CHAPTER 1: Bighead Bunny
As bat boy, church was the thing I put up with so I could be out at the ball fields twice a week. My heroes weren’t Moses, David, and Elijah, they were the ones who smelled of dusty sweat and taught me to lose my temper like a good Christian. My dad was an ace at shortstop and was evangelized by turning double plays for the church softball team. I loved those days: Big Donnie hitting home-runs so hard people wouldn’t leave their cars in the first two rows of the parking lot; Bob Vittle with his white walrus mustache, wiggling his ears for me every time he came in from scoring a run; and Mikey Evans, the hotshot third baseman who would sometimes tuck a little chew in his lower lip, and who taught me to never, ever, let the bats be crossed in the dugout because it was bad luck.
I attended my first outreach event the Easter of 1974. It was my second season of being bat boy and spring softball was just starting. My family had managed to keep the Get Saved Wolves at bay to this point but they’d found a weak spot this year: my love for candy and Easter egg hunts. They invited us to their Saturday Easter Eggstravaganza on the church grounds and promised good times and lots of candy. I was like a wounded deer in an open field, and the wolves moved in for the kill.
Outreach events. Part spectacle, part TV product commercial and 100% awkward.
My mom delivered us to the Egg Hunt dressed in clothes that could get dirty, knowing her children’s propensity to punish the earth with our knees as often as possible during our play. Everyone else came in their fancy runner-up clothes, reserving their shiny best outfits for Easter. Nothing says He is Risen better than white pants and pink flare skirts as you shove other anointed children in search of plastic eggs on the lawn of The Lord’s outfield.
Everyone brought baskets with flowers or ribbons, color coordinated to match hair bows or clip-on ties. My mom declared the baskets ridiculous and proudly snapped open her brown grocery bag that would serve as the communal chest where my siblings and I would collectively stash our treasures. She did, however, lick her thumb real quick and removed jelly from my face.
The deacon with the huge ears and bald head had brought a radio to the field and piped four-part gospel harmonies out of the PA. The roll was being called up yonder and God was trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath were stored. It’d be a cruel God to rapture me up before I raked in all His candy.
A six foot Easter Bunny waved to the pristine children and delivered furry pats of the head. I overheard a mom saying that her husband had to drive into the city to rent it and that it would be worth the effort “if just one lost child is saved.” I was more worried about the mute bunny making eye contact with me than I was any lost kids. Plus, less kids equaled more loot.
The egg hunt had not started. Kids restlessly milled by the gate. Eggs visible through the fence, they teased us as we were held back. The sun turned up the volume and burned off the dew and those in dress up clothes pulled and tugged at their sweaty parts.
The deacon with the high waist and jangling key ring motioned to the six foot Easter bunny to join him by the entrance to the softball field. I made some sweet moves around a pair of twins and a boy picking his underwear out of his butt and got a pole position near the gate. And the Bunny.
Baskets gripped tightly, the flock of restless kids approached mob status. Parents put hands on children’s shoulders, like jockeys in the starting gates with a prize horse. The PA blared something about raising an Ebenezer. The deacon nodded to the festive rabbit.
And the Bunny...took off its head.
The smaller children broke out in tears and screams. I stood in the front row with my brothers and sister, mouths open, staring at the tiny woman’s head protruding from the oversized rabbit costume.
Baptist-brown mom hair clung to the cherry cheeks of her fat round face. I wondered how close she came to sweating to death. She held the bunny head on her hip and gathered a deep breath as she scanned the crowd.
“Who knows the true meaning of Easter?” her shrill voice asked.
Mumble-mumble went the children.
The church kid group-think settled in and we realized we wouldn’t be unleashed on the eggs until we survived the Bunny’s devotional. One of the girls took one for the team, and squeezed out a confident, “JESUS!”
“That’s right,” said the teeny human head bunny. “The death and resurrection of Jesus. Have any of you ever heard the Easter story?”
Murmur-murmur. A few hands raised.
“Well, many years ago, Jesus died on the cross for your sins. He was buried in a tomb but he came back to life.” She put the bunny head down. It stared up at us from the grass with vacant blue eyes, demanding we submit to the Gospel show.
The chubby faced lady held up a velvet-lined bag in one furry hand, and a black plastic egg in the other. “This black egg represents sin...and our death. When Jesus died for us.” She put the black egg into the bag. “He made all our sins disappear.”
She swirled the bag in a magical motion, and opened it up for us to see that the black egg had disappeared. The few kids not hypnotized by the bunny head or blinded by the mid-morning sun, nodded as if to say, ‘this is a little better than I thought it would be.’
“But not only did Jesus take away the black egg of our sin, he gives us a new life!”
Magic wiggle of the bag and the bunny paw pulled out a real white egg. “See!”
But the bunny paw held onto the real egg of life too firmly, and it burst, flinging bright gold and white slime over the rabbit fur and the toes of my sneakers.
“Aw, CRAP!” said the bunny.
The parents gasped. All the children locked eyes with the holiday evangelist and I openly giggled. Holding the raw egg-drenched paw behind her back, the bunny closed the presentation with a rushed “Just remember, God loves you. And he died for your sins. Who wants to find some Easter Eggs?”
“Yaaaaayy!” went the mob.
The pastel tidal wave burst onto the softball field.
It was the worst egg hunt ever. Empty plastic eggs were thrown on the grass as if someone had dropped them accidentally. Empty eggs? What’s this, another lesson? Empty tomb eggs I guessed.
On the way back to the car, we were instructed to turn back in our plastic eggs for reuse next year. Good stewardship for the risen Jesus. Waiting like vultures by the egg drop station were the Follow-Up Deacons, who asked my brother and I what we thought of the Easter Bunny’s talk about Jesus. We both said we loved it. Then we both got saved right there. They handed us one candy egg each. I ate it before I had my seat belt on for the ride home. Being saved sort of felt like a rip-off…wouldn’t Jesus have given us more candy?
I thanked babyhead Bunny for the vocal lesson, but that egg hunt was a piece of CRAP.