My dad died nearly 30 years ago, but if he were still here, he’d turn 96 this week. Happy birthday in heaven, Dad.
by Lana Ayers
My dad woke before the 5:30 AM alarm weekdays to ready himself for his hourlong commute to work as a maintenance man. Weekends too, he rose that early out of habit. On Saturdays he would trim the yew bush shrubberies, weed the garden, prune the leggy roses, sweep the driveway and the path leading to the house, all before starting the loud brassy gas lawnmower at 9:00 AM. The delay in mowing not so much to avoid waking the rest of us lazy lay-ins—my mother, my older brother, and me—but to remind us a Saturday is not to be wasted.
Upon hearing the grinding roar, my brother and I would throw off our covers and rush into the living room. Being six years older than me, it was understood my brother got to choose what we watched on TV. Dial on and channel clicked, monsters from outer space would fill the monochromatic screen. Though I would have preferred Bugs Bunny cartoons, I learned to love those science fiction B movies as much as my brother did.
After a half hour of mowing the small front lawn and driveway median strip of grass outside our 1955 brick ranch house, my dad would come in by the side door of the house that looked into the living room and peak at us. My brother and I sat cross-legged on the orange shag carpet, slurping sugary cereal from bright plastic bowls. Dad would shrug out of his grass- clipping-covered shoes which brought such a rich smell of life into the dark, dusty house. Then he’d step over to us in his socked feet to pat us each on the head. Often, there was a kiss instead of a pat. Sometimes both.
“That’s not a real breakfast,” Dad would say.
Sometimes I broke away from watching swamp monsters or crazed robots and followed my dad into small square kitchen made darker by brown cabinets in a single East facing window. Dad would begin his Saturday morning routine of removing all the ingredients for a cheese and egg scramble from the refrigerator—the only appliance that seemed to be changed out over the years: first a short stocky Norge that looked more like a bank safe, then an avocado green number, and finally the brown fridge with a darker frame of black—and set them on three-foot length of counter between the stove top and sink.
Next, he got out a mixing bowl from one cupboard, a frying pan from another, and finally a butter knife, spatula and whisk from the drawer below the mustard-yellow corded wall phone. My dad would whistle as he cracked eggs and stirred, not tunes I recognized, but always cheerful. He switched on the gas flame under the frying pan, which came on with a puff, like a teeny explosion. He flipped half a stick of butter off the knife and swirled the pan around, before pouring in the egg, milk, and American cheese mixture.
Dad whistled and stirred with the spatula for a few moments. When he stopped stirring, he went and removed four slices of bread from the wooden bread box on the counter next to the fridge, set those in the toaster beside it and pushed the plunger down. By this time, he’d call out “Plates” loudly if I were still in front of the TV; softly if I were there with him in the kitchen watching his nimble movements .
I would reach into the cabinet under the window and get out a stack of three dinner-sized plates, setting them on the counter next to the stove. My dad gathered clean forks from the green dish drainer next to the sink and handed them to me. A round Formica-topped table was shoved into the corner of the kitchen. Along with forks, I set out a napkin for each of us from the vertical orange holder. Then, I got two glasses out of the dish drain and filled them with milk from the half-gallon carton in the fridge. Then I set butter dish in the center of the table. Dad reached for the percolator next to the toaster and poured a cup of coffee into his favorite mug–a translucent white glass Pyrex cup he’d gotten for free for filling his tank with gas at the Esso station.
“Hot and hearty, come and get it,” my dad would call to my brother.
Finally, when my brother and I were seated, my dad doled out the meal and presented the two of us each with a steaming plate of eggs and a slice of toast. Dad’s only reward to himself for cooking us breakfast was an extra piece of toast to go with his eggs.
Mother never woke early enough to be treated to the scramble feast. I always wondered if she somehow resented Dad usurping her kitchen. But my brother and I were delighted to partake in his generosity—a warm breakfast one day a week. Saturday breakfast was a meal that perfumed the house with eggy, cheesy, buttery aroma. I probably could have filled my belly up on the scent alone.
And my brother and I never minded missing a few minutes of the movies, reruns we’d seen dozens of times anyway. Dad never talked while we ate, busy buttering toast and chomping away, though he sometimes hummed between bites of cheesy, buttery eggs. The comfortable silence on these Saturday mornings of warm, satisfying breakfasts was one of the deepest expressions of love I experienced growing up.