Connections: The Egg and I

“Just tell her it’s fish.”

For the better part of the school year, when I was in seventh grade, I went to my Great Aunt Elizabeth’s house for lunch. Uncle Chiel, a formidable presence, had lunch at the same time, and I would watch with shock and awe as he devoured an assortment of strange meats and offals like calves brains. I always was served scrambled eggs and white-bread toast with grape jelly.

My aunt, my maternal grandfather’s sister, was a simple woman with a calm demeanor and severely pulled-back black hair. Her English name may have been an inapt translation of Laika, the name we called her. (I just Googled “Laika” and learned that it was the name of a Soviet space dog who was the first animal to orbit the Earth. Oh, well, I loved my Tante Laika.)

There were always plenty of fresh eggs to be had when I was a child, although the chicken coups on the family farm had been turned into cabins for summer renters. Today, as it turns out, more than one of my relatives hereabouts keep laying hens. It therefore wasn’t a total surprise when I came home the other day to find three light-brown eggs, which must have been laid that morning, in a plastic container on the kitchen table. That day I ate scrambled eggs for lunch, along with delicious Breadzilla sourdough and blueberry jam. The bread, I must admit, was a step up from my seventh-grade usual.

No butter was used for scrambling eggs at my Tante Laika’s house, and I can’t help but wonder if she used chicken fat while preparing meats for her husband. I could experiment with that some day, I suppose, but it doesn’t sound promising: schmaltz and calves brains? Schmaltz and beef tongue? On second thought, no.

The first time I ate bacon and eggs, I was having lunch with a cousin whose parents, unlike mine, had long since given up keeping kosher. Uncle Sid was totally Americanized and known for grilling steaks. As we sat down to eat that morning, my cousin, knowing my family kept kosher and realizing that her mother, my Aunt Kate, was making bacon and eggs, went into the kitchen to warn, in a loud whisper, that it would be a mistake to serve me bacon. I’ve never forgotten what Aunt Kate said: “Just tell her it’s fish.” Honestly, that’s what she said! I was young and I guess she thought I would believe anything.

I pretended not to have heard, and it was anarchy from then on out. How can you go back, once you’ve tasted bacon?

At Douglass College, in New Brunswick, N.J., I had a part-time job in a restaurant frequented by Johnson and Johnson factory employees who went to work at dawn and liked boiled beef and potatoes for lunch, before noon. How antediluvian that sounds today. Who eats boiled meat, unless it is St. Patrick’s Day? Lunch nowadays is a far cry from scrambled eggs, with or without bacon; we tend to eat things that once were unusual but are now readily available. Sushi, parsnips, bulghur, hummus, feta, Moroccan tagines. . . . 

However, I am told that the family hens have been laying like little maniacs, and if relatives are going to make a habit out of dropping off freshly laid eggs, I am going to go back to scrambling more often. Maybe I’ll eat them with green-chili sauce, or stewed tomatoes and peppers, though, instead of grape jelly.