It is morning. I walk out of a condo building.
It is not my condo building. It used to be my condo building, sort of, but now it is somebody else’s. That, however, is another story entirely.
That aside, there is something to be said here about the “walking-out-ness” of this place: from the minute you step outside, things, they just… envelope you. They rush at you, ever so lovingly, and surround you in a vibrant, sultry softness.
This has always been the case – it was the case when this place sort of belonged to me, and it is still the case now that it definitely does not. There is something that simply happens when you step outside this place, and there is a lot that can be said for it…
The mulch and the moss and the plants have a rich, earthy sweetness to them; it smells wet even when it’s not. There is a heaviness to the air; a sweetness to the way it smells; a soft stickiness to the way it touches you.
This air, it smells like memories.
It smells, to me, like my grandma’s yard. It always has.
I have only just left the apartment this morning, the sun has not yet really risen; it has only just begun to warm the air. And as it does so, the vapors of the cool, early morning are rising from the earth all around me, and the space of the street hangs in a humidity not unlike how one might envision heaven.
I inhale. And regardless of whether or not others around me can see it, I am smiling. I am happy on a level not everything can touch. And even if my happiness is not apparent to those with me, I find myself hoping that they are experiencing this too.
I am with my mother.
And my sister-in-law.
Both of whom are visiting.
And we are going to brunch.
We are walking.
We walk along the park and the air blows in off the lake and my mother says – and I can’t blame her – “it’s so interesting that it has no smell.”
It is interesting – but interesting for a particular, peculiar reason: the lake is so big that, when you are not yet acclimated to it, you expect, looking over at it, that the air will smell like salt. Like sea. And, obviously, it does not.
Instead, it smells like very little here. It smells like park. Walking farther south and colliding into Michigan Avenue, it begins to smell – pleasantly – like city.
There is still a heaviness to the air, though; a heaviness to the hanging planted flower basket; heaviness to the pink in the geraniums and in the vines that reach, lustily, for the sidewalk. Everywhere, a sultriness. Everywhere, the air is sweet.
We arrive at brunch and are seated. I am seated next to my mother and across from my sister in law. I order a coffee. I want it black.
I know almost without looking at the menu what I want and so, while the two others decide, I sort of look at the paintings on the walls – there is one in particular on which my attention is snagged and comes back to, repeatedly – and I also sort of look at my mother.
I braided her hair this morning.
I combed the tangles from it and then ran my fingertips through sections and lifted them, layering them over one another. She wears this now, the braid laying along the line of her back, and I can still feel, without touching it, the texture of her hair.
I have distinct, tactile memories of my mother’s hair when she would wake me in the mornings on school days as a child. I have no memory of what time it was or what I wore to bed, but I do remember sometimes touching the tiny curled ends of hair, wet from the shower, and feeling the water that had collected there; gathering the drips in my fingertips.
The waiter arrives.
I order a fresh fruit plate for the table – it has berries and apples and pears – and then, gesturing to the others, indicate to him that I will place my actual breakfast order last. I watch as they place their orders; eye him for signs of receptivity. Though they are straightforward – perhaps even moreso because they are – it is important to me that he get these orders right.
Afterwards, in the quietness of morning, as my mother is looking out at the street and my sister-in-law is looking into the restaurant, my mother suddenly asks her – her and not me – about children. Another six months? Another year? We are all happily awaiting this announcement from my brother and his wife.
My sister-in-law talks – gently; openly – about their anticipated timeline. I listen and think of children
I recall the softness of my grandmother’s bosom – with “bosom” being the only word to describe the curved, concave nook between breast and arm on her. And even now, thinking back on that, I still feel, even from the perspective of an adult woman who now understands “aging” and appreciates the reality of my inevitable own: having that softness to offer and the ability to offer it as resting place for a grandchild’s head is a special privilege in life to be earned.
Our plates arrive.
My sister-in-law has ordered Eggs Benedict and with these, of course, come poached eggs.
There is something so incredibly beautiful about poached eggs. In fact they are, I would argue, by far the most beautiful of all egg preparation types.
They arrive a delicate, ballooned structure; voluptuous and soft; round yet readily giving way to your touch. Press the side of a fork into it and, for a split second, it yields, the exterior pressing in, before bursting, bright yellow spilling over white sides.
I watch as my sister-in-law cuts into hers – she comes at it with a fork and knife, because my sister-in-law, she is polite. I let my gaze fall heavy, absent-minded, on her motions for a moment as she does this, and I think of the thing that I always think of when I think of poached eggs, which is: the way that my grandma used to make them.
Those poached eggs. There were a thing. My god, were they a thing.
My brother and I, we always knew they were a thing. I think my grandpa worried that we didn’t appreciate the “thing-ness” that they were, but I really believe that we always knew. Those poached eggs, they were always “something” to us. Poached eggs only happened at grandmas and, sure, that alone was special. But grandma, what she did with them was something even more sacred. And we knew it.
It wasn’t just poached eggs. She would poach them… but then she would cut them up – lovingly chop those delicate, gelatinous bodies into smaller-than-bitesize bits – and then she would pile the pieces on top of bits of cinnamon-sugar “teddy bear” toast (toast, buttered and blanketed in a cinnamon-sugar blend out of an old glass honey jar shaped like a bear, hence the name) which was also torn into smaller-than-bitesize pieces. All of it, just… piled together. In a bowl. Served with a spoon.
And then… that egg yolk would run down over the sugar and the cinnamon and then the toast would sop it up and mygod you can believe or disbelieve me when I tell you: this stuff was the stuff of childhood happiness.
There was so much affection behind the whole thing. Because my grandma, did she ever know how to love. That woman, she knew how to love her grandbabies.
Even now, as an adult, though I often order my eggs poached at brunch and have (almost) mastered the art of making them myself, I still think of her – my grandma – every time I eat them. I think of her every time. And so I think of this as my sister-in-law presses her silverware into hers.
My mother has ordered the brioche French toast; it has a cinnamon and a sweetness to it. And this, obviously, it fits too.
And me, I only got an omelette.
But I’m also the only one with coffee, and that too is something that belongs a bit to grandma in my mind.
My grandma used to keep her coffee grounds each morning and then, later each day, would bury them – along with various other bits of compost – in the soil and mulch of her garden, just after breakfast dishes were done. And on days I went out with her, you could just barely catch the fading scent of coffee getting lost in the sweet heaviness of the humidity.
After brunch, we walk again. We are back in the air and it is warmer now. And there are two generations of women, walking, talking of the generation to come and also thinking, separately and silently and at our own singular times, of the generation now gone, sighing and happy at the thread of life.