Perfect Eggs

Visiting my relatives in California is always a pleasure. They’re a West Coast group and we’re Midwestern, so we can go decades without seeing each other. As we’ve aged, visits have been fewer and farther between.

Over easy is easier said than done.

For us to connect requires a flight to Las Vegas and a four-hour drive through Southern California, which, in contrast to the lush green foliage and raging humidity of Ohio, zips by in a blur of majestic mountains, infinite sands, and crystalline blue, cloudless sky.

After arriving on an Easter Sunday afternoon a few years back, I spent the rest of my day catching up with cousins I hadn’t seen since the early ‘80s. Luckily, age dimmed the memories of my big hair and their parachute pants. Unluckily, their mom–my Great-Aunt Margaret–had stacks of photo albums documenting every last, sordid fad.

Monday morning, I woke to the scent of frying pork. I jumped in the shower, threw on my clothes, and scurried downstairs, to discover my great-uncle microwaving ham’s delicious cousin, bacon.

“Smells delicious.” The shiny, light-pink scars on Uncle Don’s scalp from his January brain surgery caught my eye. “What’s for breakfast?”

“Whatever you make. Your aunt’s hip is giving her trouble today, so she’s putting you in charge of the kitchen.”

Shock stalled me. Left in charge of Aunt Margaret’s kitchen was uncharted territory. During the few month-long summer stays my siblings and I had enjoyed in years past, we weren’t allowed to get so much of a glass of water by ourselves. Women on Mom’s side of the family guarded their kitchens with meat mallets and whisks.

Being appointed to produce a meal was more than a privilege. It was a rite of passage.

“What would you two like?” I asked, twirling a spatula as a scepter, full of my own power. “I can make anything, you know.”

“Oh, eggs are fine,” he replied, his voice soft as he clicked two pieces of bread into the toaster. I flipped the burner on medium and dropped a spoonful of real butter into the pan. Lost in my suddenly adult ego, I barely heard him above the sizzling fat.

“Your aunt takes her eggs scrambled. I take mine over easy.” His age-speckled hands smeared soft, yellow butter on dark toast.

OVER. EASY? My heart stopped. Sizzling crescendoed. Eggs cooked any other way were a cinch. Light and fluffy scrambled, slightly slimy poached, hard-boiled with no green sulfurous ring around the yolk. Even slender-threaded, noodle-like slivers that fill a hearty pot of egg drop soup did not elude my culinary prowess.

But over easy? Those delicately flipped, perfectly timed weirdos of the breakfast food family laughed often in the face of my spatula.

Fortunately, Uncle Don was the consummate gentleman. He believed in removing his cap indoors, never shouting, and ladies first. This knowledge soothed me; knowing that he’d take Aunt Margaret her plate first gave me more time to plan my attack.

As I cracked, whipped, and flipped her eggs into a golden, fluffy pile, I strategized my upcoming performance much the way Michael Phelps envisioned his seven Olympic medal-winning swims before he plunged into the water.

My keys to victory? Lots of butter, low heat, and scrape deep.

I dumped Aunt Margaret’s eggs onto the brown pottery plate, spatula shaking in my hand. I battled the strongest urge to turn out the two best eggs of my life. As if everything depended on it. Stronger than the fear that Aunt Margaret would call Mom to announce that “the visit with Beth was delightful. We had a wonderful time, but that girl of yours can’t cook over easy eggs worth a darn. You need to teach her some kitchen skills before you send her back here for a visit again.”

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