BY CHRIS WILKINS
Almost Four quietly, bravely crawled out of the bed and scaled the 6:30 am dark stairs, and tiptoed down the dimly lit hallway where she finally crept to the edge of our door and waited for a sign.
The gray one at my feet mumbled a soft growl alerting me that she was there at the door’s edge. In one long sweeping motion and I was up and out of the covers, scooping up Almost Four and then she was in my arms laughing and giggling as only Almost Four can do, and we plopped down onto the bed next to a smiling Nanni while I stacked pillows into backrests so we could sit and discuss the day’s plan.
“Who wants coffee this morning?” I asked in a hushed whisper trying to hang on to the morning for as long as possible.
Thirty-five pounds of happiness, burnished copper red hair flying behind her, jumped up on the bed with carefree ease having done so countless times before at Nanni and Papa’s. Bright eyes looked out from perfectly white porcelain skin as she looked up smiling impishly from ear to ear, “I want copy Papa. Nanni wants copy too!” That was my cue.
Off to kitchen I went, making sure the steps were quiet going down the wooden floored hallway which always seems to creak and groan at 7am in the morning. No use waking up the whole house just yet. Mom, Dad and Sissy were still sound asleep downstairs and this delicate time, that would not last forever, was reserved for Almost Four.
The “copy” was Peppermint tea made with a little milk and a little honey. It was ritual that had been going on for two and a half years and the three of them loved it. The tea was served in a pink sippy cup, the favorite color of Almost Four, and the sippy styled lid prevented the sheets from becoming an ink blot experiment made from tea drips, sips, and drops.
As I walked in from coffee duties, carefully balancing three cups in my hands, I could see that Nanni and Almost Four had one of their hands cupped around one ear and their heads tilted to the outside windows. Nanni had raised one of the three windows, and the morning symphonic cacophony was in the air. Cardinals, Tit Mouse and Carolina Wrens had their throats raised, the notes loudly ringing in the morning air as they competed with one another.
“What would we make today? What was Almost Four in the mood for today?”
“Papa! We’re listening to the birds!” she exclaimed excitedly. “Can you hear them Papa? Can you hear them?” she asked while pointing to the window and world outside beyond. I handed out the “copies,” as Nanni reminded the red headed cherub that even cherubs say “Thank you,” and the bird listening little angel of a bird chirped out a “Thank you,” through a mischievous little smile as she took her first sip. Although one would think it impossible, her smile grew wider.
They sat comfortably, chatting and chirping about the river, birds, how the sun was coming up and how the light looked coming through the trees, but as it always inevitably did on Sunday mornings, the chatter soon turned toward breakfast. What would we make today? What was Almost Four in the mood for today?
There are certain breakfast foods that are just fun to make. Scrambled eggs are a good example of this. Break the eggs, beat them up real good and then pour them into a pan where you get to beat them up again over some heat. One might even say there is some therapy involved! There is a lot of movement when you make cheesy scrambled eggs, and I have discovered over the years that you can actually dance to music while whipping the whisk, and it goes without saying that if handled appropriately, a whisk can second as a microphone while belting out tunes in the kitchen.
“1) there will be syrup and 2) there will be bacon (which for a Southern girl aged three, and almost turning four, that means Heaven).”
The three of us decided to go with another fun food to make which also involved the whisk, Almost Four’s favorite kitchen utensil. Pancakes. The implications of having pancakes for breakfast are many, not least among them is that 1) there will be syrup and 2) there will be bacon (which for a Southern girl aged three, and almost turning four, that means Heaven). There has never been a Sunday morning where we had pancakes that we did not have maple brown sugar thick slices of bacon to accompany them. There is Jack and Jill, Bonny and Clyde and Pancakes and Bacon. Well, at least, that is the case in our home.
Almost Four grabbed my pointing finger on my right hand and started walking down the hallway, pulling me along in her wake while she casually looked back and whispered loudly, “Come on Nanni! Let’s make breakfast,” the words tumbling through her smile in the early morning light.
“Today I’m gonna help Papa, Nanni. Today I’m a chef. A chef, Nanni,” she continued excitedly chattering as we moved into the kitchen. Our kitchen has an enormous island where we prepare all of the food, and Almost Four is no stranger to this activity. She went to the pantry and began to drag her plastic “tower” over to the edge of the island. The tower has a plastic bar that runs along the back, and that allowed her to lean back and not fall off of the step (which is what the tower is – a stepping stool with sides). She jockeyed the chair into position next to the sink, and as I watched, I remembered how it wasn’t long ago that she could not move the tower at all, much less little girl-handle the tower with ease as she was doing now.
“Her smile beamed so bright that I felt sure that the room became even brighter…”
She move it this way and that way, red hair bouncing on her back and shoulders, as she mumbled soft encouragement to herself, and once she was satisfied, she put her hands on her hips and turned toward me where I was watching from the pantry. I smiled thinking, “Well, there goes a little carbon copy of her Mother!” and laughed inwardly at her mimicking posture.
“There,” she quipped. “I need the bowls Papa. Am I helping today Papa?” she asked knowing very well she was, but she still wanted to hear it from me. “You sure are beautiful. Your are the chef this morning. I will help you today!” Her smile beamed so bright that I felt sure that the room became even brighter as the sun outside continue its early morning climb into the sky above.
Pancake mix, one egg, a dash of vanilla and water. We were off and “cheffing” along. We opened the bag of flour mix, and having learned from experience, we held the bag over the bowl, one set of big hands and another set of little hands all grabbing the edges of the top of the bag and all pulling in any number of directions. The bag suddenly popped open, the flour falling into the bowl, and as was always the case, outside the bowl onto the counters as well. Almost Four looked up, her eyes squinting smiles while she giggled, “We did it Papa. It’s in the bowl.” She picked up the whisk, and as I slowly poured in the water, she began to stir in slow big circle like Nanni had taught her. “It’s going round Papa. Look!” as she pointed to her handiwork. “Good job Chef! Keep going,” I responded in the exaggerated encouraging tone that she loved, and I continued to very slowly pour water into the bowl while she was stirring. She stirred and stirred and stirred, her brow furrowed in deep concentration as she made sure to catch the runaway mix that was clinging to the sides of the bowl.
While she stirred, I laid several strips of bacon on the grill which sat atop the gas range. After a few minutes, Almost Four looked up from the stirring work. “Papa,” she said, “I smell bacon,” and she turned in her tower and pointed toward the bacon. “Can I have some Papa?” as she put her hand out, palm turned upward and looking at me expectantly.
“I’ll tell you what Chef. It’s still cooking, so it will be just a minute. Let’s go ahead and crack the egg and put it in the batter and whisk it up. Maybe they’ll be done by the time you are done mixing the egg in. Will that work Almost Four?” I asked. She nodded her head up and down, then placing her hand on her hip just as her Mama might do, she said, “Okay, let’s get the egg then. C’mon Papa!” I laughed out loud as she continued to smile, the two of us knowing that she was pulling a Nanni move on me by hurrying me along. Her nose crinkled up as she smiled and I took the egg, gave it a sharp crack on the edge of the bowl and let the golden yolk pour into the batter. Without hesitation, the whisk went to work in her small and delicate hands.
Soon, the smell of well cooked bacon filled the kitchen and wafted down the hallway into the bedroom where Nanni was trying to get a rebellious Sissy into her diaper and pants. It was very apparent that there was absolutely no way a shirt was going on just yet. The smell of bacon drew them out of the bedroom and a barefoot, shirtless Sissy was suddenly and heavily running down the oak floored hallway. Her footsteps were surprisingly thunderous considering she weighs only 25 pounds. She rounded the corner of the hallway and sprang into the kitchen, her smile stretching the seams of her mouth as she squealed, “Bacoon!!!! Bacoon!!!” the second syllable stretched into a long “ooonnn,” sound through her big bright early morning smile.
Almost Four and I laughed as I took a piece of bacon and tore it in two. I carefully placed one piece in the Chef’s hand while she continued whisking with the other, and then the small human called Sissy, was tugging at my sweat pants leg with one hand while the other one was reaching up toward me, opening and closing in supplication. “Bacoon,” she said while looking up at hopefully. I gently put the bacon in her hand, and in one single bite, the bacon was gone, and an impish smiled appeared on Sissy’s very satisfied face.
“You ready to put on the pancakes I asked?” and Almost Four just shook her head from side to side.”
“These needs more whissing Papa. I will just whiss some more,” she said contentedly, and I could tell we were nearing the end of the batter experience. The whisking was slowing down, and I suspected a little girl’s arm was getting tired. I poured some of the pancake batter on the griddle and immediately the vanilla scent of cooking pancakes mixed in with the bacon smell filling the room the heady aroma of breakfast. My mouth began to water. Almost Four continued to whisk, and I continued to flip and flapjacks, and Sissy, well she kept tugging my pant’s leg for more “bacoon,” which I continued to dole out in small but substantial pieces for two year old smiling mouths.
As we got to the last of the pancake batter, Almost Four held up her arms and announced, “I am done being a Chef Papa. Can you take this off?” she said referring to her apron.”
“Sure,” I said. “Okay, turn around so I can untie it,” and as she turned around she looked back at me with expectant eyes and said, “Hey Papa. Are we going to have syrup too?”
“Oh yes Chef. Lots and lots of syrup,” and Almost Four and Sissy both smiled in anticipation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Chris Wilkins, M. Ed.
This story is about my granddaughter who just turned four. She loves to help me in the kitchen, and this is especially true is there is bacon or pepperoni involved. So, breakfast and pizza right?
As a grandfather (aka The Papa), I find these moments are priceless.
Read more stories from real grandparents here