— Lucy Van Pelt
Peanuts (b. March 3, 1952)
Undaunted in our quest to reign as egg kings of Faulkner Elementary School, we were a motley crew of first-grade boys — and best friends — who entered into a time-honored mission every Easter in our rural north Mississippi hometown.
Faulkner, spelled today as Falkner, wasn’t much of a town. It was more of a curve in the two-lane blacktop that my folks always called Highway 2 yet others recognized its roadway aliases as Highway 15 and Highway 370.
When you’re 6 years old, a newcomer to the world of schooling and a standing member of a less famous group of Little Rascals, the name of the road that splits your agrarian village is of little concern. Our vision rarely escaped the unincorporated town limits, our backyards and the church grounds.
Our lives were simple and held little measure for debate.
Time was an ally and the air always fresh.
Farm chores, followed by occasional homework, dominated late afternoons after school.
Mom’s breakfasts were inviting yet predictable because that’s what was available in the country — fried eggs and sometimes scrambled right out of the chicken house, fried bacon or sausage freshly butchered by my grandfather, and toast; sometimes biscuits if we had enough flour in the kitchen.
On good days fried bologna or country ham with redeye gravy made its way to our aged wooden table that always held five — father, mother, two boys and a daughter.
Even a rural town as small as Faulkner had its own school — from first to 12th grade. No kindergarten. After graduating from our Faulkner Eagles alma mater, most kids found jobs or, if the money and grades were there, they enrolled in the University of Mississippi, Mississippi State University or Delta State Community College.
Hardly anyone crossed the state lines. In our narrow mindsets, borders into Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana and Arkansas were gates into foreign countries. And all we could speak was American. It’s all we knew.
Six-year-old boys back in 1961 didn’t understand a lot about Easter. We knew it had something to do with the church because we learned about it in Sunday School, that all the women wore yellow or purple and the girls wore little white shoes and pretty dresses.
But we were boys.
Adventurous boys with one goal in mind at Easter.
Most area adults, and teachers at school, knew of our gang of tiny tikes. None feared us. Many seemed amused while chuckling at our cute mannerisms from a distance. In our minds, we were invincible, especially at this weekend of Celebration when our time-worn straw baskets lined in green would assuredly rule the roost at the school’s Great Easter Egg Hunt.
Few in number, our gang nonetheless dominated the playground scene — not as bullies or ruffians, just as little American boys with dirty knees who spoke with Southern twangs and enjoyed our days together, especially at recess and during summer vacation. We swung the swings, forever challenging the others to leap to the ground from the highest point. We climbed the monkey bars, clinging from the top with one hand while daring others to do the same. In high-top black Keds, we straddled the lone horizontal poles from broken see-saws.
How we survived boyhood I’ll never know. Likely it was a miracle of Easter. Or perhaps a miracle of youth.
Fifty years later I remember most in our gang.
Danny Cross was the tall one, a little heavy set in the middle and reserved but likable and always a willing player in our world of boyhood mischief.
Phil Rutherford was thin, wore his hair in a flat-top, was the thinker in our group and he loved sports; Phil always wanted to be a Mississippi State quarterback. I don’t know if he ever made it.
Joel Jackson was the shortest in our gang, a shy little guy who didn’t talk a lot but whose big brown eyes held the key to a thousand stories about family, farm and his big brothers, one of whom later died in a car crash not far from the school.
Benny James was shorter, pale, spoke in a raspy voice and combed his hair with too much Vitalis, but always came at you with a smile.
And me. Ricky.
Our roster of five had no pronounced leader. All were tiny alpha males in training. Or so we thought.
Which is why the Great Easter Egg Hunt was our chance to shine.
Courteous to the little girls in their dresses and respectful of the teachers who monitored our egg-hunting ways, we lived for this golden moment called Easter. We honored our egg-collecting limit. We accidentally stepped on a few. But this was life on the great hunt.
The colorful ovals were bright and titillating to our unharnessed spirits. They were our little treasures, especially the plastic ones filled with candy and a quarter. They were the prizes.
We never tired of the taste of Easter eggs. Sprinkled with salt they were delicacies.
None bothered to remind us these were the same hard-boiled eggs we could enjoy year-round — minus the pastel dyes. Because our ears would not hear.
These were Easter eggs.
Proof that in a world of adults, a tiny gang of adventurers could reign while honoring the hope and promise of a great message of which we still had much to learn.