May 2013 A Trudelle family kitchen vignette between 7:30am – 8:00 am on a Priory Dress up day.
Growing up it was easy to see mornings as a means to the end. They existed as a required preparatory interim between the bed and the classroom, with the time-pressured tasks of clothing, feeding, last minute studying, and sometimes working out. But family breakfast table dynamics and mornings before school also have a sort of fascinating aspect in their mundanity. Ironically, it was only after college, that I began to notice and jot down these hidden mini moments of treasure.
Just before 7 am, I cast off the sheets, throw on a robe, and tiptoe to the kitchen in my slippers; I make a conscious effort not to wake up the house. Marie’s recent return from the Isreali study abroad requires copious amounts of anti-jetlag slumber, and Johnny has an important track meet which necessitates muscle glycogen sleep and restoration. But I am not the only one awake.
My mom studies a stack of Geometry tutoring materials at the table and greets me with a smiling offer for tea. As I begin my oatmeal innovation, my Dad walks in with a comb in one hand and a tie in the other. Despite his usual cheery dispostion, something seems to be on his mind today. Unsurprisingly, it’s about the family sock disorganization issue. See, once a month at the Priory—the school where my Dad teaches, my Mom tutors, and my brother attends—there’s a dress-up day, where students and teachers wear a suit and tie for the chapel Mass. This means everyone in the family requires access to nice socks on the same day.
“I’m going to start hiding my socks from Johnny. Every dress-up day, I lose another pair of my nice black socks.” Dad exhales and pours himself a bowl of cereal, which is step one of the breakfast routine. See, some people set up their clothes the night before the next morning, but my Dad likes to set out his breakfast. In a designated corner of the counter sits a box of cereal, a ceramic bowl, a large spoon, a bit of “medicinal dark chocolate,” and a breakfast wine glass meant for water only. He opens the fridge to fetch some milk, and despite the milk’s central location, he cannot see it. “Do we have any milk?” he asks, waiting approximately 1 second for an answer.
“Oh well, I’ll have water, and pretend like I’m camping.”
Before Mom can stop him from committing this breakfast blasphemy, he drenches his bran flakes with tap water and sits down across from me at the table. Oddly, he appears so pleased with his watery mound of bran, that I could have thought he had dosed the cereal with fresh whole milk from a local cow.
No Suit, No Shirt, No Service
As Dad digs into his cereal and I spoon out my oatmeal, Johnny struts on the scene; he’s shirtless with a suit jacket that has no buttons and holds a portable stereo blasting 50s music.
“Um Johnny, do you think you might want to wear a collared shirt under your suit?” asks Mom. I know, and Johnny knows, he will eventually wear a shirt: but he’s also 17, and a bit of a jokester.
“Mom, it’s chill. My friends and I are starting a shirtless club for Juniors and Seniors.”
Stewardship of the Skillet
Before we can discuss the suit and shirt situation any longer, Dad makes an unexpected kitchen request for olive oil. He says the cast iron skillet is due for its oil maintenance treatment. Despite a lack of fondness for cooking, Dad has grown to pride himself in proper stewardship of the large iron skillet.
“I’m using the skillet to make Johnny scrambled eggs,” Mom says. “Would you like some?”
“No thanks,” Dad says cheerfully. “I’m not eating cheese right now— except on pizza—and eggs without cheese are too great a temptation for cheese.”
A moment later, we are interrupted by the sound of someone barging through the front door. Like a large, energetic creature, slightly unaware of the magnitude of its physical presence, and we conclude by sound recognition pattern, that it’s Pete.
My older brother Peter lives in a bachelor pad in San Jose, but he swings by Portola Valley from time to time to pick up straggling mail, say hi, or grab a snack. He walks into the kitchen, sifting through a stack of envelopes and his eyes fall on Johnny.
“Are you wearing my suit?” he asks, pausing before shifting his train of thought. “Dang, how did your muscles get so dense?”
The suit diminishes in importance as they begin discussing P-90x, 800-meter race tactics, and ‘muscle density.’ I can listen only so long before setting down my mug of tea and feeling obligated to step in as a voice of scientific reason.
“Where did you guys pick up on this muscle density jargon?”
“No seriously, Chrissa.” Pete says “Johnny’s muscles are really dense. See, Johnny flex.” But Johnny does not flex.
“Well guys, it’s been real, but I have a Math test first period and somebody has to do some real work around here.” He says this in a half joke.
“Oh, Johnny!” exclaims Mom as a light bulb thought across her face. “Did you get a chance to look over that inverse trig function worksheet?”
By the look on his face, he had not. So Johnny leaves the kitchen, suit and portable stereo in hand, in search of a math worksheet, and also a dress shirt.
The Great Almond Butter Divorce
After announcing that his hunger had reached medical levels, Peter opens the fridge and gazes inside like a curious deer in the headlights.
“What’s your breakfast strategy this morning?” he asks, looking to me for suggestion.
“Oatmeal and almond butter” I answer. “Want some?”
Just two weeks ago Peter inhaled almond butter by the quarter cup full, but today he looked at me like I committed some kind of food infidelity just by the mention of the name. “Negative ghost rider. I divorced almond butter for tahini a couple weeks ago.”
“Oh, that’s right,” I say, pretending this news was common knowledge “Of course. Tahini is great. I use it all the time when I make hummus.”
The room falls silent, as Pete forages for food, and the rest of the group prepares to part ways. Dad gulps the remaining water from the designated wine glass, stands up, and slings his backpack over one shoulder.
“You know” Dad begins thoughtfully… ” when Pepere died, so many of the memories that came back, were ordinary mornings when I was a kid. He’d drink his coffee as I read my sports page and then he would say: ‘This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad. And be thankful!'”
And with that, we left to tackle the day.