A short history of eggs

A full carton of eggs sits alongside the stove.

Every Sunday my mother passes them around, one egg for each child, one for her and two for my father.

She cooks his first in the fry pan alongside a butter soaked slice of bread. Then the brothers each take it in turn to cook theirs. My older sister prefers to boil her egg, hard boiled, the egg yolk as yellow as the sun.

My mother scrambles the little ones’ eggs into a buttery spread at the bottom of a sauce pan.

I take my egg to the corner of the kitchen away from the others and crack it gently on the side of a tea cup. My older sister has taught me how to ease apart the shell with my thumb and finger, so that the inner skin holds like a hinge when I pull the shell back. I can then tip the yolk from one half of the egg shell to the other, letting the white slide into my tea cup.

All the while I keep a close eye on the yolk, not only for blemishes, those red blood blisters that might signify a fertilized egg gone wrong – one I will not eat – but also for ruptures. I must preserve the skin to keep the yolk and white from mixing. The yolk glistens and slips from one side of the shell to the other.

When all the white has slid away into the cup, I offer the yolk to one of my brothers to cook alongside his own. Sometimes the brothers fight over it.

Then I take a fork and a spoonful of sugar – two spoons depending on the size of the egg and amount of white I have collected – and begin to whisk.

It is a tricky business. I must tilt the cup to one side to get maximum egg white under the whisk without spilling any.

I do this for an hour or two. I do this till the kitchen is empty of breakfast eaters. I do this till well past the time when the eight o’clock, the nine o’clock, the ten o’clock Mass are over, by which time it is too late to eat.

I must fast for three hours before Mass and communion, otherwise I will be in sin.

Today, my youngest daughter tells me she is in trouble because of my eggs.
‘It’s your old eggs,’ she says. They’ve caused my allergies. Your old eggs make me the sickly one in the family.’

It is a joke perhaps, but if I am to take it seriously what is she saying? That I should have conceived her earlier, just as I should have begun to whisk my Sunday morning egg at six o’clock in the morning in order to eat it in time for the last Mass at eleven.

I did not plan to have this daughter so late in my life. At the time I called her an afterthought, almost by way of apology, but the Sunday egg became a tradition for me, however late I came to eat it.

Put off the best till last, my mother said. Always save the good stuff. Do all the hard and horrible jobs first and then you will have the greater pleasure of anticipation.

All those years ago when I came home hungry from Mass and went to collect my egg white from the fridge, it still sat in its cup like a fluffy white cloud, but the cloud no longer stuck to the sides. The cloud had come away and slid around the inside of the cup afloat on a trickle of liquid that had leaked its way out, like a rain puddle.

I think my mother is wrong. I think my daughter may be right. There is a point in taking in the best things first. If you wait too long they might spoil.

When I think of the warmth of a freshly laid egg in the cradle of my hand, the warmth of the egg that has just slipped out from its hen mother’s body onto the straw of the hen house, only to land in the cold outside air, I remember my daughter’s birth.

How she hung there upside down in the doctor’s hands, after a quick labour that had surprised us all. Her body slimy and purplish blue. In those first few moments, her first in the world, I wondered through the fog and haze of a painful labour, will she ever breathe?

And then came the cry, the loud scratching sound that is a newborn’s cry, and I could let myself think the unthinkable.

If she had left the best till last, if she had held off that first breath, then she would not be here today to complain about her mother’s old eggs.

Silent through grief

Last night my husband and I shared a meal in a Japanese restaurant. We often take off at the end of the week for a meal prepared by someone else in a local ‘cheap and cheerful’ place and this night we both had a yen for something light and tasty.

The point in writing about this particular outing is not so much for the food or the ambience as the woman on the table behind us, whose voice was so loud she could have been sitting in the middle of our table.

Our own conversation had stalled. It was hard to engage above this woman’s voice, above her ‘conversation’. To my mind a dull conversation and even as I type the words ‘to my mind’, I’m brought back to the thought I had last night that there is one expression I tend to use within the blogosphere that I now must abandon.

This woman said it over and over and it began to grate.

‘To me…’ she said repeatedly as she prepared to launch into a discussion on the best flour to use for her cakes, the best toilet cleaner for her toilet, or the best church to visit over Easter.

She seemed to have an eclectic array of religions.

At first I thought she must have been a devout Catholic but then she talked of attending services at St Marks, the local Anglican establishment and at another time of enjoying a visit to the Presbyterian’s Uniting Church.

Good for her that she should be so expansive in her religious tastes but there was something about her taste in religions and in foods generally and in conversation that has led me to be writing about her today that irks me.

I have lost all patience with small talk. The glue that cements strangers or near strangers, the stuff we need to fill all those gaps when we do not know what else to say. I used to pride myself on my ability to make small talk but not these days.

These days I want any talk in which I engage to be meaningful, though not necessarily heavy. I want it to be meaningful to be worthwhile as if I am fearful of wasting words.

The woman of the loud voice at the table behind us sat among close friends, I imagined, and yet the whole time she indulged in what I can only describe as small talk.

It was so awful and so constant, so loud and dominant as to be fascinating.
‘Are you for real?’ I wanted to say to her.
‘Can you hear yourself? Are you listening to the words that come out of your mouth or are you on autopilot tuned to talk non stop?’

The woman who sat opposite spoke softly. Occasionally she offered an affirmation or an extension of her companion’s thoughts but no sooner were the words out than the woman of the loud voice took over again.

The two men, also seated at the table, both husband’s I presumed also spoke to one another in softer tones. But every so often the four came together in conversation and one of the men said things like ‘my wife likes to…’.

I could never quite catch the tail end of what his wife liked to do but I figured he was referring to the woman of the loud voice simply by the way her arms moved up and down when he spoke, as if she were momentarily silenced.

‘Do I speak as loudly as that?’ I asked my husband.
‘No,’ he said, ‘not so a whole restaurant could hear you.’
That’s a relief.
‘Do I dominate like that?
‘No,’ he said. ‘You usually let people have a turn.’
Again a relief.

Why then did I see this woman as being so much like me, so much like the me that I dislike, loud and overbearing.

She reminded me of one or two of my friends whose lives for various reasons have taken a turn of late. One whose family of four have all left home and she’s alone most days now until her husband arrives after work and the other who has recently retired.

Both seem to need to talk incessantly about things that may be relevant to them but have no bearing on anything we share. They seem to have lost the ability to include their listener and so their conversations become a series of soliloquies punctuated by a nod or two from the listener.

I find I do not want to see as much of them as I might once have done. I find I do not want to talk to them at all. I feel guilty for my lack of sensitivity to these two lonely friends and think of my mother who is grieving the loss of her sister who died before Easter in Holland and was buried on Good Friday.

My mother’s family circa 1932. She and her younger sister are the only girls.

My mother who loves to talk has grown silent through grief. She avoids the dining room now and prefers to eat alone, not because she is unwell, she tells me, but because she cannot get her sister out of her mind.

Some of us run from our sorrows with words, others grow silent.