When I was little, my cousins from San Antonio were over at my family’s house. We used to live near the end of a caliche road called Jacks Rd. We had a caliche “drive way,” a dirt “basketball court” that dipped low in the middle where water collected when it rained. We even had a bump in the dirt that was off-centered just a little bit that represented the free throw line. We had a “chicken shed” made from chicken wire and salvaged pieces of wood from random places. My father Miguel was always so good at taking something left over or lost and making it functional. He was good at making things valuable again and he was always working on stuff outside. My mom always doing stuff inside, sewing pants, making me count beans, and doing diagnostic tests about my IQ. I remember my mother Elizabeth made breakfast for my cousins and I on one particular morning. I was amused at what was about to happen. We sat at the kitchen table waiting for breakfast.
My brothers and I had an inside joke. More like playful teasing about my mom’s food “inventions”. She IS a good cook but when we were little we would joke about it. A respectful kind of teasing mind you. She came up with these weird combinations of foods to put together. We had one of those wooden oval shaped tables that was covered in tablecloth that was covered in plastic. So many layers! But it was easier to clean.
That’s not the point though.
The breakfast was the point. What was for breakfast that morning? Green beans and egg tacos. I knew it but my cousins didn’t. My brothers and I grew accustomed to this menu item from my mom’s kitchen. I silently smirked in my inner person waiting for my cousins’ reactions . My mother placed the paper plate of breakfast tacos in front of one of my cousins. The younger one inspected it for a moment then honestly responded “What the heck is that?!” Not trying to be rude, he just was truly dumbfounded. I chuckled briefly then dug into the tacos. I’m not sure he ate the green beans at all. Just kind of picked them out from the scrambled egg one by one and left them on the plate.
Fast Forward 25 + years >>>>
Coronavirus pandemic breaks out globally. The USA is in nationwide “shelter in place." Store limiting the number of people entering. People waiting in long lines in homemade masks. Every shopping cart is individually wiped down and given to customers. People ordered to stay six feet apart. Social distancing in place.
We were about 4 or 5 weeks in at this point in our green beans and egg story timeline.
My wife and I and my son were quarantining ourselves in our brick home.
I was the designated grocery shopper because my son was just about to turn two. My wife is pregnant at this point. The news is saying we don’t know how this will affect pregnant women and children. No timelines are given. Toilet paper is running out. People are panic buying and basic store items are nothing but empty shelves.
So I bought an exaggerated amount of groceries. More than I have ever gotten at any point in my life. This way I didn’t have to come back often because the constant thought of “don’t touch your face” or “someone could be sick here” was running through my mind. I just walked around not caring about price just dumping food, meat, bread everything and anything to get as much food as possible in my cart. Food was hanging over the sides of the cart. The cart filled up to the brim and in the bottom section too.
It was heavy.
Walking to my car, I felt I did my duty to my family bringing home tons of food. At least, I thought it was a lot.
We never ate so much at home. My wife was cooking three meals a day every day. We burned through the bread in a couple of days. The milk ran out way too soon. We ran out of eggs on day 3 or 4. After washing my hands, I began to air dry so we didn’t run out of paper towels. My wife started watching “Chopped” for inspiration. You know that cooking show where the contestants have to create a dish with preselected food items?
At first, it was a little amusing running out of things. Then we really started noticing the pantry and refrigerator getting cleaned out. It was increasingly intimidating. My wife was getting more and more frustrated because she couldn’t cook with whatever was left over in the pantry. Our son didn’t want any of the food that was made. It didn’t make sense. We were dangerously low on olive oil. No sugar. No fruits. No cheese. I really didn’t want to go back to get groceries unless I absolutely had to. Then some stores reported employees getting sick. Social media was making jokes about the dangers of grocery shopping. Curbside was unavailable. The thought of running out of food was getting more uncomfortable every meal but we went another couple of days without going to the store. Around lunchtime one day, my wife was searching the cabinets for a combination of food items to put together that made any sense. There was nothing really. Frosting? Corn? Vitamins?
Then she says it.
It was this amazing admission that taught me a lesson about my mother. Admittedly and nearly defeated, my wife said “Now I know why your mom made you all green beans and egg.” Funny but not funny.
I got the realization too. It took a pandemic to find out but I got it. It was kind of a delayed pain that reached into the heart. A good pain. A pain of gratitude. Sorrowful only in knowing that the realization was three decades too late.
I knew my parents were migrants growing up, traveling up and down the states following the crops. My mother and father were always telling us stories about growing up in the fields, their bouts with racism in high school and sharing the kind of tricks that only poor people knew. My oldest brother says he remembers being poor. My family asked me one time if I remembered being poor. I had no recollection at all. Then I realized it was right there in that breakfast, green beans and egg. That was it. My only clue.
I never knew want. They gave me all they had.
And if all they had to give me was from a can of green beans and couple eggs for breakfast, I was happy.