Morning Oats

A small connection that feeds the soul

By Claudia Watson

It’s an icebound January, and as the morning light leaks through the shutters, I dig in under the down comforter for a few more minutes of warmth as my dog Tilly jumps up for her tummy rub. The thought of breakfast offers motivation to greet the spun-gold dawn.

Tilly’s at the kitchen door watching as the deer meander down the still dark tree line, and in a flash she’s out the door to give them chase. Minutes later, a robust call of “Let’s eat!” and she’s back, tail wagging and at her bowl, while I start the kettle and find the oatmeal pot.

As I warm the water, I can still hear his voice, “Did you put a pinch of salt in the water?”

“No,” I say out loud, barely awake and staring into the pot. “That’s an old wives’ tale. It doesn’t make the water boil any faster.”

“No, babe, but it makes it taste better, and that’s why it’s on the recipe,” the voice insists. I add the pinch of salt to end the too-early tutoring moment.

“A recipe, really?” I playfully ask.

This instruction is from a man. Say no more — and a man who never read a recipe in his life but went on a health kick and became the connoisseur of oatmeal. I add some milk to the heated water and hurriedly dump in the oats.

“Hey, let me take over before you mess it up,” he says, gentling nudging me from the stovetop. “I brought the paper in, so go read. I’ll bring breakfast to you.”

He monitors that darn pot of simmering oats, adjusting the heat and adding a bit more milk or water, as needed. Then, he chops half a ripe banana and sets it aside along with a handful of chopped walnuts. The other portion of banana gets a healthy dollop of peanut butter (a la Elvis) that he happily shares with Tilly. Once they are done, the reserved chopped plain banana and walnuts are added to the creamy oatmeal and gently stirred in.

The first few times he made it I was opposed to the banana flavor, let alone the nuts. As an oatmeal purist, a sprinkle of cinnamon and a drizzle of maple syrup was enough for me, but never a banana! In time, though, I began to enjoy his oats as much as the ritual — it was a simple pleasure of life.

One winter’s day he made his regular weekly trip to pick up goods for a local restaurant and stopped at the historic Old Guilford Mill to get stone-ground grits, a staple of any true Southern breakfast —  unless, of course, you eat oatmeal.

When he returned home and unpacked our supply of grits and flour from the brown paper bag, he held out a bundle wrapped in newspaper. “Here, I got this for you,” he said with a sweet smile.

I carefully unwrapped it to find a hand-turned footed earthenware bowl with the top half glazed in sapphire blue.

“I thought it would be good for your morning oats and it’s a nice blue. You love blue,” he grinned. “I asked the store manager for another, but there was only one left.”

“It’s beautiful, thanks,” I said as I ran my fingers around the bowl’s rustic surface, admiring it and putting it in the dish cupboard.

The next morning he made his banana-infused oatmeal, but this time he made me laugh as he arrived tableside with a kitchen towel draped over his arm, presenting the steaming bowl of oats in the new bowl with a waiter’s grand flourish and followed by the neatly folded newspaper placed just so on the table.

As we finished breakfast, to my annoyance, he started rumbling around in the cupboard. “Hope you don’t mind, but I’m making a spot in here for this bowl,” he said, placing it on a shelf by itself. “Take care of this, babe. Wash it by hand and don’t let anyone else use it. It’s just for you.”

“Will do, babe,” I said, giving him a quick kiss and dashing off for my morning walk with a happy heart.

This morning, my spoon scrapes the last of the oatmeal that clings to ridges of the blue bowl. The sound seems oddly loud and unfamiliar, making me look up to see the sunrise as Tilly rests in her bed by the door. Then I remember the long-ago winter mornings when he asked, “Did you put a pinch of salt in the water?” and Tilly waited for her slab of banana a la Elvis, a small connection that feeds my heart today.  PS

Claudia Watson is a longtime contributor to PineStraw and The Pilot who finds the joy in each day.

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