As you know, it is Peeps Season and that just happens to be my favorite time of the year. Although they now make the sugar-coated marshmallows for every holiday, there is something about those bright yellow chicks that makes me smile.
I’m a student of psychology and often try to figure out what makes other people tick so I can understand that tricky thing called “motivation” to use in my writing. I decided to point my psychological spotlight onto myself to see if I might figure out why I have this weird compulsion to eat marshmallow chickens until my stomach hurts. It didn’t take long before I discovered the root of my sugar-fixation and Peep Obsession.
Do you remember your first piece of candy? I don’t, but I distinctly remember the first time I bit into a yellow chick. It was Easter and we were at my grandmother’s house. I recall it with crystal clear clarity. I’m not kidding you. I have witnesses. And photographs.
The three eldest grandchildren, my sister Tamara, my cousin Nadine and I had just finished hunting for dyed eggs in my grandmother’s backyard. I’m not sure why, but we used brown bags instead of baskets, but whatever. The adults waited on the porch with cameras–the “Instamatic” kind that used those giant stacks of flashcubes. Remember those? So, I have pictures of this event somewhere and if I can find them, I’ll post them.
Eventually, we exhausted the colorful egg supply. The flat, fenced-in backyard was free of the very-obviously-placed eggs, so we walked back toward our parents. My cousin Nadine is like a sister to me; we’re the same age and grew up as best friends. She’s a wonderful, kind-hearted person with a fabulous sense of humor, but she’s always had a bit of an issue with everything being completely unfair—especially unfair to her.
On our way back to the house, we all opened our bags and compared what was inside. Nadine noticed the huge disparity in what her bag held and what mine and my sister’s contained. Her eyes widened and met mine. It was quiet for a second until—
Her mouth opened and out came a blood-curdling cry that stopped both my sister and me in our tracks. I’m sure birds abandoned trees and took flight; the glass in the sliding door shook.
Nadine bawled, tears ran down her red cheeks as language became just an unintelligible string of vowels between a few words of…not fair…they ….eggs…more…me.”
My parents, aunts, uncles and my grandmother gathered around and tried to remedy the situation and stop any permanent damage to eardrums everywhere.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” my Aunt Carmen crouched down near her daughter. Nadine, now in the height of hysteria, merely pointed at my bag. Everyone realized her bag contained a whopping three eggs. I have no idea how she didn’t find more. The yard was a square patch of grass with no bushes or shrubs, surrounded by a wooden privacy fence. The eggs were just scattered randomly on the grass, but in true Nadine-form, she had managed not to fill her bag.
The situation completely unraveled when my father reached down and took one of my eggs and plopped it into Nadine’s near-empty bag. “There! Krissy will share with you.”
Excuse me? Krissy will? I think not!
I dramatically threw myself into my mother’s arms as Nadine and I battled for the loudest tantrum award. Since she and I competed for just about everything, this became a huge cry-fest.
My mom, the eternal peacemaker, took an egg out of my sister’s heavy, egg-laden bag and put it in mine. “There. Tamara will share.”
It was a green egg.
I did not want a freakin’ green egg. Green egg? I did not want it in a box. I did not want it with a fox. I did not want it here or there. I did not want it anywhere. No, Ma’am!
Nadine had pilfered my pretty, shiny, purple egg—the one that rightfully belonged to the one who found it. Me. Upon losing one of her eggs to her snot-nosed little sister, Tamara didn’t cry like Nadine and me. No, my sister simply dropped her bag and said, “They can have them all!” and stormed inside. Somehow the men had crept back into the house unnoticed.
My mother went after my sister and Nadine’s mother gathered the toddlers back into the house leaving my grandmother to calm Nadine who was on the point of hyperventilating. I had stopped crying and backed out of my grandmother’s eyeshot. I had a plan.
Nadine started to calm down and my grandmother wiped away her tears. Putting out her bottom lip, she rubbed her eyes with fists. I took advantage of the most opportune time and her obvious distraction and took my purple egg out of her bag. I tossed Tamara’s lame green one in. It dropped to the bottom. I heard it crack when it hit the cement porch. Take that, Sam-I-Am!
Apparently, I didn’t do this very smoothly. Or she was not as distracted as I thought because she howled like a banshee and my poor clueless grandmother had no idea why the waterworks started again with new vigor.
My mother stepped through the patio door with my sister in tow. Tamara pouted, arms crossed over her chest and scowling, but she picked up her bag—which by the way, held twice as many eggs as mine and vastly more than Nadine’s three—now four if you counted the lame green one.
“All right. That’s enough.” My aunt stepped through the sliding door. “Everyone needs to stop fighting. If you don’t, the Easter Bunny won’t leave you candy and toys.” All three of us shut up.
In our family, the Easter Bunny hid the eggs outside while we were at church and then while we hunted for them, he would hide plastic, candy-filled eggs inside the house. We’d come in from our egg hunt and the grown-ups would say, “You guys just missed him.”
“You girls need to stay outside until you make up with each other and there are no more fights,” my grandmother said leaving the three of us to work it out on our own. C’mon. Really? Methinks someone had watched too many episodes of the Walton’s or Little House on the Prairie because anyone knows that’s not going to work, right?
Here’s the kicker. The stupid eggs we fought over were hard boiled and none of us particularly liked boiled eggs, but that is hardly the point. I wanted my purple egg, damnit!
So, we sat on the porch. And sat. And sat. Eventually, Tamara placated both Nadine and me by sharing her eggs.
OMG! I just put together something that never occurred to me until right now. I know exactly why they left us there in the blazing New Mexico sun, wearing our stiff Sunday dresses and patent leather Mary Jane shoes. It wasn’t because they’d lost their minds or were victims of hokey, family-friendly TV show plots. No!
It took me forty-some years to realize the real reason they let us stew outside for so long. It went like this:
After what felt like forever, my grandmother came out. “Is everyone friends again?”
We nodded. “Okay, give each other a hug and you can come back inside. You just missed the Easter Bunny!”
Everyone complied and we raced inside to start the candy hunt. But wait…
The Easter bunny decided not to hide the eggs in the house that year. Instead, he’d saved us the trouble and placed on the dining room table three cellophane-wrapped Easter baskets with three distinct piles of plastic eggs in front of them.
I can’t believe I just had an ‘a-ha’ moment as I wrote this. Those clever parents realized that the scene outside was about to repeat itself within the confines of my grandmother’s tidy abode, so they’d taken care of it diplomatically while we baked on the porch in our scratchy Easter finery.
Ah! I see it all now. It cracks me up to visualize. Those adults had to scurry around collecting all the eggs they’d already hidden and then divide them by three. They’d thought of everything. Except—
Nadine had more purple eggs than me. Tears sprang to my eyes. My mother opened a box of Peeps (yellow chicks—I remember it like it was yesterday). She gave each of us two, setting them in front of us. Before I let out a squawk about the uneven distribution of purple eggs that would’ve rattled the light fixtures, she put a Peep in my mouth. I am not kidding you. My mother stopped my tantrum by jamming a chick in my gaping scream-hole. Smart woman, my mother.
This is how I remember that first taste:
The clouds parted, the sun streamed through the windows and angels sang the Hallelujah Chorus over my head. There might have even been a rainbow involved. My mouth had just experienced the best thing it had ever tasted. Gastronomic, sweet, gelatinous heaven!
At that moment everyone was happy. Nadine gathered up her plastic eggs in her dress and carried them to the floor where she counted them to make sure she had exactly the same amount as me and my sister. I swallowed the Peep and stared at the other neon yellow chick right in front of me. We met gazes. His chocolate speckled eyes stared straight into mine.
I put my chin on the table mesmerized by little marshmallow fowl.
“Eat me!” he demanded.
I narrowed my eyes. “No, I must save you for later.”
“No, eat me right now. I am pure sugar. You want me.”
“I can’t. I want to wait until later.”
“No! You want me now. Stop resisting. You cannot win. I will own you for the rest of your life.”
He was right. I was his slave.
I popped that Easter chick in my mouth. I enjoyed it, savored it, worshipped it. I closed my eyes and put my forehead on the table, perhaps to keep all my other senses dulled so I could virtually live in the flavor experience that was happening in my mouth.
“Are you all right, Mija?” My mom rushed over.
“Is she choking?” someone asked.
My mom cupped my chin and lifted my head. I smiled at her, yellow mess coming out of the sides of my mouth. She laughed. “No, she’s fine. I think she likes it.” If ever there was an understatement…that would be it.
When I finished my Peep, I looked over at the empty place at the table that Nadine had previously occupied. Her two chicks sat there unsupervised. My eyes scanned the area. Now, you must understand, I was a rule-follower extraordinaire. I was a black-is-black-and-white-is-white sort of child. Rules were rules.
But, Peeps are Peeps!
The adults stood around talking while our toddler cousins ran around playing with their new stuffed rabbits. My sister emptied her plastic eggs of their jelly beans and lined them up on the table.
And Nadine’s Peep called my name.
Damn! It was even staring in my direction. We eyed each other.
It was my first crime. It was wrong and I knew it, but I decided to take the consequences.
I snatched that chick and popped it in my mouth. I experienced sweet Nirvana when suddenly my sister said, “Mom! Krissy just took one of Nad—” A hand clamped over her mouth. “Shhhhh…it’s okay.” She gave us one of her cautionary looks through a forced smile. You know the one—where the eyes get wider and then narrow in mommy-warning fashion. Yep, my mother had averted another tantrum of monumental proportions. And me? I had survived my criminal act. I chewed in rapt ecstasy and smiled at my mom who’d saved my life.
“That wasn’t very nice, was it?” She tossed some guilt my way.
Tamara, with her keen sense of justice, said, “Krissy should give Nadine one of her candy eggs.” Nadine’s head popped up and she looked over at the table where we sat.
My heart began to pound; my eyes grew huge as she scanned the tabletop. I quickly swallowed the evidence. Peep? What Peep? Has anyone seen any Peeps? I smiled guiltily. My mind quickly came up with several scenarios. Maybe she’ll think she ate it. Of course! Maybe I can convince her that she ate it and just doesn’t remember. No wait! Maybe I’ll blame my sister. The grown-ups might believe me, but then…Tamara will kill me. Ahhh! The babies! I’ll blame one of the toddlers (that were roaming around with their own treats).
“Where’s my…?” Nadine focused on that lonely Peep still sitting on the table. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was about to crack and confess. I couldn’t lie to her–ever.
“Nadine! Diane is taking your eggs!” My sister pointed behind my cousin. Nadine whipped around and flew to her little plastic egg pile. Quickly, she gathered them up in her dress again. (I’m not sure why she didn’t use her Easter basket for this, but for some reason we kept the cellophane wraps on them while we used bags–go figure. ) After all her eggs were safe and away from her baby sister’s chubby little hands, Nadine returned to the table and scooped up that last chick.
I turned to look at my sister, but she left the table without another word. I always wondered if she distracted her on purpose to save me or if she really was just pointing out that Nadine was about to be minus one egg filled with jelly beans.
Nadine bit into the remaining chick, made a face and spit it out into her hand. “Yeeech!”
That is how Peeps became an obsession. I am weakened by their evil goodness. Always have been. Always will be.
The picture below is the FAMOUS Easter Egg Hunt. Notice the genius that I am (over to the left) looking for Easter eggs at eye-level. Apparently, I was looking for any levitating eggs. Nadine is starting to panic–you can see it in her face. Tamara is rushing in with her stash. You see how heavy her bag is? The picture below that shows us standing with my grandmother. It was taken post egg-finding-trauma. Can you tell? And what is that on the couch? Is it that damned green egg? Oh, the memories! And by the way, Nadine…I love you. I owe you one.