"I knew it before I got out of bed," she says, turning away from the window with a purposeful excitement in her eyes. "The courthouse bell sounded so cold and clear. Oh, Buddy, stop stuffing biscuit and fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat. We've thirty peep jars to make."
It's always the same: A morning arrives in March, and my friend, as though officially inaugurating the Easter time of year that exhilarates her imagination and fuels the blaze of her heart, announces: "It's peep jar weather! Fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat."
Next, the kind of work I like best begins: Buying. Jars and lids, wrapping paper and tape, and oh, so many peeps: why, we'll need a pony to pull the buggy home.
But before these purchases can be made, there is the question of money. Neither of us has any. Except for skinflint sums persons in the house occasionally provide (a dime is considered big money); or what we earn ourselves from various activities: holding rummage sales, selling jars of hand picked blackberries, jam, egg plant jelly, and peach preserves, rounding up flowers for funerals and weddings. But one way or another we do each year accumulate Easter savings, a Peep Jar Fund. These moneys we keep hidden in an ancient bead purse under a loose board under the floor under a chamber pot under my friend's bed.
Silently, wallowing in the pleasures of conspiracy, we take the bead purse from its secret place and spill its contents on a scrap quilt. Dollars bills, tightly rolled and green as May buds. Somber fifty cent pieces, heavy enough to weigh a dead man's eyes. Lovely dimes, the liveliest coin, the one that really jingles. Nickels and quarters worn smooth as creek pebbles. But mostly a hateful heap of bitter-odored pennies. Last summer others in the house contracted to pay us a penny for every twenty-five flies we killed. Oh, the carnage of August: the flies that went to heaven! Yet it was not work in which we took pride. And, as we sit counting pennies, it is as though we were back tabulating dead flies.
Neither of us has a head for figures. According to her calculations we have $12.73. According to mine, exactly $13. "I do hope you're wrong, Buddy. We can't mess around with thirteen. The peep jars will crack. Or put somebody in the cemetery." So to be on the safe side we subtract a penny and throw it out the window.
Of the ingredients that go into our peep jars, pink peeps are the most expensive, as well as the hardest to obtain: State Law forbids their sale. But everybody knows you can buy them from Mr. Haha Jones. And the next day, having completed our more prosaic shopping, we set out for Mr. Haha's business address, a "sinful" (to quote public opinion) fish-fry and dancing cafe down by the river. We've been there before, and on the same errand; but in previous years our dealings have been with Haha's wife, an iodine- dark indian woman with brassy peroxided hair and a dead-tired disposition. Actually, we've never laid eyes on her husband, though we've heard that he's an indian, too. A giant with razor scars across his cheeks. They call him Haha because he's so gloomy, a man who never laughs.
As we approach his cafe our steps slow down. People have been murdered in Haha's cafe. Cut to pieces. Hit on the head. There's a case coming up in court next month. Naturally these goings-on happen at night when colored lights cast crazy patterns and the victrola wails. In the daytime Haha's is shabby and deserted. I knock at the door, my friend calls: "Mrs. Haha, ma'am? Anyone to home?"
Footsteps. The door opens. Our hearts overturn. It's Mr.
Haha Jones himself! And he is a giant; he does have scars; he
doesn't smile. No, he glowers at us through Satan tilted eyes and
demands to know: "What you want with Haha?"
For a moment we are too paralyzed to tell. Presently my friend half-finds her voice, a whispery voice at best: "If you please, Mr. Haha, we'd like a hundred of your finest pink peeps."
His eyes tilt more. Would you believe it? Haha is smiling! Laughing, too. "Which one of you is a pink peep eatin' man?"
"Its for making peep jars, Mr. Haha. Peep jars."
This sobers him. He frowns. "That's no way to waste good peeps." Nevertheless, he retreats into the shadowed cafe and seconds later appears carrying a box of pink peeps. He demonstrates their sparkle in the sunlight and says: "Two dollars."
We pay him in nickels, dimes, and pennies. Suddenly, jangling the coins in his hand like a fistful of dice, his face softens. "Tell you what," he proposes, pouring the money back into our bead purse, "just send me one of them peep jars instead."
"Well," my friend remarks on our way home, "there's a lovely man. We'll put an extra pink peep in his jar."
The kitchen table is covered: peeps of yellow and pink, lids, jars, glue. Peeps fly, smoosh, lids spin. Nose-tingling peep odors saturate the kitchen, suffuse the house, drift out to the world on puffs of chimney smoke. In four days our work is done! Thirty-one peep jars, sealed tightly, bask on window sills and shelves.
Who are they for?
Friends. Not necessarily neighbor friends: indeed the larger share are intended for persons we've met maybe once, perhaps not at all. People who've struck our fancy. Like President Roosevelt. Like Rev. and Mrs. J. C. Lucey, Baptist missionaries to Borneo who lectured here last winter. Or the young Winstons, a California couple whose car one afternoon broke down outside the house and who spent a pleasant hour chatting with us on the porch (young Mr. Winston snapped our picture, the only one we've ever had taken). Also, the scrapbook we keep of thank-you's on White House stationery, time to time communications from California and Borneo, make us feel connected to eventful worlds beyond the kitchen with its view of a sky that stops.
Now, a budding March fig branch grates against the window. The kitchen is empty, the peep jars are gone; yesterday we carted the last of them to the post office, where the cost of stamps turned our purse inside out. We're broke. That rather depresses me, but my friend insists on celebrating: "With thirty one more peep jars out there, the world is a better place."
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