Phantom Eggs


Beth walked into her grandmother’s living room and stopped short, staring at dozens of brightly decorated Easter eggs. “Gram!” she gasped. “I never knew you had so many!”

“Yes, I do have a lot,” Gram said, looking around. “I’m glad you came, dear. You can help me sort through them. I told the children’s librarians that this year they could have the display earlier.”

Beth knelt in front of the sofa where several eggs were lying. “Oh, Gram, I remember this one. Didn’t the Phantom give it to you?” She carefully held up a sequin-encrusted egg.

“Yes, and it’s one of my favorites. I got it about ten years ago. I’ve decided to make a special display this year of eggs from the Phantom—in his memory.”

Beth stared at her grandmother. “What do you mean ‘in his memory’? Was Gramps the Phantom?”

“Yes, Beth, it was Gramps. Every Easter morning from the time we were married I found a tiny basket with a handmade Easter egg in it on the doorstep.” Gram’s smile started to waver a little. “Every egg was different. Easter just won’t seem the same this year without the Phantom. That’s why I decided to let the library have the display early. There won’t be a new egg to wait for this year.”

Beth got up to hug her grandmother. “Did Gramps know that you knew that he was the Phantom?” she asked.

Gram wiped her eyes on the corner of the apron she was wearing. “Oh, I’m sure he suspected I knew that it was him, but I never let on. It was kind of a delightful game that we played with each other. Every year before Easter he’d spend hours in his workshop and never tell me what he was doing. I’m sure he practiced on a lot of eggs. You know what a perfectionist he was.” Gram laughed through misty eyes. “I’d give a lot to know what he did with all those eggs!”

Beth laughed too. “Did Gramps fix breakfast a lot?”

“Now that I think of it, he did. And I’ll bet you can guess what we usually had.”

“Eggs!” Beth shouted.

The rest of the afternoon passed pleasantly as they sorted and packed the eggs. Gram had a story to tell about each one.

That evening at supper Beth was quiet.

“Is anything wrong, Beth?” her mother asked.

“How far away is Easter?”

“About four weeks,” her mother replied. “Why?”

“I’m going to make an Easter egg,” Beth said slowly.

“We always color eggs, Beth,” her mother said, puzzled. “Don’t you think this is a bit early to start?”

“No, because I want to make a fancy egg—like Gram has in her collection.”

A look of understanding spread across Mother’s face. “Were you helping Gram get her eggs ready for the library display this week?”

Beth nodded. “And do you know what? I found out that Gramps was the Phantom all along. Did you know that, Mom?”

“Did I ever! I remember all the eggs we used to eat. It’s a wonder I didn’t sprout feathers when I was growing up!” Mother smiled at the memory. “I never let on to Gramps that I knew though. It would have spoiled his fun. He got such a kick out of surprising Gram.”

“She’s really sad because this is going to be the first Easter in almost fifty years that she won’t be getting a Phantom egg,” Beth said. “I thought that if I could make her one, she might feel a little better. I know it wouldn’t be the same as one from the Phantom, but I’d like to try.”

Beth’s father, who had been listening quietly, smiled at his daughter. “I think that’s a great idea, Beth. It would remind Gram that she is still loved even though Gramps isn’t here anymore. If I can do anything to help, let me know.”

After school the next day Beth bicycled over to the library. She found several books to take home on the art of egg decorating. When she finished her homework and the dishes, she sat down to study the books before bedtime. As Mother gave her a kiss good night, Beth said, “Mom, some of those eggs that Gramps made took a lot of time and work. Why didn’t he make some to sell?”

“He only made them for Gram because he loved her, and he knew how much she liked decorated eggs. Have you decided what kind you’re going to make?”

“Not yet. But I’ve got the choice narrowed down. I’ll decide in the morning.” Beth yawned and snuggled down under the covers.

By Saturday Beth was eager to start her project. She had decided to try her hand at two different types of decorations. One involved an onion-skin dye. After the egg had been dyed, a design would be scratched onto its surface. The other type was a “sugar” egg. This required some diamond dust and floral cake decorations as well as glue, ribbons, and a special sugar frosting. Both types required starting with clean, whole, empty eggshells.

A few hours later Beth looked ruefully into a bowl of shell-less eggs. The yellow yolks seemed to be winking at her. She had only a few whole shells to show for her efforts.

She looked up when Mother came into the kitchen. “Mom, can I fix breakfast tomorrow morning?”

Mother put an arm around Beth’s shoulders and hugged her sympathetically. “Don’t worry, honey. We’ll be happy to eat all the eggs we need to. If I never clucked before, I doubt that I will now.”

“Thanks, Mom. You’re super. This isn’t as easy as I thought.”

The weeks sped by. Beth practiced her egg craft every spare moment. The family ate omelets, angel food cake, souffles, custards, meringue pies, and anything else they could think of that used lots of eggs. Decorated eggshells lined every available space.

The day before Easter came quickly. Beth’s mother had rummaged through the attic and found a beautiful little basket that was the perfect size for one egg. Beth had lined it with soft Easter grass.

After supper Beth carefully positioned her prize egg in the basket. Pastel flowers shone softly through its glistening spun-sugar coating.

“Beth, that’s lovely,” her mother said.

“You’ve done a great job, honey,” her father agreed. “You should be proud of yourself. We are. I’m sure Gram will be very happy.”

“Thank you.” Beth smiled. “It did turn out nice, didn’t it? I’m glad I decided to do this kind instead of the onion-skin type. I like this kind better.”

“I like the smell better too.” Her dad wrinkled his nose in mock disgust at the remembered smell of boiling onion skins.

“Oh, Dad!” Beth laughed. “I can’t wait to see Gram’s face.”

Early the next morning they drove to Gram’s house and parked out of sight down the street. Beth cautiously crept up to the front door, put the basket on the steps, rang the bell, and scurried behind a huge lilac bush.

The front door opened slowly. Beth’s grandmother stepped out and peered around uncertainly. Shaking her head, she turned to go back inside. Suddenly she glanced down and froze as if she couldn’t believe her eyes.

Beth held her breath as Gram sat down on the step and placed the basket on her lap. She stared and stared at it. Beth could see tears on her grandmother’s cheeks. Gram lifted her head and called out, “If you’re out there, my new Phantom, how can I thank you? You’ve made me very happy. I’m going to call my granddaughter to tell her about your kindness. She’ll be delighted.”

As soon as Gram closed the door, Beth scooted back to the car. “Quick!” she told her parents. “We’ve got to get home. Gram is going to call me to tell me about the egg.”

The phone was ringing as Beth raced through the front door. Although Beth was winded from her run, her grandmother was too excited to notice it over the phone.

Easter dinner conversation revolved around the new Phantom egg which Gram had brought to show off. All the aunts, uncles, and cousins were impressed, and Beth glowed inwardly when Gram said, “Tomorrow I’m taking this egg right down to the library and have it put in the case with my other Phantom eggs. I’m going to make a nice card explaining what happened and how much this egg means to me. Somehow I’m sure that Gramps is pleased too.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Pat Hoggan