Memories

This story from my younger days is so popular that I replay it annually.

When talking about the value of the family table, I am reminded of a day long ago, A Saturday morning in my father’s downtown café, a place where I proudly drew my first real paycheck, small though it was. America was in the middle of the Viet Nam war, and soldiers were being taken in and brought back out of the war through a nearby hotel. Dad offered them all half-price dining regardless of the direction they were going.

A soldier entered in uniform, headed home to his family. I took his order.

“Twelve eggs, over easy, and a large milk.”
Did you say two eggs over easy?
“No. Twelve eggs, over easy, please.”
Twelve eggs?
“Yes, please.”
And a large milk?
“Yes, please.”
Toast?
“No thank you. Just eggs and milk.”

A waitress stopped me on my way to the kitchen. “Did he say twelve eggs?” That’s what he said. And milk, no toast. A quiet titter had started among the tables nearby. “Twelve eggs? I think he ordered twelve eggs.”

I brought the soldier his first ½ dozen on a warm plate, telling him his next six would come as he finished those. And a large milk. He thanked me.

I expected him to dig in immediately. A man who wanted twelve eggs had to be hungry.  Instead he admired the eggs for a moment, added salt and pepper, then began eating. Slowly. Reverently. Deliciously.

By then, everyone in the café was watching the soldier who ordered twelve eggs. I brought his second platter and he ate them in the same deliberate, admiring way.

When he had cleaned his plate and taken his last drink of milk, Dad delivered his check - Welcome home, no charge. When he stood up to say thanks, the entire café, customer and staff alike, rose to a standing ovation. “Welcome home.” “Thank you for your service.” “Speech.”

So absorbed in his celebration of eggs and milk, he was surprised to learn that he had been the center of the cafe’s attention. He began slowly:

“I was proud to serve my country in Viet Nam. I am not critical of the war or the way I was treated. But I am a farm boy and fresh eggs and milk were a daily routine where I grew up. I didn’t realize how much I loved them until my year overseas. We had only powdered eggs and milk for breakfast. Toward the end of my tour, I found myself thinking only of fresh eggs and milk. Today was that day. It was good. Thank you for your kindnesses. I am going home now.”

I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house as he disappeared into the waiting Greyhound bus. Good food. It makes misty-eyed memories.

It’s good for us all.

JVF