. Winslow would still count it.

As Susie emerged from the kitchen she heard Mrs. Winslow ringing the cowbell so she raced back to the classroom. She sat patiently as Mrs. Winslow counted each child’s eggs in turn. Mary had found thirteen eggs, but was in second place to Sierra Smith who had fifteen. Mary did not like coming in second and pouted dramatically.

When it was Susie’s turn, Mrs. Winslow looked into her basked and her eyes widened in surprise. She held up one of the real eggs. “Where did you get these, Susie?”

“From the ‘frigerator,” Susie replied.

“You were supposed to collect the plastic eggs,” Mrs. Winslow said.

“That wasn’t a rule,” Susie told her and then proceeded to recite the rules back to her.

Mary’s eyes lit up. She saw a chance at getting half of the prize since her Mom would undoubtedly make Susie share. “You didn’t say they had to be plastic eggs,” Mary said. “You have to count them.”

Karen was surprised at Mary coming to Susie’s defense. She conceded that according to her own rules Susie should win. She awarded Susie the prize - a big chocolate bunny. Susie was so excited that she knocked her basket over, spilling out her collection of eggs which shattered all over the linoleum. Susie wasn’t overly concerned, however, since she’d already received credit for them.

Jill Boyer arrived to retrieve Mary and Susie as Karen was cleaning up the broken eggs. Mary, high on jelly beans and party excitement, dragged her mother over to Barry’s cage to show him off. That gave Karen a devious idea.

She strolled over to the Boyers and said, “Someone needs to take care of Barry for the next two weeks while Mrs. Billings is out of town. Maybe you’d like to do it?”

“Can we, Mom? Can we?” Mary screamed.

Karen could tell Jill was trying to work out how to say no without having Mary throw a hissy fit. So Karen jumped in before Jill could answer and said, “and maybe you’d like to hear about what your daughters did during the egg hunt.”

Jill looked at Karen. She didn’t really want to hear that story. “What do we have to do?” she asked.

“Not much,” Karen said, and explained the basic care requirements. The hardest one would be keeping Mary from constantly handling it. Jill sighed and agreed. She probably owed Karen at least that much given Mary’s history in the Sunday school class. As Karen returned to her cleaning, she felt a twang of regret. Not for Jill but for Barry. Karen could only imagine what a week with the Boyers was going to be like for the poor animal.

The story of Easter at the little church will continue in two weeks.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


By Douglas J. Eboch

Hear the story read by the author.

In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church at the corner of Wilson and Elm. This year, church secretary Tammy Billings decided she was going to give up coffee for Lent. This was no small thing. Tammy went through several cups of coffee every morning. “Good for you,” Pastor Henry O’Donnell said when she told him. Little did he know how much Tammy’s decision was going to impact his own Lenten experience.

Meanwhile, Henry’s wife Jennifer had her own idea for Lent. Jennifer had been concerned about both her and Henry’s steadily increasing weight for some time. But getting Henry to agree to do something about it was a difficult proposition. Henry liked to eat and didn’t like to exercise. He also seemed less worried by their expanding waistlines than she was. Jennifer thought perhaps Lent might offer him the proper motivation. So she proposed that they each give up their biggest weakness - ice cream for her and barbecued ribs for him.

Henry didn’t care for the idea. First of all, he really, really loved his weekly visits to Big Tommy’s Rib Shack. Second of all, he didn’t think the Lenten sacrifice was meant for self-improvement. It was supposed to be a way to focus one’s mind on God, not on oneself. He only made that second argument to Jennifer.

Jennifer thought the pain of giving up Big Tommy’s would definitely focus Henry’s thoughts on God.

Henry then pointed out that under the Catholic rules of Lent he would still be able to eat at Big Tommy’s on Sundays. He thought he could probably live with that. Jennifer pointed out that they weren’t Catholic.

In the end they came to a compromise. They both would agree to eat healthy six days a week. On Sundays, they would go to Big Tommy’s for dinner and stop off for ice cream on the way home.

When Henry arrived at the office the morning after Ash Wednesday he was still sulking over the bowl of oatmeal Jennifer had served him for breakfast. At least eating healthy didn’t mean he had to give up his morning cup of coffee. He went straight to the coffee maker which was in a small conference room off the front office. To his surprise, the pot was empty. Tammy’s desk was right outside. Henry leaned out and asked, “so, does giving up coffee for Lent mean you’re not going to make it for the rest of us, either?”

It probably wasn’t the wisest thing to say, but Henry was lightheaded from his low-cal breakfast.

Tammy turned on him like a starving fight dog. “I’m the church secretary, not a barista,” she snarled. “Why am I the only one who ever makes the coffee anyway? I know you’re just a helpless pastor with very few real world skills, but I think maybe you can manage to make your own coffee for a few weeks.” Henry ducked back into the conference room and wiped a few beads of sweat from his temples. Yes, he thought he probably could make his own coffee for a few weeks.

Tammy had entered stage one of caffeine withdrawal. This stage was characterized by headaches, bad temper and general snippy-ness.

The next day Henry went into the conference room to make the coffee and discovered the coffee maker wasn’t there. He took a deep breath and girded his psychological loins. Then he leaned into the office. “Uh, Tammy…”

“I moved it,” she barked. “I couldn’t take smelling it all day. It’s in the lounge. Is that a problem for you?”

If it was Henry figured it was a smaller problem than the one he’d have if he complained. He went to the lounge.

On Sunday morning Henry was relieved that Tammy spent most of coffee hour talking with her friend Karen Winslow. He could drink his coffee without fear of violent attack. And that evening he enjoyed his trip to Big Tommy’s. Lent had gotten off to a rocky start, but he thought maybe it was turning a corner.

When Henry came into the office Monday morning, he found Tammy had entered stage two of caffeine withdrawal: lethargy.

Normally Tammy was bright and bubbly first thing in the morning. Callers to the church office got a chipper, “Hello!” But today her “hello” sounded like the last gasp of someone dying of dehydration in the middle of the desert.

Henry had a meeting that morning with the church accountant to discuss tax issues followed by a long conference call with the District headquarters. During the meeting and call he heard the phone ring in the front office several times. So when he finished he went to see what he’d missed.
Tammy, her eyelids at half-mast, was wobbling over the copier as she ran copies of the monthly church newsletter. “Any messages?” Henry asked.

“No,” Tammy replied in a haze.



Henry looked at her skeptically. Normally Tammy was incredibly reliable and he would take her word on the issue without question. But today was not exactly normal. “Then who called?” he pressed.


“I heard the phone ring.”

For the first time Tammy looked at him. “Oh yeah,” she said. And she went to the desk, picked up a message slip and handed it to him.

“Thank you,” Henry said.

As he was returning that call, Tammy brought in another message slip that she had forgotten to give him. As he was returning that call, she brought in another.

Henry was glad when two days later Tammy had finally entered stage 3 of caffeine withdrawal: recovery. She was back to her normal, chipper self, though the coffee machine stayed in the lounge.

Henry did not realize how much damage stage 2 had done to him, though, until he finally got around to perusing the latest church newsletter that afternoon.

There, copied in the middle of the calendar page, was a phone message from Shane the choir director. It read, “Norm’s O.K. for lunch Tues.” Apparently Tammy had accidentally mixed the message in with the newsletter while she was copying.

Overall, Henry had been pretty faithful to his agreement with Jennifer to eat healthy. Going to Big Tommy’s every Sunday helped. But he wanted more than just ribs. He was craving a big, juicy barbecue burger and onion rings. One Tuesday every month Henry and Shane had lunch to plan songs for the following month’s services. Henry had left a message for Shane asking if they could do their lunch at Norm’s Normal Burgers. He figured one mid-week burger wouldn’t really hurt.

Henry burst out of his office clutching the newsletter.

“Hello,” Tammy said cheerfully.

“Did these go out?” Henry asked.

“Two days ago.” Tammy replied.

That evening Henry raced home as fast as he could hoping to beat Jennifer to the mail. He failed. When he came inside she was waiting, newsletter in hand. “Norm’s Normal Burgers is not eating healthy,” she said. Henry realized that one mid-week burger was indeed going to hurt him. A lot.

The rest of Lent went easily for Tammy now that she’d kicked her caffeine withdrawal. It did not go so easily for Henry.

The story of Lent and Easter at the little church will continue…