72: Breakfast

72: Breakfast

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

Breakfast

Old as she was, she still missed her daddy sometimes.

~Gloria Naylor

“Well, hello!”

“Morning.”

My father reaches into the top pocket of his shirt and pulls out a five-dollar bill before I can even consider reaching into my purse for my wallet. Every day that he has been in town since the day after Christmas, I have stopped by the McDonald’s on De Renne Avenue, which he frequents whenever he is in Savannah visiting me. It is a simple affair: he is always there first, finished with his sausage biscuit and coffee, his eyes focused on the newspaper in front of him, pen in hand, reading glasses balanced on his nose, looking unassuming when I walk in. I am no surprise at this point — he has been in town for a week, leaving my house early each day to “get out of the way” as I prepare my daughter for school — and I am tickled that each morning he raises his head from his crossword puzzle to watch me as I approach his table, his whole countenance lighting up as if my coming were a surprise.

“Thank you,” I say as I take the five-dollar bill. Our faces wear expressions of mutual pleasure, and I enjoy being surprised with every visit that he is Daddy again, reveling in the fact that this means that I get to be a daughter again. Not wife, or mother or teacher. Not dishwashing machine expert. Just daughter. For this morning, I get to just be a girl.

As I approach the counter where the menu glows above me, seeming more to me like a five-star restaurant than a fast-food joint, the scents of sizzling buttered things tickle my nose and I feel comforted by the robotic buzzing of soda machine beverages trickling into plastic cups. Since I no longer have a childhood home, or kitchen, to meet my father in for breakfast, this has become a surrogate home, and it is really fine by me.

Here, there are no memories of family arguments or reminders that the room is too light or too dark or needs updating. There is only us, the gentle chorus of laughter from the post-holiday retirees who also frequent this popular spot at their usual tables, and my father’s five-dollar bill between us, which I use each morning to buy the same favorites: a breakfast combo #1: one egg McMuffin, a hash brown, and a sugary-brown Coke that bubbles through the straw into my mouth and wakes up my still-sleepy eyes.

Over these meals, my father and I talk. We debate politics and finances, share a newspaper, and review the past. We are interrupted only by the casual comment my father makes to a person passing by: “Need any help with that?” he says to the woman with a walker who is struggling to squeeze by the Christmas tree, or “How ’bout today’s crowd? Pretty good today, eh?” to the mustached-manager of the McDonald’s with whom he has become friends.

But my favorite topic of conversation over our meal is my father’s memories.

“I was the fastest thing in Darlington County,” he says, and his eyes light up like they have fire in them as he reminisces about playing football, about how playing for St. John’s High School in South Carolina was the closest thing to pure glory he had ever known. He reminds me of just how fast he was as he trades his crooked smile for a grimace, shifting in his seat since “that bad shoulder has taken to aching again.”

We sit at a small square table as close to the direct sunlight as we can get. My father positions himself in a way that the sun’s rays scissor straight down upon his bad shoulder and hip through the restaurant glass, this portrait of him sitting there reminding me of a cat. My father the cat, who could once sprint across a football field like one, like a mean cougar, and who now stretches his limbs under the small restaurant table so that the sun can massage away the aches of too many years of work and sacrifice and miles of football fields.

The morning hours pass into the afternoon. How long since I first strolled in to see him sitting here? The egg McMuffin and sausage biscuits have long been eaten, coffees and Cokes filled and re-filled, and my father’s ritual of pulling out the breakfast “dessert” before I get up to leave has now come: homemade ice-lemon cake from an old neighbor who lived across the street from my childhood home.

“Just one slice,” he requests before I go, pulling out the plastic knife to make the incision.

I have one small slice, and it is delicious. But I certainly don’t need it. I just want to enjoy the taste. But not the taste of the ice-lemon. I want one last tangible experience of my father. One for the road. Tomorrow he leaves.

With the final serving of the lemon cake come a few more stories about him as a boy, and I can’t resist. I chew my cake. I close my eyes and listen to his laugh — the mix of a rumbling clearing of his throat and a wise-cracking guffaw. I memorize this laugh, soaking it in like the warmth of the sun flowing in through the restaurant glass that is covered up by decorative holiday paintings of snowmen and candy canes. As I rise from my seat to return to the rigors of life, I am filled with gladness and comfort. Whether I am age five or thirty-five, my father still rescues me sometimes from life’s responsibilities and feeds me breakfast, and in the process, nourishes both my appetite and my spirit.

~Donna Buie Beall

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