Square glass lid knocking side to side captured my attention as I sat upstairs, it being downstairs, knocking, Thought rises as a picture of him pulling his mother’s white porcelain baking dish, the one with the simple blue design, out of the fridge. He is throwing out the rice I had planned to eat, “making room,” he’ll say. A hope floats by as the candle flickers “maybe just set it out.” I smile when I find it waiting on the counter coming to do dishes, the flame under the squat cast iron tea kettle just turned on.
Mom came as the drainer is emptied and sink filled. Hot water and bubbles cast their own soft glow of captured light, dim in the rainy morning from the window. Utensils slide into it, a couple of glasses. It seems the most right thing, adding a half-inch, maybe more, water to the smallest pan while the dishes soak just for the minute this will take. A pat of butter, okay two, what the hell, not the worst thing – it will be good having breakfast with her. This burner goes on too, a little lower, toward a simmering flame.
Dishes are neatly stacked in the order of washing; my mind works that way. Save for the white one with the blue pattern and the hard ball of cold, week-old rice stuck in its corner. Yellow-gloved hands pass the burgundy cloth over glasses, silverware…go check the buttering water. “Not yet.” Plates, one chipped, the large colorful salad bowls of last night’s dinner; checking again. “Ah, rolling boil,” just a bit more. Stripping the dish gloves, leaving them lay over the sink edge, this hand, somewhat like hers, of her at least, carries the chilled porcelain in to the stove. Removing the lid a finger pokes the rice’s hardness, not quite clucking my tongue, “undercooked” I think. A glance at the boiling water finds the skim of butter scents the lightest steam coming from it. Patience will get this right.
A few more dishes wait, some are cleaned and set to drain before the tug to the stove. Hand passing over cooking tools finds the wooden spoon, that nice rounded one of the perfect size for plunking the hard ball into the boil, punching through it, breaking it up. Intently scraping every stray morsel off the white sides, dropping them in as well. The pan lid sits there and stays, water and rice need to boil down with the flame turned lower, needing to more-than-simmer for a bit. She loved this snack, always of an afternoon, but this time we’ll make it morning. The tea, hot enough, is turned off to steep.
Dishes finished and at the stove again, watching narrow round tunnels form to the bottom of the pan, parting rice and closing again to open here and there and there and there. Almost, almost. Now! Fire off, a sprinkle of salt, and then the pepper mill. This one dad’s actually, because it happens to be filled. A shaking check, peppercorns clattering, confirms a goodly number as almost all will be needed. Held over the buttery cream my turning the silver crank begins. Our heads together we stared into a larger pan to shake the pepper on, for there was no such thing as fresh grating it in that tiny kitchen. Always the pause to assess. And always her pronouncement, “not enough” led to more shaking. The crank is turned and turned until a nice black covers the yellowy white, and now the lid goes on, rice left to rest like the tea.
Up on tip-toe to choose a bowl, there really isn’t much in this pan. She would make two cups to share, but what I have is enough to be with her on this cold spring morning. Coffee cup and honey, tea poured to its brim. The best parts now: wooden spoon nestles in and nudges the rice from the raised pan into the wide mouth, eggplant-purple bowl, every last bit. A small joy.
Tea by my side, stirring the pepper in well, the first spoonful is raised to my lips. Closing eyes to slowly draw in the smell of buttery rice. The black spice’s pungency tickles my nose. Blowing on it, my lips part and the rice – oh, the rice! Smoothly creamy a buttery film softens my lips like balm. The pepper sparks my tongue. The rice a comforting chew, not the toothy crunch of brown or basmati we eat these days, but exactly that remembered texture of Uncle Ben’s White Rice from my parent’s cupboards. Mouthfuls of it warm my tongue, mouth, throat, its butter savored with every lick of my lips. A breakfast with memories of mom and rice, moments of truce between teenager and adult, sharing our snack in a small TV room, Sunridge Drive, watching Phil Donahue.