Most of the time, we buy our eggs from the regular old grocery store, but every once in a while, we get a couple dozen directly from a local farmer. The eggs from the grocery store are perfectly adequate--white-shelled, uniformly sized and mostly free of imperfections, but the farmer's eggs are glorious to behold--varying shades of blues and browns and greens, speckled and solid, petite and jumbo, covered in gritty bumps and pristinely smooth, all nestled together in a single carton. I get a little giddy just lifting the lid. It's all I can do not to pet them.
That such diversity comes from birds we classify all under a single name is fascinating, and, yes, delightful to me. It also reminds me of a batty and brilliant woman I once knew named Lee. I learned a lot of things from Lee, but probably none as valuable as the one she didn't mean to teach me.
I first met Lee in 1983 when my mom dragged me to Burger King, where they both worked and I would begin working a few months later, to help with a display for the debut of Return of the Jedi. I think my mother drafted me into helping less because she and Lee needed the help and more because I had only rarely left the house since we'd moved to New Hampshire two months before. By that point in my Army brat career, I didn't make friends, I waited for them to make me.
Helping my mother and her fifty-something coworker assemble an X-wing fighter from cardboard and papier-mâché wasn't really an opportunity to meet people my own age, but it would at least get me off the couch where I'd been wallowing in a Funk intensified by the culture shock of moving to a place where "aunt" rhymed with "taunt," sodas were all "tonics," and "wicked" was a wicked annoying modifier used in place of "very."
On that day, and pretty much always, Lee's short, dark hair was a mess of multidirectional cowlicks. She was wearing maroon polyester pants with a broken fly. The gold safety pin she'd driven through the flaps failed to close the gap, but succeeded in sending a clear message: Lee had known her zipper was broken and had left the house anyway. She had more important things to worry about than how she looked.
She was the mother of five grown children, the wife of a minister. She was a chain smoker with a barking laugh and a playful glimmer in her eye. She could be impatient and hot-headed. She was opinionated and outspoken, occasionally foul-mouthed. She was given to speaking in pronouncements, sound bites coated in her authoritative voice.
While training me at the register at Burger King, she told me the golden rule of customer service. "Always remember that people can get a burger anywhere. What brings them back is the quality of our service; a friendly smile goes a long way."
When she came upon a fellow coworker squirting excessive amounts of dish soap into the sink, she shouted, "It's not soap that gets dishes clean, it's elbow grease and hot water!"
She told me I wasn't supposed to accept tips for hosting birthday parties and then said, "But if a tip is offered, you should politely refuse it twice and if the parent insists, then take it. To refuse a third time would just be rude."
One afternoon, just after Hubby-to-be and I had announced our engagement, I was pouting about not being able to take my lunch break at the same time as him. "Listen, hon," she said, "You're going to marry him and mark my words, there will come a day when you want nothing more than to be away from him for half an hour. Enjoy this half hour while you can."1
Around Easter one year, the topic of eggs came up. Now, in New Hampshire at that time (and apparently still), brown eggs, not white, were the default at the grocery store. There was even a TV jingle: "Brown eggs are local eggs and local eggs are fresh!" In fact, the only time white eggs seemed to be readily available was around Easter when people wanted eggs for decorating.
My mother remarked upon this in front of Lee, who immediately piped up, "There's no such thing as a white egg. They're just brown eggs that have been bleached."
To my mother and me, this theory was not merely absurd, it bordered on heretical. Everywhere else we'd lived--ten places in five states--white eggs had been the norm. Chickens had been the subject of both my sixth and seventh grade science fair projects so I had exhaustively researched2 chickens as well as incubated (white) eggs on our kitchen counter, producing fluffy yellow chicks. My grandparents kept chickens3, some of whom laid white eggs.
When Lee was unmoved by our personal experience, we tried simple logic. If all chicken eggs were brown, why would anyone want or expect white eggs in the first place?
She responded with a convoluted theory about public perception and corporate complicity and white being a "cleaner" color. She was unshakable in her conviction and, finally, there was nothing to do but walk away.
Lee was a smart woman and she clearly suffered from that condition to which smart people are especially susceptible. She was right so often, she'd forgotten how to be wrong.
|Lee, 1986 in the Burger King drive-thru. It was Halloween and we were permitted to dress up. Lee dressed as a Celtics fan, a.k.a. herself.|
E is for Eggs
1. About Hubby, she also told me, "You got yourself a good one there, make sure you hold on to him." I used to think these two bits of wisdom were at odds with one another, but now that I've been married for nearly twenty-six years, I see they're just two parts of a messy whole. (Earlier today, while Hubby and I were swapping Lee-isms, he told me, "The main thing I remember her telling me was about you. She said, 'You got yourself a good one there, make sure you hold on to her.'" Smart woman, that Lee. Even though she didn't know a damned thing about eggs.)
2. Full disclosure: the research was only semi-exhaustive and only the first year. The second year, I copied off my own paper from the year before. I placed second both years, for what that's worth.
3. This fact was not unrelated to the fact that two years in a row my science fair project had produced twenty-some fluffy chicks in need of a home.