My mother and I were easy targets when we lived in Coney Island: we were *white* white, naïve outsiders relocating from the podunk state of Idaho to the only New York neighborhood my mom could afford. Mom’s journals document the many police reports she filed: the mugging; the racial slurs that turned into unconcealed threats; the midnight banging on our doors; the prank caller(s) who whispered, “You’re dead”; the day a group of young men standing in the lobby of our apartment building threw a cherry bomb into the elevator my mom and I had just entered. Assuming us Jewish, they yelled common terms of Jewish derision which need not be reprinted, seasoning their antagonism with the occasional interspersion of hateful terms for female genitalia and ‘Commie,’ ‘Rusky,’ and ‘Stupid White Bitch.’ Maybe it was merely adolescent trickery in a neighborhood where everyone had something to prove. I was too young to remember much, but I remember the fear that pitted in my stomach. I remember dodging the eggs and shaving cream bombs as they were hurled out of bus windows on Halloween; the following day, the sidewalks were caked in yellow goo, cracked shells, splotches of hardened white cream and razor blades, a sort of urban fossilization system. Mom detested Halloween.
My mother was a child in the Ukraine in WWII. The war rendered her father a casualty, killing him when mom was two. This loss defined my mother in significant ways, as did the war itself. It explained her habit of saving and reusing the most commonplace household items: string, wrapping paper, tin foil, buttons; her emphasis on squirrelling money into savings accounts at the expense of improving daily living conditions; and her manner of proclaiming everything in her life – clothes, food, furniture – as ‘the best,’ though she could have been easily contradicted, and occasionally was, by someone lacking a broader sense of empathy. Losing her father meant she held tightly and fiercely to those she loved in life. She certainly held fiercely to me.
She also held tightly to defining all that she was not. She was not a Communist (she believed more in Socialism). She was not Jewish, and she bristled when people assumed she was, as they had assumed her father was and killed him for it. I was never fully certain whether she was anti-Semitic at heart or whether her fervent denial of being Jewish was an act of self-preservation spurred by loss.
Mom’s journals testify to her abiding belief in a God who shows benevolence to those who are lost; everyday, she wore a necklace with a golden medallion of St. Christopher carrying a young child on his back. We attended various churches throughout my youth: the Greek Orthodox church where I first tasted Jordan almonds and an ambrosial mixture of nuts, spices, and apples, diced together in individually portioned sandwich bags; the Catholic church where I fumbled with the correct liturgical responses. I followed my father’s side of the family, Pastor Krey confirming me as a Lutheran at fourteen, though I have since lapsed into murkier spiritual water.
My mother and I held egg wars on Easter Sunday, abstaining from eggs during the week prior. On Easter, mom hard-boiled a dozen eggs in a large pot, allowing them to dry and cool before placing them on the table, a blank tableau. She set out crayons and markers between us. We decorated six eggs each, naming them with our wittiest egg names. Facing each other, decorated eggs in hand, we smashed their narrow ends in battle to see whose eggs proved stronger. Percy Bysshe Sheggley parried with Lord Alfred Teggnnyson; the Archangel Geggbriel defeated the Deggvil. We ate all the spoils with generous sprinklings of salt and tall glasses of milk. I see now the irreverence, but as a child I savored the tradition of egg wars on Easter.
When your right ear rings, someone speaks well of you – hold your head high. Ringing in your left ear means trash talk, so be careful. Pay attention not to get into a fight when your nose itches, a sure sign that someone wants to hit it. Never leave an orphan in the egg box: better to eat the last egg with its last remaining partner. These are the peculiar notions I use to sort through life.
Last week, my car was egged while parked at a friend’s house. Three staunch yellow rivulets, caked with shattered shell, ran down the front passenger window, freezing against the glass through the long, cold night. It took a great deal of scrubbing to remove the dried egg. I usually love eggs. I love how beautiful and orange a soft-set yolk appears in a nest of smooth, barely set white. I love how eggs rise and puff gracefully in the oven, how tenderly they are scrambled. But this instance, menacing in its unspecific origin, set too hard with me, instantly returning me to that ostracized child, walking briskly to school with her eyes cast downward and her hands fluttering nervously in her pockets. Fight or flight: the timeworn evolutionary response. But, unlike the girl thirty years ago who trembled on bird-like legs, the egg on my car made this bird want to fight.