I was at the grocery store the other night (people think I’m crazy to go at night, but trust me, it’s easier than taking two small boys who accidentally push the cart into large standing displays of merchandise) when I realized something. I realized that there is a time to be born and a time to dye, and the time to dye is almost upon us.
I added a box of PAAS and a carton of eggs to my shopping cart.
The first time I dyed eggs as an adult, I was awash with memories. My mom used to buy one of these kits every Easter, but I hadn’t seen one in twenty-plus years. Then, all of a sudden, I was standing at the dining room table in my own house, doing a ritual that was exactly the same as it always was. Every year, you did it exactly the same way.
First, you gathered the mugs from the back of the cupboard. Then came the filling of the mugs with vinegar, and then the ceremonial dropping of the tablet into the mug, where it would fizz and spin like a thing possessed and the vinegar would turn a vivid brilliant color.
Then you’d take the mugs to the newspaper-lined table, and carefully drop a hardboiled egg into each one. The PAAS kit came with an ineffectual little copper wire holder, meant to use to dunk the eggs, but it was always far easier to use a soupspoon. You’d lean over the mugs, looking at the eggs, occasionally lifting them out to check their done-ness. This was where patience paid off: if you were too quick to remove your egg, it was a disappointing pastel, but if you had the fortitude to leave it in the mug for a long time (and if you could fend off the sibling who really really wanted to use that color), you were rewarded with an egg of brilliant turquoise. It was always worth it to wait. (Good life lesson right there.)
The kits would come with a wax crayon, too, and sometimes you’d use it to write your name on the egg before dropping it in a mug. You couldn’t see the name on the white egg; you just had to trust it was there, and sure enough, when you extracted the egg from the dye, there was your name (more or less) written on the side.
When I was a kid, the kit also had these little transfers you’d rub on the side of the egg — a bunny, a chick, a flower — and then peel off, holding your breath, hoping the whole image would take. It never really did, which should have been a lesson in the impossibility of applying a flat transfer to a convex surface. (Now the kits have stickers, which are slightly less frustrating to work with.)
And at the end of the ritual came the grand finale: the discarding of the unused dye in the sink. You’d dump each mug in turn, and the splash of color was so bright and pretty for a few split seconds before it gurgled away down the drain. You’d turn on the water, and it was gone altogether.
But you were left with eggs: some dark, some light, some cracked, some whole, some personalized, some blank. They’d sit in a bed of fake grass and you were never sure whether to eat them or not, but even if you never did, they looked so pretty and the making of them was so fun that they had more than fulfilled their purpose.
And now, as I gear up to share this ritual with my own boys again, I love that some things never change. It’s a simple thing, dying eggs … but it’s the simple things that we remember.
Do you have fond Easter egg memories, too? What are other springtime traditions you love?