Copyright 2014, Amelia Garripoli
I don't know where my mother and little brother were that evening. He took the small, copper-bottomed saucepan from the cupboard, the pan that clanged so clearly when I whacked it with a wooden spoon. My sister and I sat at the kitchen table ... the round one he made in the garage. It was covered with a green fleur-de-lis embossed plastic, top and sides. I loved that pattern, but then I've always loved the repetition of patterns.
He had the egg carton and the milk carton out by the stove, and had already opened a can of beans -- Heinz Vegetarian -- and poured it into the second-best saucepan to heat on the stovetop.
I was too small to know he'd turned the stovetop ring on, it must have been electric, and medium, because there was no tell-tale gas flame or reddening of the ring. Not a modern glass-top, those weren't available at middle-class appliance outlets like Sears in those days. No Wal-Mart either, I got my toys at Woolworths.
But when he put the slab of butter in the pan, it sizzled. Didn't brown or burn -- just melted fairly quickly. In quick succession he would break four eggs, cracking them sharply on the edge of the saucepan, opening them with his hands, dropping the liquid of the egg into the pan. Again, moving quickly, he poured a decent glug of milk into the eggs, a fifth egg's worth, perhaps a little less.
Timing was critical. Of course I wasn't to realize that until I started making the scrambled eggs myself, almost a decade later. As soon as eggs and milk were in, he had his dinner fork -- their size, the big ones, not our size, the little kids' forks -- whisking away in that copper-bottomed saucepan.
The eggs and milk went quickly from clear, white, and yellow to a soft yellow melange; some of the egg whites had already fried in the initial dumping, like the tweediness of my favorite cardigan.
Once they were mixed, he had a moment and some attention to spare -- so as he gave the baked beans a quick stir, he had me set the table ... knife on the right, plate, fork on the left, cloth napkin rolled up in each person's dinner ring. My sister's was a crisp oval with roman tiers on the edges. My own -- floral patterned, chubby round ring. My father's had crenellations befitting his position. He was our ruler -- we understood that before we could talk, there wasn't a day until I was 18 that I even questioned that. Each one had our name embossed on it.
My sister was helping too, she had toast duty -- put two slices in, press the lever, and watch. But before even the first ones popped my father was back to whisking his eggs. He would scrape up the solid scramble from the bottom of the pan, and if I had been fast setting the table, I could watch as the cleared bottom of the pan would re-fill with uncooked egg-milk mixture and quickly get scraped up itself to make more cooked scramble in the pan. Scrape, flow, scrape, flow ... until there was nothing left to flow. He would stop with the scrambled eggs still looking wet -- not a fan of dried scrambled eggs, my dad.
We would each bring our plate to the stovetop; on it, he would place a piece of toast, pour the warmed baked beans over half and put scrambled eggs on the other half. On his own plate would be two pieces of toast -- one for the beans, one for the scrambled eggs.
This was a dad's night dinner we must have had several times. My youngest memories don't include my little brother -- perhaps he was at a Mommy and Me class with my mother, toddler swimming or something. I remember getting particular about not wanting beans and eggs to touch -- so my slice of toast was sliced in half. Then I didn't want them on the toast at all, making it soggy -- sliced, and pushed to the outer edges, but still wet on its cut edge where it touched the eggs and beans.
As I got older, I'd season mine just like my dad did -- salt and pepper on the eggs, HP Steak Sauce in a dollop on the size to be added with my knife to the forkful of scrambled eggs and beans. That's right -- I'd separate them on my plate, but would build a stack on my fork. First, slice a piece of toast. Then, add a bit of the srambled egg. Top that with some of the baked beans, and then season with the steak sauce.
All the usual rules of dinner applied ... my mother wasn't there to take the first bite, so that role fell to my father. We could have a glass of juice, but once that was gone, if we wanted more then we got water. I don't remember dinner conversation. I remember dinner silence. If we were asked a question, we answered. But not with a mouth full of food. You didn't want to get caught talking with food in your mouth.
To this day I wonder at the terrible power my father had over us. He was a fierce man, and his word was our law. But he wasn't home much; he worked long days, a mechanical engineer designing printers and disk drives -- not that I understood that, then. Weekends were full of projects, after we moved to the big house on Myrtle Street there was always something in the house that needed working on. One stern look from him would bring me to tears. And when I really screwed up -- boy howdy, his lectures still ring in my head. His voice is the one I hear even now when I make mistakes.
But those scrambled eggs ... He really did them well. I looked forward to those dinners. They were sweet evenings when my sister and I knew what was expected and could have some calm, pleasant Dad time.