Peanut Butter and Jelly

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She always made me a PBJ as soon as we got to work. Eat it slow, she’d tell me, that’s all you get until lunch. Then she’d sit me on a stool in the corner of the kitchen, and I’d watch her cook.

No one else came to the kitchen as early as she did. She’d be there before the sun was up, chopping onions, frying bacon, whisking eggs. I remember watching her whip together a batter for pancakes for fifty people in a few minutes, her face flushed pink from the heat of the stoves, her eyes on the ingredients, her mind somewhere else entirely. She never measured her flour. I remember that too. She always seemed to know exactly how much to add. I never saw her work from a recipe, or a cookbook. She always just seemed to—know. Whether it was soup or a roast, a casserole or something else, she always knew exactly what it needed.

I’d sit and watch her, nibbling on my sandwich and waiting for the other cooks, the waiters and busboys and dishwashers to arrive. They’d come in slowly, some late, some early. None of them worked as hard as my mother. She was barely allowed to cook by now; she’d spent ten years washing dishes here. None of them were as determined to keep this job as she was.

I loved watching her cook. The others didn’t notice her very much, I think. She was so quiet. Not even the head chef seemed to realize she was in the back half the time. Maybe they were just so used to her that they didn’t see her anymore. But I did. I always saw her. To me, she was beautiful.

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