The Egg Lady
A short story by Don East
Some things seem to last, while other come and go quickly. I had reached into the frig to get the carton of eggs to fix my morning breakfast. There must have been just a few eggs left because the carton was heavy on one end and I almost dropped the carton when I picked it up. Normally I don’t even take notice of the carton in the morning. But, as I fumbled to hold on to in, my minds eye forced in on the carton, and I noticed that the pressed paper carton was the same as when I was a boy. The same medium gray paper pulp formed into a series of 12 small cradles to hold their precious cargo. As I opened the carton there were only 3 eggs on one end of the container the rest were empty. I glanced at one of the empty egg cradles and it seemed to capture my deepest attention. For it seemed to be cradling a raft of memories.
Suddenly I was 6 years old and walking down the road from our wonderful Spanish style house perched on a hill over looking the San Francisco Bay Area. I was carrying a paper bag Mom had given to me to take to the Egg Lady. In the bag were 3 of those gray paper pulp egg cartons. They were empty because my mission was to go the Egg Lady and get them filled with new fresh eggs.
As soon as I use the three eggs, I turned opened the cupboard door under the sink and threw the carton into the garbage. Again my mind flashed back to the 6 year old walking along the winding country road. We would have never thrown those cartons away then. This was one of those memories that need to be played out.
While I watched the eggs sizzling in the frying pan, I let my memory go. The frying pan with the eggs sizzling seemed to disappear and in is place was the paper bag that Mom had given me. It was one of those few chores you do as a kid that you really like. And as I looked at the bag I thought about the empty cartons and how they would soon be filled, filled with more than eggs.
I looked up and saw the house where the Egg Lady lived. It was still a good country block or more away, at 6 years that a long way to walk. And it gave me plenty of time to think about the house down the road. It sat on a lot that was in the middle of a sharp corner. The road that wound around it seemed to cradle the house much like the carton cradled the eggs. From the house the lot fanned out into a large triangle. In the back of the house were the chicken coops. The chicken coops were long narrow house like structures that took up most of the back yard. The house had once been very elegant. It was large. The main part of the house sat up high in the air, and there were stairs that led up to the front door. The space under the house was large. The Egg Lady used this part of her house for many of the things that she used to care for her chickens. There were many plants and trees growing around the house, but they were old and had seemed to have lived beyond their time of beauty. The paint on the house was old also. And in many places the paint was chipping off. It was if the house had lived out most of its usefulness was slowly returning to nature. If I had not been to this place before, as a six year old, the house and its ground would have frightened me. Some times it still frightened me especially if the sky was gray and the wind was blowing. Today it was calm and the sun gave the house a feeling of warmth.
The door bell had a crank that you had to twist in a circle, and it made a funny rattling sound. Some times if the Egg Lady was in the back working with her chickens, it would take her a long time to come to the door. I would stand there wondering if she were home or not. The longer I waited the more I started looking at the old house and I would feel the fear beginning to swell up inside me.
“Donnie, are you here for some eggs”
I jumped and turned, at the base of the stairs stood the Egg Lady with a smile that instantly washed away any feeling of fear that I had been building up.
“Shall we walk around back and find you some eggs?”
As I walked down the stairs, she turned and I knew that I was to follow. Walking behind her I could study her. She was a big woman. At six you don’t know how much a person weighs you just think of words that fit what you see. She was large and round. And she waked with a little sway. The dress she always had on was made out of the feed sacks that came with the chicken food. I knew that because I had seen my Mom make things out of the sacks in which we bought floor. The material was covered with little tiny flowers all over it. The background was a light Robins egg blue. She also wore an apron made out of similar material. And it was tied at the back with a bow. Her dark hair was always tied back to keep it out of her way as she worked. Her apron had two dirty spots on each side where she wiped her hands. And she always wore some kind of slippers. I liked the slippers because the looked as if she had worn them for such a long time that they were perfectly molded to the shape of her foot. And they were surly old friends. I also liked the sound they made as she slid them along the ground in an effort to keep them on her feet.
When we reached the chicken coops, she turned and I could see her face. It was like a soft brown leather that had been wrinkled with much use. On her right cheek she had a large dark brown mole. It rode on her cheek when she smiled like a boat bobbing on the sea. At the door of the coop sat a galvanized pale which she used for collecting eggs. She picked it up as she opened the door. It was at this moment she truly became the Egg Lady. Her eyes sparkled as spoke to the chickens. They all knew her and they were her family. One by one she would check the cages. Draw out an egg inspect it, wipe it clean on her apron and then place it in the bucket. Her hands were round and the joints of her fingers were much like the eggs she was finding. They were large hands and when she held an egg, the egg seemed so small. However she handled each one with the greatest of tenderness. As she talked to the chickens she would laugh. Her laugh was deep like a man’s voice but soft like a woman’s. As we moved our way slowly through the coop she would tell me about each chicken. Most of what she talked about I didn’t understand. But I liked to listen to her because I could tell she was kind and liked each chicken. I often felt she was asking each one for permission to take its egg. It was wonderful to share her happiness. When the pale was filled with enough eggs, we would walk through the coop towards a small room that was under the back of her house. I liked that walk. The chickens would cock their heads as I went by. Giving me a one eyed, Hi. In the room under the house she had a table one old chair and on the table was a small metal box with a hole in the top. When she flicked a switch a light would shine out of the hole. One by one she would place the eggs on the top of the box. The egg would then glow a warm yellow orange color. Some eggs she would place in the gray pulp paper cartons I had brought and others she would place in a special box next to her that also had a light on inside.
She explained to me that the eggs that went into the box were special would become chicks. The ones she gave to me were for eating. The ones that went into the light box had a slight red glow when they were placed on the light.
When the cartons I had brought were filled she would wrap them all up in a heavy brown paper tie a string around them with a bow. Then they would be placed in the bag my Mom had given to me. I would give her the envelope with the money.
She would then place one hand on the table and the other on the back of the chair in which she had been siting. I remember how slowly see seemed to get up. The whole time she would be talking to me and explaining about the chickens and the eggs. As she talked she would lead me into the room where all the new chicks were. When as she opened the door there was a cacophony of peeps. She would reach in the box pick one up have me put my hands together. Then she would place the soft yellow chick in my hands. I would giggle as its softness tickled my hands and she would laugh her deep soft laugh.
Finally she would parade me through her house and to the front door. Her house was filled with many things. There was stuff everywhere. I remember that her house was always warm inside. A lot like the place where she kept the baby chick.
As I slapped the omelet I had just cooked onto my plate, I looked at the carton that had carried the eggs I had just cooked. I realized that she was a lot like her house rugged and weathered by time on the outside but soft gentle and warm on the inside.