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John R. Eggers: A wonderful Easter gift memory

The last time I wrote about Regis Fenney was the time she caught me swiping apples in her backyard and proceeded to lock me in her cellar. That would have been in the summer of 1952.

Every community has at least one Regis Fenney type person. Regis was a little strange and the kids had a great time telling stories about her.

She lived on the top of a hill about two blocks from our house. I never did tell anyone that she locked me in her cellar. She told me that she was going to teach me a lesson because this is what her parents did to her when she swiped apples from her neighbor’s yard. I remember that I had to hold my nose because of a 20-gallon crock filled with the most horrible smelling sauerkraut anyone could possibly imagine.

After about 20 minutes she hollered from upstairs and asked me if I was hungry. I said yes because she had taken all of the green apples I had put in my pockets. She brought down a huge slice of homemade bread with some of the best apple butter I had ever tasted. I thought that was pretty nice considering what I did.

It was the following spring and a week before Easter. My Sunday school teacher mentioned that we ought to think of Easter in the same way we think of Christmas. Easter should be a time for giving because in the words of my teacher, “Jesus gave himself to us.”

I started thinking about what I could give for Easter and to whom I could give it. How about my grandmother or mother? Since nobody, according to my teacher, really expected Jesus to give his life for us, I decided I should give something to someone who would never expect to receive a gift.

I was thinking of my friends, my neighbors, and my relatives and then I thought of Regis Fenney. Boy, would she be surprised! What could I give her?

Maybe my fourth grade teacher, Miss Barslow, could give me some ideas. “Miss Barslow, if you had to give a gift to someone who would never expect a gift from you, what would you give?” Also, I added, “And what if you didn’t have any money to buy a gift?”

“Well,” she said, “ that is a tough problem to solve. How about if you made something?”

“What could I make?”

“I’m sure you will think of something. Besides, whatever you make, they will appreciated it. Remember, it’s the thought that counts.”

What could I make Regis Fenney? The Saturday before Easter Sunday I was dying eggs with my mother and brother, I was still thinking about what to give Regis. It probably had been a long time since she had ever received a dyed Easter egg from someone. I decided that was what I would give her.

I made an especially deep blue colored egg, my favorite color, and before I put it into the dye I took the wax crayon and wrote on the egg, “To Regis, Happy Easter, From John.” On the other side I drew a cross.

I wrapped the egg in some tissue paper, placed it in a small Roy Rogers watch box that I received for Christmas and began my walk to Regis’ house on the top of the hill. I didn’t tell my mother where I was going because she might not have let me go.

Walking to Regis’ house I began to have second thoughts. What would I say to her? What if she didn’t come to the door? Would she remember me for taking her apples? Would she be as crazy as we kids all said she was?

It was a gray, overcast day. Most of the snow was gone. The water was running on the gravel road. I turned the corner to climb the hill.

Her house was the color of the sky. The paint that had been on it, if it had ever been painted, had worn off long ago. There was a screened in porch surrounding half of the house.

I opened the screen door and went in and knocked on the inside door. My heart was pounding. I was actually sweating. What would I say?

I knocked again only a little louder. As I was about to knock a third time, I heard a voice, “Who’s there?”

“Hi, Mrs. Fenney. (We always called older women “Mrs.”) I’m John from down the street. I have something to give you.”

She opened the door, looked right into my eyes and said, “Did you learn your lesson yet?”

Kind of startled, I stammered, “I sure, sure did, Mrs. Fenney. I have an Easter gift for you.” I put out my hand holding the Roy Rogers box. “It’s inside.”

She took the box, opened it and looked at the blue Easter egg. She said thank you and closed the door.

I stood there for a while not really knowing what to do. I then turned around and began to walk down the hill. Behind me I heard the screen door open and she shouted, “Didn’t you forget something? Come here, Sonny.”

I walked up to her and she handed me a piece of homemade bread with apple butter on it. “Happy Easter to you, too.”

— John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.