French toast always reminds me of one of my grandfathers.
I don’t see him often anymore.
It’s a complicated story of my feelings, but the biggest chunk is we found out he had many affairs while married to my grandmother (and, as I understand it, ordained to perform marriages, and the spiritual leader of a large family), and so much of the family felt lied to and betrayed.
I was 10 at the time it all came out. I remember he wasn’t invited to my aunt’s wedding, which was at our house; I think it was because otherwise she’d been planning to elope.
I don’t see my grandfather much any more. For a while, my family wondered if it would be sinful to spend holidays with a Christian who had acted so blatantly unchristian, and hearing those discussions heightened my sense of betrayal (although eventually they decided it was fine to be around him, I’m not sure if there was a biblical reason I just know we were around him more at some point).
I’m still a little uncomfortable around him, maybe more from feeling like a stranger to him than anything.
But I still think about him every time I make french toast. I used to help him make it when I was young, on weekends at their house. I’d stand on a chair by the stove and we’d mix together milk, eggs, cinnamon, and our secret ingredient.
He’d swear me to secrecy on the secret ingredient – I would giggle and promise not to tell – and then I’d help dip the bread into the eggy mixture, and we’d cook up a large batch of french toast, to be eaten with butter and maple syrup.
He was stern but also a lot of fun at times.
He used to magically pull peppermints out of our ears, it was always a highlight of a trip to my grandparent’s house.
I had that complicated feeling of being frightened of him and liking him at the same time. I would never want to misbehave around him.
Later, I would discover that many people knew the secret ingredient to perfect french toast, that peppermints didn’t magically grow in my ears, and that my holiness-demanding grandfather fell far short of holiness himself.
Still later, I would realize that, as Sirius Black says in Harry Potter, “The world isn’t divided into good people and Death Eaters.”
The anger and disappointment of the ten year old girl doesn’t vanish, but it’s softened by the happy memories from younger days, and the understanding that people aren’t all good or bad.
And french toast is still one of my favorite breakfast foods ever.