Memories of those eight years we spent growing up at 110 Flamingo Street can break through the fog of time in my mind at any moment.
What pulls childhood memories up from the deep recess of our subconscious? Our parents said that they are connected to our five senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste, with smell being the strongest trigger of memories.
My stories from childhood always come from one or two of those senses, but this story is unique. It uses all five of the senses, and I have The Wife to thank for it. How could The Wife pull a childhood memory from my brain? That’s the end of this story; here’s the tasty beginning.
We didn’t see much of our dad during the week while growing up on Flamingo. He’d go to work before the sun got up and returned, most days, after the sun set. On Saturdays he’d work in the huge garden just in front of the swamp in our backyard, but Sundays were special. Sundays Dad set aside for family. From church, surprise outdoor adventures, dinner and movie night, Sundays were simply the best. And every Sunday started with breakfast by Dad.
Our mom cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner for us five kids six days a week, and it was always amazing. I can’t remember ever having a single bad meal, each one unique and delicious. How she did it I don’t have a clue. Just yesterday, I got frustrated making three different lunches for our two granddaughters, and them not liking any of them.
It was magical to see Mom hum and sing her way through cooking seemingly effortlessly. Watching her cook was like watching one of those musicals on TV. There was lots of singing, dancing, and everything was perfectly choreographed.
After dinner was finished and the table was cleared, magically all the dirty pots, pans, and dishes were cleaned and put away in a blink of an eye. When it came to Dad cooking his one meal on Sunday morning? Well, let’s just say there was a whole different song and dance going on in the kitchen.
Before Mom even started cooking, the first thing she did was set the table with plates, silverware, glasses, and napkins. The setting was like a picture out of Better Homes and Garden. Mom said it made things simpler and she could concentrate on just cooking.
When Dad cooked, everything was still in the cabinet and drawers right up to the time he called us to breakfast. The mad scramble grabbing plates, silverware, and glasses sometimes provoked epic shoving matches and Dad having to yell at us.
Mom sang and hummed whenever she cooked; Dad didn’t. He mumbled, “Can’t find the pepper.” “Don’t we have a cheese grater?” And “Where did she put the rolling pin?” But his colorful language was saved for when he cooked bacon.
Whenever the bacon “popped” in the frying pan, our dad would mumble a bad word under his breath when hot grease hit his arm. And from the sound of things, hot grease hit his arm a lot on Sunday mornings. But even though their cooking styles were very different, there were two things they had in common. The first was timing. All the food was ready at the same time.
Dad would first cut on the oven, start the water for the grits, and mix the cat head biscuits. When the oven was hot enough, the biscuits went in, then he fried two packs of bacon. Cracking a dozen eggs was next as skillets pre-heated on the stove top.
Grease from the bacon frying flooded the hot skillets first before Dad dumped in the scrambled eggs with an unhealthy amount of cheese. Cheese was also added to the grits and sometimes even to the cat head biscuits.
While everything was almost finished cooking, Dad sliced oranges and squeezed us a glass of fresh orange juice full of pulp … and every now and then a few seeds. When Dad cooked, our kitchen was always a disaster, and after breakfast us kids had to clean while he rested. But we didn’t care. Fantastic food was the second thing our parents had in common. So, what made me think of breakfast by Dad?
Since our granddaughters and their mom have moved out, our time with the girls is even more special. Each weekend that we have them overnight, The Wife makes them breakfast. Without knowing, she cooks the same breakfast as my dad did all those years ago back on Flamingo, with a few modern modifications.
For the bacon, she uses an air fryer. There’s no popping hot grease and no bad words. Don’t have to scurry around looking for a mixing bowl or rolling pin, she uses canned biscuits. And the girly girls don’t like orange juice. They’d rather have homemade chocolate milk. But for me, the smell of bacon in an air fryer cooking on a Sunday morning is the same as when I was a kid.
As parents, and grandparents, we don’t know what kids will remember of their childhood, but I can assure you this: a good Sunday morning breakfast is something they’ll never forget. And cleaning up all those dirty dishes is something they won’t forget either.
[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001.]