The streets in that neighborhood spoke to hard-scrabble lives, to days spent in little more than shacks. Renters worked for a pittance, not knowing they were on the cusp of a Civil Rights revolution.
Those of us who lived less than a mile away were seasonal do-gooders. We filled Christmas stockings for children in that neighborhood, gave them clothes at the beginning of the school year and dyed eggs, planning Easter egg hunts every spring.
The row houses were called “The Quarters.” The name stuck in my mouth, as scaring as barbed wire. It reduced those living there to a place of little comfort, to lives in a holding pen.
Every Easter, I made sugar cookies, poured lemonade and hid eggs for children from “The Quarters,” who, starched and pressed, were delivered to a house the size of a castle, its grounds lush with new-mown grass.
One year, it fell to me to decorate the golden egg. Since Leggs panty hose were still on the scene, I sprayed a Leggs container bright gold and rolled it in glitter.
On the day of the egg hunt, I walked the grounds, searching for a hiding place deserving of a grand prize winner. Finally, I found one, a mossy hole, an indention in a row of shrubbery.
I left the egg at the bottom of the hole, covering it lightly with fallen oak leaves, letting a hint of gold shine through. Then I followed children around as they ran hither and yon and I waited.
As Easter baskets were filled, a little boy of 5 or 6 ambled my way, holding an empty brown paper bag. He looked like a storybook character in his puffy jacket and hood, his big brown eyes scanning the grass, searching for eggs.
He spotted the mossy hole, slid down into the leaves and picked up the golden egg. I waited for him to climb out, but he didn’t move. He stood there, facing me, holding the egg like it was made of fine china.
“I’ll help you out,” I said. He shook his head, “No.” “I could hold the egg for you and you could climb out,” I suggested. There was another shake of his head.
A few minutes went by. A group of children began to gather near the hole, watching the boy in the puffy jacket. When a helpful father showed up, I explained the standoff. He knelt beside the hiding place.
“Do you know what a palanquin is?” he asked the boy. “No,” the child answered.
“Well,” (said the father who knew more than I did) “a palanquin is a seat, carried on poles, meant for very important people, kings and queens.”
He went on. “Mrs. Elliott and I are going to make a special seat, like a palanquin, slide it under you and lift you and the golden egg out of the hole. O.K.?” There was a slight nod for “Yes.”
Then there was a whispered question for me. “Do you know how to make a pack saddle?” Well, I knew two people connected their arms in some way. “Follow my lead,” the father said. We stepped down into the mossy hole. His hand closed on my forearm and mine on his.
We slipped our “palanquin” under the boy, ferrying him and the golden egg out of the hole. His friends cheered and he smiled from ear to ear.
I was surprised to feel tears on my face, bearing witness to the little boy’s proud moment.
Years later, when I close my eyes, I still see his, wide with wonder as he held fast to the golden egg. I’ve held out hope his small life was lifted out of “The Quarters.” On this Easter Sunday, I pray it was.
Judy Elliott is an award-winning columnist from Marietta.