Friday, May 12, 2017

Washington Easter Egg Hunt With An Alaskan Earthquake

Illustration by Jake Jones
This morning my nephew sent me news of the swarms of earthquakes currently shaking Western Washington, along with this recollection from my nephew's dad, who is also my brother, Jake Jones, with my brother recollecting an Easter Egg Hunt in Burlington, Washington, which happened the same weekend the Pacific Northwest, and especially Alaska, were struck by the most powerful earthquake ever recorded. I am amazed at how well my brother remembers details from over a half century ago....


The Burlington Chamber of Commerce together with the Kiwanis Club of Burlington annually sponsored an Easter egg hunt. In the 1960’s the Easter egg hunt was held in Maiben Park, just across the street from our house on Washington Avenue.

There must have been no shortage of eggs, at least chicken eggs, during the 60’s, because one day a year in Spring, the grassy areas of Maiben Park would be littered with thousands of colored hard boiled, and a few specially decorated Easter eggs. Somebody’s Mom must have stayed up late more than just one night to boil and color all those eggs. By this time in my life I was on to Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter bunny. I knew who was who. Three months earlier I was a believer in the big three, the Tooth Fairy, even though she only put out 35 cents a tooth, the Easter bunny, with her Easter baskets, and Santa Claus. Three months ago on Christmas morning my faith got shaken to its core as I got an inside glimpse into who really was responsible for hiding our Christmas stockings. It wasn’t Santa Claus, unless, maybe, Santa was working in house with an older member of our household. Dad and Santa could have been in cahoots in the hiding of the stockings. Thinking back on it now it only made sense that Dad knew where my stocking was hid because Santa had told him where all of our stockings were hid. I want to believe. It just seemed suspicious after looking for over an hour every where possible inside our house and crying like a baby that Dad knew without hesitation where to find my stocking.

“Did you look inside the dryer?”
“Really? Look again.”

And there buried behind and under the load of dried clothes was my stocking. I want to believe. I want to believe even if the Tooth Fairy can only afford 35 cents a tooth. I have twenty baby teeth that are at sometime in the foreseeable future are going to be replaced by my permanent teeth. Twenty times on average, 50 cents, I’m taking into account possible inflation, equals $10. Every little bit adds up. $10 is equivalent to being paid to pick nine flats of strawberries or 556 Maiben park worms. How hard is it to believe in the Tooth Fairy when there’s no down side to it? So you sleep one night with a rotten little baby tooth under your pillow and in the morning there’s some coin, cash, in its place. Easy money.

 Now the Easter bunny is right up there, but not quite, with Santa Claus. The Easter bunny has just about as much to do with the death and resurrection of Jesus as Santa Claus has to do with his birth in Bethlehem. If I’m to believe in Santa Claus then what the hell why not believe in a giant Bunny that brings you presents and peeps in a basket on Easter morning.

 So it was on Saturday March 21st 1964 that the Chamber of Commerce and Kiwanis of Burlington sponsored an Easter egg hunt in Maiben Park. Hundreds of hundreds of kids, age no I.D. in diapers, to 16 year olds with driver licenses who posed as a 14 year olds, which was the age limit to participate converged on the park.

 Bright and early before any of us were even out of bed the Easter egg hunt volunteers were at work dividing the park into four sections using rebar, rope, and trees. The toddler, age diapers, Mom or Dad picking up the egg, to 4 years old were in a roped off section in the middle of the park. Inside the 100 by 100 roped off toddler section were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of colored Easter eggs. It was not possible to take a step without stepping on an Easter egg. It was very similar to worm picking on a balmy spring, damp, no wind evening in the same area of the park. Worms, like these Easter eggs, were everywhere and stepping on a worm resulted in that worm being unfit for resale at 1.8 cents. Stepping on a hard boiled egg just meant it was going to be the first egg in a potato or an egg salad sandwich.

 Eggs retailed in the 1960’s for 57 cents a dozen. These were grain fed, one chicken per two to four square feet of 24 hour illuminated caged captivity. There were no “Free Range” happy go lucky have the run of the farm commercial chickens in the 1960’s. Just like long hair on a guy, until the Beatles came along, you’d have been laughed out of the county for suggesting happy chickens produce happy eggs. Just like in the 1956 movie The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston,

“Let my people go!”
“Chickens be Free!”

 Be free, be happy and produce happy eggs. The chickens of Skagit County in the 1960’s had no idea there was a movement afoot to free all chickens from the bondage imposed by man.  Just as many in the northern United State were not aware a similar movement was afoot in the deep south of our country to free the Negroes in our country from hatred and bigotry and unequal voting rights. Free range chickens. Right! What could possibly be next? Organic produced chicken eggs?

The little league baseball field in Maiben Park was all enclosed in cyclone fencing and was the area in the park dedicated to the 8 to 12-year-old Easter egg hunters. This is the, “I’m too cool but still want to be a kid and hunt for Easter eggs” age group, especially the 12 year olds who thought they were stud athletes who had played in little league games on this field. Easter egg hiding places are far and few between the foul lines on a baseball field so the committee in charge elected to include the entire northeast corner of the park, which included the bleachers, trees, and the Girl Scout meeting building just north of the stand of old growth cedar trees. The 12 year olds would really need to look hard for their Easter eggs. This was also true for the 13 to 14 year olds whose egg hunting section of the park was in the old growth cedar trees in the southeast corner of the park.

The true believers, “the sky’s falling”, “run”, who will believe anything you tell them, age 5 to 7 had free range to look for Easter eggs anywhere they chose in the park following the free for all frantic dash for Easter eggs in their own 100 by 100 roped off section of park.

The majority of the kids, probably 99% of the kids, wore their play or school clothes to the Easter egg hunt. That dress code was not O.K. with Mom. Mom liked dressing us kids up whenever possible as she was proud of her brood and liked showing us off. And so it was on this gorgeous, cloud free Saturday, eight days before Easter at an Easter egg hunt in Maiben park just across the street from our front yard, thanks to Mom, we were all dressed in our Sunday best.

 Mom thought a dark colored bow tie with a white short sleeve shirt and slacks on a guy, and a frilly pink layered dress with black shiny shoes with toe and heel straps, and short white socks were attractive attire for 7-year-old Nancy and 3-year-old Jackie. Besides their cute, frilly, J.C. Penneys Sunday school best dress, Mom had taken the time to curl, with hair curlers, blow dryers were still in the future, and style both girls straight hair into attractive, cute as can be, little girl hairdos with color coordinated hair berets and matching hand gloves.

 Besides the hundreds and hundreds of Easter egg hunting kids, their parents, and relatives who had nothing else better to do, and all of the Chamber of Commerce and Kiwanis volunteers, two city of Burlington, Monday thru Friday employees, who were now on a Saturday overtime garbage detail, and a giant Easter bunny handing out Peeps to anyone he or she could see looking thru the two hidden eye holes in the bunny costume, there was a reporter sent from the Skagit Valley Herald to get the scoop on this years Easter egg hunt. So with his 35 mm black and white camera taking photos in one hand and his pen, note pad and journalistic prowess in the other, he began photographing and interviewing participants and parents for next Saturdays, the day before Easter, edition of the paper.

 Dad was with Jackie in the toddler division waiting for the noon whistle when the Skagit Valley Herald reporter started photographing and interviewing cute little Jackie with her curly blonde hair and empty Easter basket.

“What’s your name?”
“How old are you?”
“Where do you live?”
“Is this your first Easter egg hunt?”
“Are you here alone?”

 The fire siren atop the three story city hall building in downtown Burlington blew a noon whistle or siren, every day of the week to mark midday, or the noon lunch hour. The siren could be heard well beyond the welcome to Burlington city limit signs on Highway 20 to the northeast of town and as far south as the Highway 99 bridge crossing the Skagit River into Mount Vernon. This Saturday noon whistle would signal the start of this years Easter egg hunt. At the first inclination of the sound of a siren the ropes being held by the volunteers were dropped and the mad dash to pick up as many eggs as possible by the kids and some parents was on.

 The mad dash for hard boiled colored Easter eggs in the toddler to 4-year-old division is over almost as quickly as it begins with the parents of the toddler to 4 year olds leading the charge to pick up as many eggs as possible for their little ones. The anticipation and excitement of the Easter, egg hunt is quickly replaced with a look of despair, and hurt, and “I wanna cry!” by some of those in the toddler division whose parents didn’t or weren’t able to help pick up any Easter eggs.

 The search for the 8 to 12 year olds in the little league field area and the 13 to 14-year-old division in the woods took a little longer to find all the eggs, not because there are more eggs or because some of the eggs, including the “Golden Egg” were actually hid and required some actual Easter egg hunting, but because its not cool being an older kid to run or act excited about looking for an Easter egg.

 And so it was 5 minutes after the Easter egg hunt began it was over. All the ropes were on the ground and all ages of kids and parents were milling about the park looking for family members or that last rogue hidden egg. There were 1 golden and 1silver egg hidden in each division and each golden or silver egg was redeemable for a cash prize. As it turned out the Easter egg committee let it be known shortly after all the mayhem there was still a rogue egg hid out there somewhere in the park and it was one of the silver eggs. I was standing next to the Easter egg official when he shouted

“We’re still missing a silver egg!”

 As he made the announcement he pointed with his finger, (he knew where the undiscovered silver egg was hid), towards the far end of the park and a tree directly in front of our house. I noticed as he pointed his finger, his finger pointed up just slightly. The egg must be in the tree. I was in and out of that tree within two minutes, the silver egg was hid in the branches 8 feet up the trunk of the tree. I never would have found that silver egg if it weren’t for the Easter egg official pointing up to that tree.

“Jackie’s picture is going to be in the paper”
“How do you know that?”
“Because the nerdy, but competent, Skagit Valley Herald reporter said it was his turn for an exclusive Saturday edition story and he thought cute little Jackie with her naturally curly blond hair would be perfect for next Saturdays, the day before Easter, edition of the paper.”

How cool is that? Little sister Jackie was going to be on the front page of the paper. We just had to wait a week before she became famous.

 News Flash! Friday, March 27, 5:36 pm. A 9.2 earthquake has struck the Alaskan town of Anchorage and its surrounding area. Many are feared dead. A Tsunami warning has been sounded for coastal towns.

 The Skagit Valley Herald’s weekend edition of the news is its Saturday’s edition of the news which is collaborated Friday evening for early Saturday distribution. The news of the devastating Alaskan earthquake trumped all previous scheduled news scheduled for print on that Friday evening. The cute photo and accompanying article of a naturally curly blonde three-year-old girl named Jackie, in her frilly pink layered Easter dress with her black shiny shoes with toe and heel straps and short white socks, and her color coordinated hair berets and matching gloves were now filed in the round file cabinet on the editor’s floor of the newsroom never to be seen again.

 The reverberation of the four-and-a-half-minute earthquake, the most powerful recorded mega thrust earthquake ever recorded in U.S. history and the resulting tsunami and its consequences extended further than a front page story in the Skagit Valley Herald. The earthquake and following tsunami were responsible for 139 deaths, $311 million dollars in damages, and years and years of rebuilding.

I want to believe in the big three, Santa Claus, even if Dad has a part in it, The Easter bunny, which brings joy and happiness, and the Tooth Fairy, who just brings cash. There’s no downside to believing. Life is too fragile and can so easily be taken from you at any time without a moment's notice. Who does it hurt to believe?  I want to believe. I will believe, not just for me, but for all I leave.

Jake Jones

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