When I was a child, it was not unusual for my maternal grandparents to take my sister, Barbara, and me on the occasional day trip. It was always something to look forward to — I was close to Nan and Pop and they would inevitably spoil us.
I was a middle-schooler whose teeth would not fall out. Apparently, I had long roots. I only lost two teeth that I remember — one I pulled out, the other came out as I ate a banana. The rest had to be pulled.
The English school system runs on three terms — fall, winter and spring — as opposed to the American’s two semesters. One year, almost 50 years ago, at spring term break in February, my grandparents arranged to take me and my sister to Hastings, a mere 31 miles from my home town of Brighton yet more than an hour by train. As I look back, I think of how funny it was that Brighton has two pleasure piers and Hastings has one as well.
Two days before the trip, I was at the dentist getting five teeth pulled. The following day, I was at the hospital trying to stanch the blood that didn’t want to stop flowing from my gums. But I was not going to miss out on my trip to Hastings. My grandparents, my sister and my raw gums boarded a train to Hastings.
Being February, on the south coast of England, it was rainy with overcast grey skies — there is something about an overcast sky that still makes me slightly homesick, the way the world turns to almost black and white. Perhaps that’s why, after more than 30 years in the American South, I still can’t handle the brightness of the sun. It just doesn’t seem right, somehow.
Anyway, we arrived before the sea front rides and amusements were open. We stopped for breakfast but all my poor raw gums could handle was poached eggs. We walked up and down the seafront, playing in the drizzly rain while my grandparents watched us. For lunch, I had poached eggs, again.
This is the point where I should note that while I now love Eggs Benedict, as a middle schooler, I was not a fan of poached eggs. But when one’s gums are raw, there are limited options.
The heavens opened up late in the afternoon and we retreated to the bingo hall on the pier — bingo was basically the Britain’s national sport back then. We all had a card each. The announcer went through the usual patter — “two fat ladies, 88,” “two swans swimming, 22, “a duck and a crutch, 27” and “Sunset Strip, 77″ — and we marked our cards.
Of course, I won and got my choice of prizes. Even at my young age, my sense of irony was keen. I chose an egg poacher and gave it to my grandmother.
Ten years later, my grandmother died of stomach cancer. Still among her possessions was an egg poacher.
I have no way of really knowing, but I think it was the one I won on that drizzly, grey day in Hastings. I bought an egg poacher a couple of years ago to make Eggs Benedict. It still makes me smile every time I use it.