The map had led us here, and we three stood at the entrance of the cave. “Light the lantern, Ruth. Hurry!” We caught each other’s eyes, and, breath suspended, entered the dark cave. In the glow of the lantern the gems on the floor of the cave glinted and gleamed, shimmered and sparkled, flashed and flared.
“Quick!” I whispered, “Let’s carry out as many as we can before they catch up with us.” Ruth set the lantern down, and we began to gather the gems, filling our sacks, then emptying them into separate piles outside the cave’s entrance.
“We’ll dig a deep hole and bury them—and cover the place with weeds until we can get back with something to carry them away in,” Marilee directed.
“Genevieve’s pile is the biggest!” Ruth flashed a resentful look at me and hurried back into the cave with me at her heels. We both spotted the huge, glittering gem, and our hands closed over it simultaneously.
“Let me have it!” Ruth shouted.
“I just want to look at it. It must be a ruby!” I cried.
Marilee intervened. “Let Ruth have it, Genevieve. You already have the most.”
“But let me just look at it. Please, Ruth.”
“No! You go home! We don’t want you to play with us!” Ruth snatched the prize away from me. I looked at Marilee, who turned away.
Suddenly the ruby became a rock once more, the cave a pipeline excavation, the map a torn piece of brown paper sack with childish scribblings on it. I was no longer a member of an intrepid team of adventurers but a spurned and forsaken six-year-old. I shuffled backwards away from Marilee and Ruth, watching while they continued their pretending as if it had never been interrupted, as if I had never been a part of it.
When I turned, I could see Mama catercorner across the street, bringing in clothes from the line. She had told me to play where she could see me because she was too busy today to go looking for me.
It was Monday—wash and iron day for Mama, who had seven children and a railroad mechanic husband to care for. I entered our yard and, head down, scuffed past Mama into the house. She must not have seen me, because she didn’t say anything. In the living room I stood at the window, watching Marilee and Ruth.
I didn’t feel like playing any more. Crossing through the bathroom into the bedroom, I threw myself across the double bed that my two older sisters and I shared.
Why didn’t Marilee and Ruth like me? I was little for my age, but did they think I was still a baby? Marilee was only two months older than I was, and Ruth was three months younger!
Tracing the tiny stitches in Mama’s homemade quilt, I thought of yesterday when my Sunday School teacher had talked about Jesus coming alive again after he had died. And the reason he had died was that he loved us all. The most important thing to remember, my teacher said, was that Jesus had told us we should love each other, too. As she talked, I knew the magic feeling I had was there because I truly did love everyone in the world.
But … what was wrong with me that kept Marilee and Ruth from loving me? I stayed a long time, motionless, on the bed.
“Genevieve!” Mama’s voice was excited. “Quick! Come here!”
Mama was usually quiet and calm, so I knew it was important. When I got to the back door, she grabbed my arm and pointed. “Look! There’s a bunny rabbit! See it? It’s just disappearing on the other side of the canal bridge!” I looked hard, but I couldn’t see it.
“It ran from the direction of the field,” Mama said. “Maybe it left some decorated eggs there!”
“Today?” I asked incredulously. “But Easter was a long time ago!”
“Well, why don’t you go see?” Mama let go of my arm. If Mama thought the bunny had left some eggs there, he probably had. I ran.
“Genevieve?” Mama’s voice stopped me. “Why don’t you ask Marilee and Ruth to help you look?”
I hesitated, looking toward the cave of gems where Marilee and Ruth still played. They must have heard Mama mention their names, but they didn’t look up. I glanced back at Mama. She didn’t see me; she was watching Marilee and Ruth. So I ran to look for the eggs by myself.
I found the first one—a mottled blue, purple, and green. “Mama, he did! He did!” I cried, holding up the egg. Mama nodded and smiled, and out of the corner of my eye I saw Marilee and Ruth stop what they were doing to look over at me.
“Look,” I called excitedly to them, waving the egg, “the Easter bunny came again today!”
They were at my side at once, and the three of us descended upon the half-hidden eggs with more zeal than we had ever shown for gem hunting. When we could find no more, we placed our eggs in our skirts and carried them over to show Mama. We found her in the kitchen, where she exclaimed over the various colors and designs of the eggs.
“Does the Easter bunny always come again after Easter?” I asked Mama.
“Only if he needs to, I guess.” She moved away from us and began to sort the batch of clothes she had brought in.
“You mean, to get rid of the eggs he had left over from Easter?”
As if she hadn’t heard my question, Mama suggested, “Why don’t you take your eggs into the living room and put them on a soft chair so they won’t get broken?”
“All right,” I replied contentedly and turned toward the living room, hoping my friends would follow me.
As I snuggled my eggs onto the seat of a soft chair, my eyes were drawn to my miniature table. It was set for three. Each tiny blue cup brimmed with pink punch, and on each small blue plate beckoned a piece of Mama’s spice cake with thick frosting. Marilee and Ruth joined me around the table, and we were suddenly three grownup ladies, smiling and nodding at each other as we ate. I felt warm. And glad.
We three have been real grown up ladies now for many years. Mama has been dead for more than twenty of those years. I still remember that day, though, because, I guess, we remember best something we have experienced with strong emotion. And now I know after years of watching my own children play, that the compassion a mother expresses for her heartsick child is the essence of Christ’s message—a message more profound and more capable of healing than any other: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you.” (John 13:34.)