It was a great day for an egg roll.
At the annual White House Easter Egg Roll yesterday, you could see: 35,000 children and parents trying to keep track of each other on the South Lawn, Nancy and Ronald Reagan autographing wooden Easter eggs, some little chicks over by the tennis courts ("Don't play with them or they'll get sick," said one mother), new dresses made by grandmothers, a guard on the roof watching the crowd with binoculars, 20,000 helium balloons continually filled by people who were going crazy, and Ice Man.
"He's one of Spiderman's Amazing Friends on Saturday morning," explained Ice Man, who identified himself only as Bill. "He's able to crystallize his own body and make blocks of ice into any shape he wishes." Bill does other things as well. "I'm also on 'All My Children' today. Anybody who wants to watch--I'm the intern."
The White House Easter Egg Roll has changed a lot since Rutherford B. Hayes first inaugurated it in 1878. Back then, it was just a simple "egg rolling" on the grassy slope of the South Lawn. Yesterday, under the ongoing influence of America's first president from Hollywood, there were 10,000 wooden eggs signed by what the program called "famous people" (Phyllis Diller, Lucille Ball, Alan Alda, Johnny Carson, Clint Eastwood, Cary Grant, Donnie Osmond and Jane Fonda among them), eggs painted by artists from around the country, a hot air balloon that was in fact Olive Oyl (her feet were as long as canoes), members of the American Egg Board strolling around, and--an Easter egg hunt. This occurred in hay strewn along one side of the South Lawn. Angela Orellana, who is 22 months old, lost a white shoe, but a nice man from the Office of Management and Budget found it for her.
There were also misplaced children. "Yeah, we're lost," said Rachel Zeskind, 10, of Bethesda, who was sitting by the first aid tent with her friend, Cindy Landis, 9, also of Bethesda. "That's why we're sitting here on this boring bench. We turned around at the Easter egg roll and my grandmother was gone. Do you know how boring it is sitting on this boring bench? I'm hot, and I've got a headache listening to that noise from the balloons blowing up. Isn't there a phone around here? My grandmother's got red hair and sunglasses and she's wearing a tan skirt and she walks real slow."
It was a great day for an egg roll. A warm morning sun peeked from behind picturesque white clouds, the pink magnolias were in full bloom, and the grass was a brilliant green. Somehow they manage to get it greener at the White House, probably due to an army of gardeners. Even James Baker, the president's chief of staff, wandered out from his West Wing office to hang around.
Didn't he have anything better to do?
"No!" he said. "This is the major event of the day." Presumably he wasn't including the president's meeting with his Joint Chiefs of Staff, which was where Reagan was headed after the egg-signing. Reagan didn't make any public remarks during his brief appearance on the South Lawn, even though nearby children were shouting "MR. PRESIDENT! MR. PRESIDENT!" just like reporters do.
But it was still fun to watch him arrive. After waiting forever, suddenly the camera people appeared, flapping ahead of the entourage to get a good angle. Then the Secret Service men appeared, looking very serious. And then: The president and the Easter Bunny.
Inside the bunny suit was Ursula Meese, wife of Ed, counselor to the president. This is the third year she's done this. "I have to scratch my nose all the time and I can't do it," she said, surrounded by children who gazed at her, wide-eyed. But kids aren't dumb. Many took a thoughtful poke at her hips to see what she was made of. Then, while there was a hubbub going on in front of her, every so often a small boy would sneak behind her, stealthily pat her tail, then run back to his mother. "I get bruised and poked every year," said Meese. "But it's worth it."
Meanwhile, over at the balloon tent they were trying to stay calm. Employes of Balloons Over America were furiously filling up pink, yellow, blue and orange balloons, then tying them with ribbon. Outside, people were squealing for more.
"Last year they tore our tent down," said Debbie Campbell, 25, a weary balloon-filler. "It's the adults. The kids you can handle." She gestured over toward a bunch of 30 balloons that was tied to a chair. "Try and take them out," she said. "You'll get attacked."
And there was still more to see: Dexter Manley of the Redskins signing eggs, a pony who would eat grass if you pulled some up from the lawn (it's a good thing the gardeners weren't there), a singing duck, and an exhibit of eggs called "Eggxposition 1983--Eggstraordinary Eggsamples of Artistic Eggpression."
And the egg roll, where they used 2,000 hard-boiled eggs dyed all different colors. Some people wonder how it works. Do you actually roll an egg to the finish line with a spoon? Do you use the spoon to carry the egg? Or do you, as some boys did yesterday, just throw it?
A clown who was running the egg roll competition explained the rules. "If they're little we let them carry it, and if they're big, we make them roll," he said. "If they throw, they're disqualified."
By lunchtime, tired mothers had taken out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and were eating them under trees. Knee socks had fallen down around skinny ankles. And kids were still getting lost. Peggy Schadler, 29, of Wheaton, Md., was looking for a friend's little girl. The first aid people said they thought they'd seen somebody like her wearing pink and yellow at another tent.
"Well, let's go see if this pink and yellow kid is her," sighed Schadler, trudging off.
It was a great day for an egg roll.