That breakfast table often served as a platform for everyone in the family to get their day’s marching orders.
The word “breakfast,” composed of two words, “break” and “fast,” in its origin meant to break the fast of the last evening. Today, it seems we have re-interpreted the word “breakfast” to mean to get a “fast break” on the day. Most breakfasts today are purchased fast and eaten fast.
My friend and former supervisor, the late Claude Harris, told of the days when he and his brother as boys milked 15 cows by hand every morning before breakfast. Now that would give you an appetite for breakfast. I would not have wanted to get into a hand-shaking contest with those Harris boys. I’ll bet they had a hand grip that would bring you to your knees.
“Mama fried pork tenderloin, pork chops, fried chicken, even steak sometimes for breakfast,” Mr. Harris said. “We could eat three or four eggs and half-a-dozen biscuits apiece just to get started.
You milk seven or eight cows before breakfast and you are ready to eat,” he mused.
Ruth Bradford, first cousin to my mother, married Ralph Holbrook. For many years, Ralph Holbrook owned a large general merchandise store in downtown New Middleton. He also ran a small dairy operation.
I have put my feet under Pappy Holbrook’s table on many occasions. In doing so, I learned that he had a few hard and fast rules.
One of his rules was that each of his four sons, Wayland, Jack, Joe and Jerry, went to the milk barn every morning before breakfast and did something constructive. Every boy had a job at the milk barn every morning.
Another rule involved inspections at the breakfast table.
Before the meal began, every boy had to show that his hands and finger nails were clean. And each boy’s hair had to be combed neatly. If anything was out of order, it was back to the bathroom to get it right.
A lot can be learned at the breakfast table.
In the house where I grew up, my father ate breakfast promptly at 6:30. He never varied the time over five minutes. He liked his eggs scrambled and he was oft heard to say, “Somebody pass me the manneez” or mayonnaise. Salad dressing or mayonnaise, it didn’t matter, he was going to have some with his eggs.
When my brothers, my sister and I were growing up, we ate a ton of rice and oatmeal for breakfast. I was half grown before I found out that everybody didn’t eat rice for breakfast. It’s hard to beat a big steaming bowl of rice topped with real butter and plenty of sugar.
Now that’ll stick to your ribs. I was also half grown when I came to appreciate my mother’s thriftiness. She was feeding us breakfast for pennies a day.
But breakfast has changed dramatically in America.
No one has time to sit down any more. We are all in a big rush.
It should come as no surprise that McDonald’s Corp. is the largest egg buyer in the U.S. And other breakfast fast food outlets abound. We order breakfast over a microphone, exchange our money for something in a sack and woof it down on our way to where we’re headed. Frankly, I can’t get use to a round fried egg and round bacon.
I guess that’s what it takes to fit an English muffin, or bun, or biscuit.
I have a small kitchenette in the back of my office. Lately I have re-introduced cooking breakfast to my life. I figure I can brew a small pot of coffee for about six cents. And I can put together a drop-dead delicious sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit for less than 60 cents.
And my fried egg sandwich comes with a whopping big slice of homegrown tomato on it? Why, it’s something to write home about. And the cost was around 50 cents.
Breakfast has long been recognized as “the most important meal of the day.” That alone should give us cause to carefully reconsider our eating habits.
Jack McCall is a regular contributing columnist to The Lebanon Democrat.