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Breakfast is My Best Meal

I

Breakfast is my best meal, and I reckon it's always been
Ever since I was old enough to know what breakfast could mean.
I mind when we lived in the cabin out on the Illinoy,
Where father had took up a quarter-section when I was a boy,
I used to go for the cows as soon as it was light;
And when I started back home, before I come in sight,
I come in smell of the cabin, where mother was frying the ham,
And boiling the coffee, that reached through the air like a mile o' ba'm,
'N' I bet you I didn't wait to see what it was that the dog
Thought he'd got under the stump or inside o' the hollow log!
But I made the old cows canter till their hoof-joints cracked—you know
That dry, funny kind of a noise that the cows make when they go—
And I never stopped to wash when I got to the cabin door;
I pulled up my chair and e't like I never had e't before.
And mother she set there and watched me eat, and eat, and eat,
Like as if she couldn't give her old eyes enough of the treat;
And she split the shortened biscuit, and spread the butter between,
And let it lay there and melt, and soak and soak itself in;
And she piled up my plate with potato and ham and eggs,
Till I couldn't hold any more, or hardly stand on my legs;
And she filled me up with coffee that would float an iron wedge,
And never give way a mite, or spill a drop at the edge.


II

What? Well, yes, this is good coffee, too. If they don't know much,
They do know how to make coffee, I will say that for these Dutch.
But my—oh, my! It ain't the kind of coffee my mother made,
And the coffee my wife used to make would throw it clear in the shade;
And the brand of sugar-cured, canvased ham that she always used—
Well, this Westphalia stuff would simply have made her amused!
That so, heigh? I saw that you was United States as soon
As ever I heard you talk; I reckon I know the tune!
Pick it out anywhere; and you understand how I feel
About these here foreign breakfasts: breakfast is my best meal.


III

My! but my wife was a cook; and the breakfasts she used to get
The first years we was married, I can smell 'em and taste 'em yet:
Corn cake light as a feather, and buckwheat thin as lace
And crisp as cracklin'; and steak that you couldn't have the face
To compare any steak over here to; and chicken fried
Maryland style—I couldn't get through the bill if I tried.
And then, her waffles! My! She'd kind of slip in a few
Between the ham and the chicken—you know how women'll do—
For a sort of little surprise, and, if I was running light,
To take my fancy and give an edge to my appetite.
Done it all herself as long as we was poor, and I tell you
She liked to see me eat as well as mother used to do;
I reckon she went ahead of mother some, if the truth was known,
And everything she touched she give a taste of her own.


IV

She was a cook, I can tell you! And after we got ahead,
And she could 'a' had a girl to do the cookin' instead,
I had the greatest time to get Momma to leave the work;
She said it made her feel like a mis'able sneak and shirk.
She didn't want daughter, though, when we did begin to keep girls,
To come in the kitchen and cook, and smell up her clo'es and curls;
But you couldn't have stopped the child, whatever you tried to do—
I reckon the gift of the cookin' was born in Girly, too.
Cook she would from the first, and we just had to let her alone;
And after she got married, and had a house of her own,
She tried to make me feel, when I come to live with her,
Like it was my house, too; and I tell you she done it, sir!
She remembered that breakfast was my best meal, and she tried
To have all I used to have, and a good deal more beside;
Grape-fruit to begin with, or melons or peaches, at least—
Husband's business took him there, and they had went to live East—
Then a Spanish macker'l, or a soft-shell crab on toast,
Or a broiled live lobster! Well, sir, I don't want to seem to boast,
But I don't believe you could have got in the whole of New York
Any such an oyster fry or sausage of country pork.


V

Well, I don't know what-all it means; I always lived just so—
Never drinked or smoked, and yet, here about two years ago,
I begun to run down; I ain't as young as I used to be;
And the doctors all said Carlsbad, and I reckon this is me.
But it's more like some one I've dreamt of, with all three of 'em gone!
Believe in ghosts? Well, I do. I know there are ghosts. I'm one.
Maybe I mayn't look it—I was always inclined to fat;
The doctors say that's the trouble, and very likely it's that.
This is my little grandson, and this is the oldest one
Of Girly's girls; and for all that the whole of us said and done,
She must come with grandpa when the doctors sent me off here,
To see that they didn't starve him. Ain't that about so, my dear?
She can cook, I tell you; and when we get home again
We're goin' to have something to eat; I'm just a-livin' till then.
But when I set here of a morning, and think of them that's gone—
Mother and Momma and Girly—well, I wouldn't like to let on
Before the children, but I can almost seem to see
All of 'em lookin' down, like as if they pitied me,
After the breakfasts they give me, to have me have to put up
With nothing but bread and butter, and a little mis'able cup
Of this here weak-kneed coffee! I can't tell how you feel,
But it fairly makes me sick! Breakfast is my best meal.

William Dean Howells