Breakfast


(Martha is Josiah's niece who lives with Katy and him.)


Josiah sat glowering into his cereal bowl as I walked into the kitchen for breakfast.
"How in tunket do you expect me to eat this, Martha? Where is my oatmeal? Katy, why can't I have oatmeal for m' breakfast like a civilized human being?"

The inoffensive cornflakes seemed to wilt under his very glance, crunchy as they remained in milk. We had used the last oatmeal for cookies the day before and were trying to make-do with cornflakes just once.

Josiah enjoys his breakfast more than any other meal. Of course we grew up in the days of real breakfasts. There was none of this juice, coffee and sweet bun gulping then.

Getting up at four A.M. is unusual today unless you are going fishing. However, cows had to be hand milked, livestock fed, and odd chores done before the day's work got under way in those days. So, while Father and the boys did chores for an hour or two, Mother and the girls had time to whip up a bit of breakfast.

In the barn, dimly lit by oil lamps hung from the rafters, cows lowed softly in greeting. They chewed contentedly on fresh hay or silage as they were milked. The barn cats enjoyed their drink of warm milk and retired to the hayloft to rest after a busy night of hunting. Usually there was one clever clown among them who had learned to catch a stream of milk directed at him straight from the cow.

When the men returned from the barn with a pail of fresh milk, breakfast was ready. There was "Arbuckles" coffee for everyone well laced with warm milk for the children. No juice, for oranges were a great delicacy and not for everyday consumption. There might be fresh or canned berries, peaches, pears, or perhaps fried apple slices.

Plates were filled with fried potatos and steak (2 pounds for 25), or lightly browned slices of ham and hot, light biscuits or corn bread with 'lasses or honey. From a heavy black iron kettle came bowls of oatmeal or cornmeal mush to be eaten with gobs of butter and brown sugar.

Flapjacks, griddlecakes, flannel cakes, or pancakes are all the same basic recipe and sometimes replaced the potato at breakfast. At hog butchering time there would be fresh sausage to go with them.

When Aunt Bea made pancakes for her large family, she used two pitchers of batter. Cousin Julia has told of one rainy morning when she held an umbrella over her mother to protect the pancakes (and Aunt Bea) from a leaking roof. I can imagine the merriment that sweetened those cakes better than the homemade maple syrup, for the strapping boys of all sizes who lined Aunt Bea's table loved a joke, especially when it was on themselves.

            

To top off the energy packed meal, formerly eaten at dawn's early light, you had your choice of pies, cookies, and possibly fried cakes. Then it was time to begin the real work of the day, though it would seem you would be more ready for a nap to help your digestion.

When the breakfast dishes were washed, the table was reset. Plates were replaced upside down, leading at least one small girl to believe "grace" was printed on their backs, and cups and glasses were also upended. Over the whole table, tented by the tall silver caster with its jars of salt, pepper, oil, vinegar, and mustard, a heavy cheesecloth was laid. The table was ready for dinner.

One of the most memorable breakfasts of my childhood, Grandpa and I caught in the creek on the Big Farm. The path was well worn so we needed no light other than the fading stars to show us the way. In the pasture lot the cows rose from their sleeping places and began browsing their way toward the barn. Small wild creatures scurried through the hedgerows returning late to their homes from the night's excursions.

The creek murmured briskly, endless and untiring, its black water touched with silver as the wavelets broke in the growing light. Damp, mossy logs were our seats, water worn rocks our footstools as we cast our simple lines and caught the "mess of fish" that would be our breakfast. Rolled in egg and cornmeal and fried in Grandma's iron spider, those fish were fit for a king.

         

The boys who slept overnight in the sugar shed during the sap run usually made their own breakfast. Golden-eyed fried eggs, rashers of bacon, cornbread, and coffee strong enough to melt a silver spoon, all were flavored with the mapley aroma of the boiling sap. Fat molasses cookies as big as saucers and studded with raisins were part of the breakfast I shared with my cousins one brisk March morning.

The very idea of inflicting such a heavy burden on one's stomach in the early morning hours is a bit unsettling today. We enjoy our fruit juice, oatmeal, coffee and cookies and the memories of those other feasts of our younger years.