The week is bookended by the launch of spring and Easter Sunday. Daffodils sway in the cold wind, dipping their yellow heads as if to say, “You can’t discourage me! Warmer days are ahead.” I’m wrapped in a thick sweater, mentally preparing our traditional Easter feast, which consists of homemade scalloped potatoes, French-style green beans sautéed with mushrooms, and honey-glazed ham.
Of course, Easter’s real significance for Christians underlies our entire spiritual belief, making it the most important religious holiday on our calendar. But as a kid, all I cared about was the eye-dying, egg hunting, and finding my cleverly hidden Easter basket. While some families braved the elements to host their egg hunts outdoors, our family opted for the surety of temperature and weather-control. My parents hid our hard-boiled eggs — the ones we’d carefully dipped and dyed with fizzy Paz pellets and wonky wire hooks — before my brother and I awoke on Easter morning. Our first task each year, even before picking up any eggs we spotted, was finding our baskets.
Finding the hidden baskets was Job #1.
Debby, circa 1968.
My parents were clever. They liked to make us work for our candy and the best places to look for our woven straw baskets were in dryer, beneath my parents’ bed, inside the pantry, or behind the stereo cabinet. The plastic green grass stuck out over the basket’s edges, creating a nest to hold our loot: Peeps, malted robin’s eggs, a chocolate bunny. (My dad always tossed in jelly beans because he knew I’d give them away — to him.)
When my own kids were born, my family traditions got co-mingled with my then-husband’s. This meant way more chocolate and fewer eggs. At least we agreed on one Easter tradition: the hidden basket. What fun it was listening to my kids’ squeals of delight as they scampered through the house, playing seek and find. We loved watching them “help” each other locate eggs (and I laugh now recalling us frantically trying to remember where that lone egg had been hidden when we couldn’t find it).
My sons are both teenagers so the time for Easter egg hunts is behind us, at least for temporarily. I find myself yearning for something to replace the fun and sense of joy, something to knit together the past and connect it with the present.
That’s how the idea of a memory scavenger hunt came about.
You know all those extra wallet-sized school photos you’ve been saving for no known reason other than you can’t bear to throw them away? It’s time to pull them out and put them to good use! Select one from every school year for each child and put them in order from most recent back to Kindergarten. (Don’t have any school photos? No worries — any pictures will work.)
On the back, write a tidbit.
On the back of each photo, write a little tidbit or beginning of a story from that year as it relates to that child. What did he love to eat? Avoid like the plague? Wear or watch incessantly? Cover all the emotions: serious, sad, funny — and all the senses: taste, sight, sound, smell, and touch.
Once you’ve included snippets on all the photos, hide the images around the house. Each person ought to find the most recent picture and go backward in time. Can’t you already hear the laughter and feel the pull down memory lane? (You’ll feel it, too, as you recall something extraordinary from each year for each kid.) What’s the prize, you might ask? I’ll leave that for you to decide. Perhaps a giant chocolate bunny. Or a silly trophy. Perhaps — this is really my hope — the joy of feeling the connection will be the real prize.
“I totally forgot about that, Mom!”
As you gather around the dinner table to enjoy your own Easter feast, have each person share what her favorite “clue” was. Laugh and share stories long forgotten and fill in any missing blanks, look at old photos, and bond over the good ol’ days. And guess what? You’ve created a fun new tradition and some great memories in the present, too!
Pass the scalloped potatoes, please!
Pro-tip: You can audio record one story from each person on your mobile device and save the stories for when you decide to compile your family’s memories more formally.
We’d love to hear from you in the comments below when you host your own memory scavenger hunt. How did it work for you? What variations did you try? (Hint: it doesn’t have to be done at Easter — it will work any time your family gets together!)