Perfect Eggs

I lowered the heat. The remaining bits of scrambled eggs browned, crackled and popped from the skillet surface as if jumpstarted from a miniature defibrillator. My plan of slicking the pan with a thick layer of butter that made Paula Deen’s recipes seem healthy evaporated.

Based on Uncle Don’s two recent heart attacks, I doubted his cardiologist would approve of my idea to serve over-easy eggs with a side of butter. I added a smidge to the pan and hoped for the best.

With the precision of a surgeon, I cracked one egg and gently slipped it into the limited buttery goodness. I contemplated running out back to Uncle Don’s workshop to see if I could sharpen the spatula to lower the friction on the yolk once upside down, but there was no time for last-second heroics.

I cracked the second egg and slid it in beside the first, their collective albumens mingling to solidify into a soft, white puddle before my eyes. From clear to white to crispy-edged in a matter of minutes, their transformation reminded me of the goodness of simple food from the earth.

A quick dash of salt and pepper while the edges turned crackly brown, and the decisive moment arrived.

Time to flip.

With more care than I ever took with my son as an infant, I shimmied the spatula under the now-joined eggs and tilted the pan to disturb the wobbly, bright yellow yolks as little as possible, flipped them sunny-side down and held my breath.

Nothing yellow squished out. Beth, 1 — Eggs, 0.

Now for plating and the moment of truth: Was I a success or was I doomed to a lifetime of holiday meals sitting at the kid table? Were they over easy or hard fried? Waiting seemed an eternity with endless questions. Were they ready? Were they runny? Was there a white skin? Was the yolk cooked through? Would they stick? Would they be slimy?

I grabbed Uncle Don’s plate and steeled my emotions against the potential of failure in the transfer. There was no shame in scrambled, and no crying in egg frying, I told my heavy heart before I flipped my offering onto the plate.

That small action confirmed my true calling: I was the goddess of over easy eggs. A gorgeous, white-covered yolk speckled with black cracked pepper flakes stared up at me. The peachy-yellow smiled just beneath the thin white skin, awaiting a toast corner to release its over-easy, non-hard-yolk goodness.

Uncle Don buttered another slice of whole grain toast, oblivious to my success. After he finished the last piece, I handed him his plate.

“Order up, Uncle D.” He divided the four pieces between our two plates.

“Thank you. They look perfect.”

If he only knew. His compliment filled me with a strange sense of completion, more meaningful than my temporary over easy euphoria. I scrambled a few eggs for myself and joined my aunt and uncle for breakfast, our meal mingling with happy memories of the years that have brought us to this point.

As I closed the gate to their driveway before pulling on to the dirt road, Uncle Don waved goodbye from the sandy strip of driveway edging a California desert-sized plot of green grass.

Tempered by a day of reminiscing and family storytelling, the excitement of my breakfast success faded into a pleasant memory. I waved goodbye back at the only man to see me face my fear in a non-Teflon skillet and win.

Wednesday Afternoon

Mom’s “hello” held the indefinable quality I’d come to recognize as an upcoming turning point in my life: Grandpa’s heart attack, Grandma’s car accident, Kelly’s unexplained blood clot. My lungs tightened as my mind reeled.

“What’s wrong?” My heart knew the answer before I finished the question. What I wanted to know was why, the question never answered.

“Uncle Don died. About an hour ago.” The pretense of false bravado lingered in her tone. “He fell while working in the yard and hit his head.”

I recalled his silvery surgery scars in the early morning sunlight.

“He hung on long enough for the boys to say goodbye.”

She continued rattling off details about organ donation, cremation, and obituaries, the kind of details that make the finality of death feel like a just another event to be crossed off the calendar of life. Over the drone of her voice, I heard Uncle Don’s last words to me like a whisper.

“They look perfect.”

He was the last person I’d hugged, the last person I’d kissed on his whiskery, age-slackened face. The last, and only, person to have my first perfect eggs over easy.

And I was the last person to have made him a meal on Earth. With Aunt Margaret’s limited mobility, he’d been the chef du jour, his dinner no doubt reheated Easter leftovers, a meal as simple as him.

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