AS a child I was very fussy about how I wanted my eggs cooked. It's not that I wanted them picture-perfect or anything. I wanted them ``dead'' - fried solid, with no running yolk. Fortunately, my mother had a special knack for getting my eggs just right. She'd put my eggs down in front of me and would whack it a couple of times with the edge of her spatula for good measure to show me that yes, indeed, they were ``dead.'' Recently, after mangling my sons' eggs a bit more than usual, I watched in amazement while they ate, not complaining, and I suddenly realized how fortunate I was that I didn't have myself for a daughter. I'm sure that sounds a bit odd, but I seemed to have a gift for simply refusing to budge at the most inopportune times.
And on that particular morning an almost overwhelming rush of long-buried childhood memories surfaced - memories that weren't exactly pleasant - of a time when my family was hit pretty hard financially. Once-fuzzy tidbits suddenly came into focus in such a way that I was able to put those memories in a much clearer perspective. I remembered a time when I was six, when my being fussy about how my eggs were cooked was the worst possible thing I could have done.
Toward the end of my first year in school both my parents lost their jobs and subsequently our house, and our family was left homeless. The job situation seemed hopeless and with no place else to turn a decision was made to go back cross-country, where my parents both had their families. With not enough money to purchase a bus ticket my father also made the difficult choice to hitchhike our way back East. We set a course toward the larger towns hoping to find work to somewhat ease our situation.
With our belongings stuffed into a couple of suitcases we started out from Sacramento, California. Since I was the oldest of four daughters, ranging in ages from 18 months to six years, I helped carry the smallest bag, trading off with my mother who also carried my youngest sister. We must have been quite a curious sight, all of us, walking along that highway, because many travelers stopped to give us a ride.
I wasn't old enough to be aware of all the circumstances that prompted the sudden shift in our life style. Mostly, all I can remember is the endless walking and waiting. I don't remember knowing where we were going, only wondering when we were going to get there. We ate when we could and slept on train depot benches or in the backs of station wagons huddled together, using each other as pillows. If there was a sense of uncertainty or desperation, I was oblivious to it. For me, our trip was almost like a slow-motion adventure.
One morning, minutes after being dropped off by our ride, it started raining, and then pouring. With no shelter we were all soaked instantly. A woman passing by stopped, loaded us up into her car, and generously took us to her home for a much-welcomed breakfast. But to my dismay she served us all eggs.
The woman returned from the kitchen to see if we needed anything and noticed that I hadn't touched my eggs. If there was a rock to crawl under my mother would have been there in a flash. When asked by the woman if there was something wrong with my eggs my mother quickly intercepted my reply and apologetically said (probably not wanting to offend her by letting her know she had cooked my eggs ``wrong''), that I was used to eating my eggs with toast. Minutes later she reappeared with a stack of toast and lingered awhile to see if I would eat. I glanced at my mother and she gave me her if-you-know-what's-good-for-you,-you'll-eat look, and I dug in. After breakfast the woman deposited us back on the highway and we resumed our journey.
Our ``adventure'' came to an abrupt end at one point, when we were picked up by the state police somewhere in Nevada and they threatened to take my Dad into custody. But they softened somewhat and bought us kids all a round of hot cocoa. We were driven back out to the highway and told to be out of town in two hours or they'd be back to carry out their threat. But we managed to get picked up just minutes before our allotted time was up and were able to make headway on our trip.
We finally made our way as far as Salt Lake City and a welfare agency there managed to come up with enough money so we could complete our trip by train. A few days later we arrived safely in Buffalo, New York, and spent a wonderful summer on my grandparent's farm.
We all came through that ordeal pretty much unscathed and my family's doing well now. But, if lean times come around again, I won't pass up a free meal - even if it's eggs.