Sixth grade was a tough year for me. We moved at the end of September. New school, new house, new Girl Scout troop, everything. Then my cat died. Then my beloved Grandpa died. I felt like I'd lost everything. Devastated doesn't even come close. It still makes me sad, even today. My heart aches.
If you happen to pass through at just the right time Ã¢â‚¬“ as the bright summer sun begins its climb through the rich blue sky, after the last pinks of dawn have faded but before the stifling humid heat makes walking difficult Ã¢â‚¬“ you might find two small girls ambling down the hill in the middle of the dirt road.
Still dressed in their pajamas, the girls leave home every morning at precisely 8:30 and trek to their favorite place. They hold hands as they walk and discuss topics only children understand. The smaller one carries her blankie, sleep still stuck in her mind.
You wouldn't know that they're sisters to look at them. Annie is tall and chubby. Her dark brown hair and eyes provide a stark contrast to her pale white skin. Susie is younger, smaller, and slender. Her hair is blonde; her eyes are blue. Her complexion is darker, in a state of perpetual tan. The only feature the two sisters share is a head full of curls falling gently to their ears.
Their daily walk takes them past the Lamb's Ears and the Staghorn Sumacs. Annie's belly growls, and she smiles in anticipation of Grandma's perfectly prepared fried eggs. Sometimes, she and Susie stop to investigate the banks along the road, but not this morning.
The patch of Sweet Peas marks the entrance to Grandma's driveway. They turn and begin up the steep hill. “Look!” Susie yells. Annie's eyes scan the bank but find nothing. Susie lets go of her hand and runs to the edge of the driveway. In one graceful movement, she stoops, reaches into the ditch, and pulls out a pencil-sized snake. “Look what I found, Annie! Look!” The girls gaze at the snake and decide to show it to Grandma.
No longer holding hands, they continue up the driveway, past the apple tree and the pear tree. When Grandma appears at the front door, Susie sprints to share her discovery. Bigger and slower, but determined, Annie lags behind. By the time they reach the house, Grandma is holding the door open to welcome them.
Susie holds her discovery up to Grandma's face. “Look what I got!”
“Oh! That's a good one. Let me get a box so we can look him over,” Grandma says. Her kind, soothing voice resonates pride as she retrieves a small cardboard box from the cellar way and lays it on the kitchen table.
Susie carefully drops her snake into the box, and the three peer in to examine him. All black, except for two thin green stripes running from his nose to his tail, the snake stretches to his full length. His red tongue flicks out and in as he surveys his surroundings. They agree that it's probably a young garter snake who was out hunting for breakfast.
“We should let him go. He's probably scared to be away from his mom and dad. ” Susie says. She takes the box out to the raspberry patch and gently tips it on its side. “Bye, Buddy! Have a nice meal!” She calls to him before running back into the house.
“All that excitement made me hungry,” Annie says.
“You're always hungry,” Susie insists, exasperated.
“How about some breakfast?” Grandma interrupts the impending argument.
In unison, the girls answer, “Okay!” and scurry up the worn wooden stairs to fetch their grandfather. By the time they reach the top, he is already sitting up on the edge of his bed, dressed in a light blue t-shirt, enjoying a cigarette. You might not guess by looking that he's an old war hero, that he's this family's fiercest protector, or that he's completely unrelated to these little girls. You might figure out that he worships these girls and takes pride in being the man in their life. But you'd never know that he loves being Grandpa to someone else's grandchildren or that he feels privileged to have found this crazy, mixed up family.
“Good morning, Grandpa,” they greet him. Susie climbs up onto the tall bed next to him, and Annie sits on the floor.
“If it isn't the moochers,” he says. “What did you bring for breakfast?”
“Nothing, Grandpa.” Annie replies. “Grandma is making us breakfast.”
“No, she isn't. We're outta eggs. You'll have to go find some chickens and steal their eggs if you want to eat this morning.”
Annie goes to the top of the stairs. “Grandma? Do I have to go find us some eggs?”
“No, Annie, I have enough eggs for all of us.” Grandma calls from the kitchen.
Annie sticks her tongue out at her grandfather. His teasing makes him sound tough and mean, but it makes the girls feel important, special, loved. You might not have guessed, but he looks forward to the moochers' arrival every day. It cheers him up and gives him something to look forward to. You could never imagine that he'd be heartbroken and die when they moved away.
Annie runs down the steps. “Can I help, Grandma?”
“Yeah, you can help. How Ã¢â‚¬Ëœbout getting the eggs out of the refrigerator.”
Annie grabs the green styrofoam carton and sets it on the stove. It gives her an idea. “Grandma! Let's make green eggs and ham!”
“How are you going to do that, Ã¢â‚¬ËœSam I am'?” Grandma asks.
“Do you have food coloring? We'll color the eggs and eat the ham plain.”
Grandma looks at Annie. Obviously, she is considering the plan. “Please, Grandma? It will be fun,” Annie begs.
“All right.” Grandma sighs as she reaches into the pantry cupboard for the food coloring. She hands it to Annie.
As Annie reads the box, Susie and Grandpa descend the stairs. Having lost his leg decades earlier helping Grandma on the farm, Grandpa has to sit to go up and down the stairs. He keeps his crutches, neatly stacked, in one hand and uses his foot and the other hand to lower himself from one stair to the next. It takes several minutes for him to traverse the whole flight of stairs. Every morning, Susie, his devoted sidekick, follows him dutifully, always descending in the same manner.
“Do you want green eggs and ham?” Annie offers them both, giggling.
“Hell no!” Grandpa yells.
“Hell no!” Susie yells a moment later. Grandpa roars with raucous laughter; Grandma scolds both of them, as usual.
Susie idolizes Grandpa. Someday, he'll teach her to spit and shoot a gun. If you come by, he'll teach you, too. For today, though, she's happy that he taught her a new word.
“So what did you decide about those eggs, Annie?” Grandma asks.
“What color is fuchsia?” Annie asks, thinking that whatever it is, fuchsia sounds way cooler than plain old green.
“It's bright pink, I believe.” Grandma says. “We're going to have to scramble your eggs, you know. You can't dye a fried egg.”
This realization gives Annie pause. Fried eggs are her most favorite, but the green eggs and ham experiment is too good to pass up. “Okay, Grandma. I'll have fried eggs tomorrow. Can you scramble in the ham and cheese?”
“Sure, we can do that.” Grandma breaks the eggs into a bowl and begins to scramble them with a fork. “How exactly are these going to become fuchsia?”
“It says to add 3 drops of blue and 4 drops of red.”
Annie reads from the back of the box. “That sounds like plain old purple to me.”
“Yes it does.” Grandma says, counting drops of food coloring as they hit the eggs. “Let's put in a little extra red.”
“Okay.” Annie says. Grandma is smart, so Annie trusts her judgment.
While Annie's eggs sizzle on the stove, Grandma pours coffee for Grandpa and juice for the girls. Susie sets out silverware at everyone's regular spot, and Annie sets out the plates. Grandpa sits down at the head of the table and begins to make toast. Breakfast is prescribed, routine, comfortable.
Back at the stove, Grandma groans.
“What's the matter, Grandma? Are you okay?” Annie asks.
“I don't know if you're going to like this egg, Annie.”
“It'll be okay, Grandma. Fuchsia eggs and ham! YES!” Annie raises her fist into the air, celebrating her experimental eggs. “I can't wait to devour them!”
Grandma laughs, quietly so Annie won't notice. As she slides Annie's egg onto her plate, she looks at Susie. “Are you having fried eggs?”
Susie nods. “No yolks.”
“The yolks are the best part!” Grandpa booms.
“They're yucky,” Susie replies with her nose wrinkled.
Grandma drops Susie's egg whites into the frying pan and the yolks into a bowl. Every day since the girls were old enough to walk over, Grandpa had eaten five fried egg yolks and three fried egg whites for breakfast. Every single day.
When the breakfasts are all cooked, the four sit down to eat. Everyone looks at the blob of fuchsia eggs. It was a sight you'd have to see to believe.
A long time passes before anyone speaks. Grandpa says what everyone is thinking: “It looks like the dog threw up on your plate.” He laughs.
“Taste is good,” Annie says with her mouth full, determined to prove them all wrong. “Maybe could use some ketchup.”
Susie groans. “You aren't gonna put ketchup on that pile of puke.”
“Yes, I am,” Annie says as Grandma hands her the bottle. She unscrews the lid and pats the bottle to release the ketchup. It oozes out onto her eggs.
“That's enough, Annie.” Grandma says. “You've got yourself a big enough mess.”
Annie looks at her plate. The fuchsia eggs turned out a sickly lavender hue, and the chunks of ham and cheese stick out at odd angles. The puddle of ketchup fell down into the crevices of the eggs. It really does look like someone has thrown up on her plate. She laughs.
“It looks really gross, doesn't it?”
“Yes, it does.” Grandma replies.
Annie shuts her eyes and tastes the eggs. The ketchup makes them scrumptious. They aren't as good as fried, but good enough. She opens her eyes and continues to eat, to the horror and shock of her family.
“Let's not make colored eggs again, Grandma,” she says with a grin.
If you happen to pass through at just the right time Ã¢â‚¬“ as the bright summer sun begins its descent toward the horizon, after the shop closes but before their long drives to their respective homes Ã¢â‚¬“ you might see Annie and Susie dashing on an errand in the middle of the sticky sidewalk. They're much older now and look so similar that they're often mistaken for twins. Annie's still a bit bigger and fair. Susie's still a bit smaller and tan. Auburn curls and life's disappointments drape the shoulders of both.
Still exploring together, the girls trek three blocks to the bank past the newspaper cart and the shoeshine man. They no longer hold hands but still reminisce about a memory no one else recalls. Susie carries the deposit bag, her hands sweaty from the heat of the pavement. “Breakfast on Saturday morning?” she asks.
“Sure. 8:30 at my house?” Annie replies. “We'll walk up to Dad's from there.”
“Sounds good. Do you think he'll have any eggs?”