I am sitting in my kitchen on Sunday morning, sipping my coffee and nibbling on a piece of toast. I was wondering what I could write as the blank screen stared back at me. Then I bit into some butter seared into the bread by my toaster oven. I don’t get butter with every bite; I toast my bread with three small pads of butter on each slice – two at the top and one near the bottom. It is the same pattern every time. In this way each bite of the bread can be a little bit different, some with less butter, some with no butter, and some with a lot of butter, a small tasty adventure for breakfast.
There is even a name for making toast this way, it is called elephant toast. I would love to claim this whimsical name for my own, but it was invented by my father and perfected in mass production by my mother. Dad said the three spots of butter were in the pattern of an elephant’s foot print. There being no elephants wild or in captivity in my native Orangeburg, South Carolina, and since the family had never been on safari beyond the confines of our imaginations, there was no way to verify the veracity of my father’s words. Now at fifty, I prefer to let the mystery remain, keeping my eyes raised when greeting pachyderms at the zoo, and leaving Google un-queried.
As you may immediately see, elephant toast cannot be made in a traditional vertical toaster. The butter would melt, run, cause a fire, burn down the house, and likely get me grounded. It must be made horizontally. This was how my mother always made toast, flat on a cookie sheet under the broiler. Does this sound like a waste of energy? She had no choice, there were five children in the family (we blamed our dad for such a large grouping, with some careful planning and selection, I’m sure my parents would have been satisfied with just me and perhaps one or two of the others). Particularly on school mornings we would take our places at the breakfast table and sit there squawking with heads upturned, mouths opened, eyes bulging like a large nest full of chicks clambering for the early bird out hunting the worm.
To my mind, we must have gone through most of a loaf of bread every morning. Each slice was laid out carefully, toasted on one side, flipped, and then the elephant’s foot print added to the other before being popped back in the oven. Everyone got to have elephant toast, but in the spirit of waste-not-want-not, my mother also made toast from the heels of the bread. I was only aware much later in life that many people think of heels as disposable or suitable only for bread crumbs. We were made to believe that heels were special, and they were! Because it was curved, it didn’t look like a normal piece of bread, because it was the remainder of the loaf some sections of the heel were thinner and cooked a little unevenly and a bit faster than its fuller cross-sectioned neighbor. We begged for the heels. It was commotion each morning for five thundering pairs of feet to rush down the stairs, their owners hoping to lay claim to one of the coveted slices of heels. We never called them heels though, they were “bended toast”. There were almost always two pieces of bended toast and the first person downstairs would scream loudly, “I call for the first best burnt piece of bended toast!” The second would exclaim (and you guessed it), “I call for the second best burnt piece of bended toast!” These were treasures more than on a par with calling shotgun for the drive to school, or claiming control of the TV (it wasn’t until I left for college that we got a color TV with a remote, so if you had control of the TV, you were the one responsible for getting up and down and changing the channel . manually – but this is a tale for another time).
The point being is that my mom and dad were not only the raiser of children, they were the makers of magic, they were the progenitors of imagination for five growing and ravenous minds. We went to school to learn the facts, mom and dad openly participated in our memorization and understanding of these facts, but they also pushed us out the door to play in woods covered in vines and filled with blackberries. They sent us to run and make believe with our friends in the neighborhood, exercising both body and mind. They would take en masse to the library, and shared with us the marvel of books. They would seat us at a long table littered with blank paper, crayons, and water color paint leaving the rest to us. They did all this for us, and along the way they nourished us with plenty of love and elephant toast.