Fifteen years ago, I wrote one of the quirkier stories of my journalism career. It was about an Easter egg that was dyed by a kid back in 1859 and had been safeguarded by family members ever since.
At the time, a Sharon Center woman named Jeanne Deis was its caretaker. She kept the brown-dyed egg wrapped in soft paper and nestled in a cup in her china cabinet. She and her sister found it among their mother’s things after her death, and Deis took it just because no one else seemed interested.
Deis recalled that her mother, Marie Goodhart, had been so protective of the egg that she didn’t even tell her children about it until they were teenagers. Likewise, Deis kept its existence from her own three sons until they were beyond the age of mischief.
The egg was decorated with drawings of a chicken, a flower and a fish, along with the initials “J.P.” and the year 1859. Probably they were drawn with wax before the egg was dipped in coffee to color it. The insides had dried and shrunk, so the egg rattled when it was shaken gently.
“J.P.” stood for Jesse Packer, who was a brother of Deis’ great-grandmother. The egg was accompanied by a note written by Deis’ mother, Marie Goodhart, who recounted her childhood encounter with the elderly Packer when he was visiting from Salt Lake City.
For reasons I can’t explain, that egg popped into my mind a couple of weeks ago. So I set out to find out what had become of it.
Jeanne Deis, unfortunately, passed away in 2000. But after a little detective work, I discovered that the egg is still intact, entrusted to one of her three sons, Dennis.
Dennis Deis can’t remember exactly how the egg came into his hands. Maybe his mother gave it to him directly, “or maybe my brothers determined that I should get stuck with it,” he said with a laugh.
At first he kept the heirloom in his china cabinet, just as his mother had, he said. But then another egg that Jeanne Deis had decorated and that he was keeping exploded, and he got worried.
He packed the older egg in a plastic container along with silica packets and put it in his basement, where he figured the cooler conditions might be beneficial. Then he noticed that the number 9 in the date had disappeared and thought it might be because the basement was too damp, so he brought it back upstairs. Now he’s planning another storage strategy involving an airtight plastic jar.
Deis said he never displays the egg, and no one in the family has asked to see it. But he considers it an honor to have been entrusted with it.
“I’m not just going to put it somewhere and not take care of it,” he said.
I was glad to hear it. I had been so enamored by that egg, in fact, that I made one myself back in 1999 and have been keeping it ever since.
I used a crayon to decorate mine with my initials, the year and a rudimentary sketch of a bunny. Drawing is not my talent.
I dyed it with plain old Paas egg dye, in that turquoise that has always been my favorite Easter egg color. Fifteen years later, the color is as vivid as ever.
I packed the egg away with my Easter decorations and pretty much forgot about it, but this year I decided to take it out and display it.
I don’t know whether anyone will even notice it, and I’m pretty sure no one will be as charmed by the tradition as I was.
By maybe someday, a descendant of mine will keep it in a china cabinet, wrapped up with an article written by her eccentric forebear. Maybe someday, my egg will match the longevity of the Deis family’s heirloom.
Only 140 more years to go.
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or email@example.com. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/mbbreck, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckABJ and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.