Breakfast in Ojai

Monday, September 28, 2009

-The runny eggs were smeared onto blackened toast, accompanied by a Marlboro Light and the morning paper.-

Ojai Grandma had always had a rough voice, one with the kind of sandy tone that only comes from decades of hard smoking. She still smoked in the house even when my mother took my brother and I to come visit. It wasn't out of irresponsibility or ignorance to the then newly publicized hazards of second-hand smoke, but it was simply how it had always been for her. It was her house and she would smoke if she'd like as she would often reprimand my mother who had quit years ago during her first pregnancy.

I was fascinated when Ojai Grandma chided my mother. It was like watching a elusive natural phenomenon, an event more rare and forbidden than the northern lights confined to the four walls of a Southern California home. "Sybil," she would say, "just leave it be," and she would return to her morning balancing act of reading the paper, eating, and smoking.

When Ojai Grandma called her Sybil this confused me as my mother went by her middle name Suzanne. Sybil was Ojai Grandma's name as well. Everyone except Ojai Grandma called my mother Suzanne, but Ojai Grandma was mom's mom so she must know best, even better than mom I figured. For years I would be confused by this and was unsure as to what my mom's actual name was as I felt asking would be a stupid question. (The concept that she simply went by Suzanne with everyone but her parents never occurred to me as a child.)

That smoke worn voice was the source of much love, and confusion.

I miss that rough voice. When I was young I had a mental image that when she slept a chicken must have crawled onto her bed and scratched at her voice looking for worms. "A tasty meal might lie in her throat," the chicken would think. Its sharp talons would shred her voice into rough layers as it dug for its dinner. So, when Ojai Grandma spoke, it was like listening to a raspy choir of voices.

It was this voice that would chide my mother and lecture my brother and me. We would get in trouble for not drinking our orange juice, "Too sour!" we would say and push it away. The juice was only sour because we ate our sugary cereal first. Lucky Charms and other such breakfasts were a rare treat reserved only for Ojai Grandma's house so when we had a chance to eat them they were devoured with eager speed before anything else at the table.

"You always eat the marshmallows first. That's why your juice is so sour," she said in her hen-pecked voice. She then took a bite of her burnt toast smeared with runny egg yolks and bacon drippings as stared at us, compelling my brother and me to obey. That stare froze me to my seat until, with a grimace, I chugged the fresh juiced offense down as quickly as possible.

Today, I always drink my juice first, often using it to wash down vitamins and supplements. I won't touch the rest of my breakfast until I finish my juice. It's a strange habit. I'd rather enjoy my orange juice, now sweet and pleasantly sour enough. My eggs can go cold and they will still taste like eggs, apricot jam will still taste like apricot jam no matter what, but orange juice is persnickety in how it tastes.

I think to myself, "Rules must be followed," and then eat a piece of burnt toast smeared in runny egg yolk.


  1. Growing up in Ojai, and with my grandparents' citrus/avocado orchard generally dripping with fruit, it was considered blasphemy not to drink at least a short glass of juice with breakfast. I remember the lecture about drinking the juice before devouring the sweet stuff, too.

    A truly fresh glass of orange, or even better, tangerine juice? It's a taste of childhood.

  2. Beautiful. A memory, simple & beautiful. Thank you.

  3. I liked this story. Thanks for sharing :)

  4. orange juice is an amazing breakfast drink - i used to have it religiously when i had vegemite on toast for breakfast, because it's fantastic to wash down really salty foods. now i have an orange tree in my backyard, so i'm much happier just eating them, or sucking the juice out of slices when i get lazy. :)


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