Easter Egg hunts in my family were robust events. Ostensibly about the search for sugar in sparkly wrapping, they were also about checking to see where you fitted in the social ranking.

My mother was one of three sisters. The one sister was rich, and a member of the Afrikaner elite at the time. She had one son. They stayed in an upper-class area in Pretoria. The second sister had five children, two of whom were in my age range, so we hunted chocolate alongside. She lived in Cape Town and married an Englishman, a fact we attributed to her middle-income status. The third sister, my mother, was the poor one in relative terms; six children, very little spare money and living on the wrong side of the tracks in Germiston.

The Tannie whose house it was would herd the kids on offer together and declare the event open, like a church fete. It was fun, but also a competition.

Jislaaik, we would shoot out of the starting blocks like bloodhounds, rummaging through the foliage. In the Pretoria garden, you were more cautious, for fear of disrupting the horticulture, but on the East Rand, you played hop-scotch with the turds on the rough Kikuyu lawn while avoiding being impaled by the Bougainvillea thorns. It was a bonus if you could get to the eggs before the dog did.

Marshmallow jobbies

When it was just my siblings there were only those cheap marshmallow jobbies you got from OK Bazaars. When the cousins from the other provinces joined together, there was a wider assortment, including a giant animal, like a golden rabbit or chicken.

The strangest thing is that the cousin from Pretoria always got the golden chicken if there was one. I did not have a concept of money at the time and one always leaves open room for the magic of an Easter bunny who gives to all children equally but I did wonder why the cousin from Pretoria always got the biggest prize.

Sub-consciously, yet on a visceral level that a child would sense, I understood it to be just another manifestation of my family’s slightly inferior hunting skills and ranking in society. (Tip: By simply following the dog, you can consume many half-eaten eggs before anyone notices.)

This intuitive tension between the ‘have’ and the ‘have not’ was also apparent when we played Star Wars in the garden. The Pretoria child had this very intimidating and magnificent lightsabre you could buy at the CNA.

A stick was a stick

I think it was expected he would win the skirmishes because of his superior weapon plus he chose to be Luke Skywalker and ‘goodies’ are supposed to win. What he had not contended with perhaps, was that a stick was a stick, whether made from expensive plastic or a gnarly branch from the mulberry tree, and when the wielder of the weapon had a chocolate score to settle the playing fields were even.

Sometime later, amidst great hilarity, aghastment and re-enactments, one of the clans revealed they had discovered the secret of the Golden Chicken. The gilded fowl was not supplied by the Easter Bunny and thus not dispensed with the impartiality, equity and inclusion one might expect from such a fair and just creature – it was bought by the mother.

The Golden Chicken was specifically earmarked for Luke Skywalker (not his real name). She would closely follow the hunt unfolding and, should another kid find the Golden Chicken, she would quietly but firmly tell them: ‘Put it back. That belongs to Luke Skywalker.’

When the true way of the world is revealed to you as it is, not as it should be, you look at chocolate differently. As you unwrap it, it becomes a delicious proxy for ambition, political orientation, affirmative action and most importantly – envy.

Reactions to the great revelation differed.

Anger and resentment

Some kids thought a great injustice had occurred and that the distribution of the Golden Chicken was egregious. There was anger and resentment in response to an unnamed offence. I thought if the Golden Chicken was hidden in the Pretoria property, it would be more even-handed in principle than if it was hidden in Germiston, in which case it would have been a bit of a dirty move.

The different reactions not only showed how we are shaped by our childhood but how we are formed by the time we are children. Predictably perhaps, Skywalker became the most financially successful of us all, with international egg-hunting grounds. In some others, the sense of prejudice morphed into a feisty dedication to the fields of social justice, community service and a rage against the elite.

Hard to tell the difference

It’s just that, when you look very closely, it is very hard to tell the difference between that and envy. Others became writers and philosophers and liberals, all productive rationalisations for shame, guilt and surrender assuagement. The fact that many became sugar addicts or developed eating problems is interesting but you can’t blame the golden easter animal for everything.

The bottom line is that the gold glitters only for some and that is the best way for gold to glitter. It is valuable because it is rare. If everything is gold, nothing is gold.

As a dis-motivational speaker, my main focus is on Reality and Expectation Management (REM).

The moral of this story, in as much as one should be suspicious of any lessons drawn in complex systems, is to be cautious of the salience of the Golden Chicken in any journey. Life is not unfair, but it is uneven. If the only payoff that will make the expedition worth it to you is finding the Golden Chicken, you are statistically destined for a life of continuous disappointment.

Only 2% of people ever become a Skywalker and their path to get to where they are is shaped by as many factors out of their control as yours is.

Making the trip worth it

Most of us though, and I can assure you that you are just about certainly one of the 98%, must find a way of not only dealing with this reality but making the trip worth it despite that.

Keep your eyes open for something that glitters in the bushes if you want, but become fascinated with the different colours of Bougainvillea, getting excited about the grasshoppers on the lawn and exploring the health advantages of eating less sugar. It is not a ‘better’ way, there are no such things, it is just an alternative way and a mathematically more probable way of getting joy, contentment and delight in return.

Happy hunting! And remember the golden guidelines:

First, lower your expectations of life – this is the most important part of it. Then, up your awe and curiosity, make friends with the dog and always set out with a sturdy stick.

[For more information on DisMotivational speaking, or requests for interviews or bookings, email: info@vivenne.co.za]

[Image: Eglantine Shala from Pixabay]

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR.

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Viv Vermaak is an award-winning investigative journalist, writer and director. She was the most loved and hated presenter on South Africa’s iconic travel show, “Going Nowhere Slowly’ and ranks being the tall germ, “Terie’ in Mina Moo as a career highlight. She does Jiu-Jitsu and has a ’69 Chevy Impala called Katy Peri-Peri.