Yesterday I was eating my favorite breakfast of scrambled eggs, exactly the way my father had taught me to make them when I was just a kid: not overcooked nor dry but very moist and flavorful. I remember going to a restaurant shortly after that, and when I ordered scrambled eggs, the waitress said, “How would you like them, young man?” I thought a second and exclaimed, “Wet!”
My dad smiled at me, and after she’d left, he said, “I think the best word for how you like them, Elliot, is ‘soft’.” Yep, leave it to my dad to have the perfect word for every occasion, and at that early point in my life, it did not occur to me that he knew no English at all when he arrived from Hungary at my then age of eleven.
That memory came back vividly when I was eating those eggs a day ago, and then right on its heels (let’s pretend that memories can have heels) came a memory from 1964, when I turned sixteen. Yes, my getting a driver’s license was a big deal, but there was an even Bigger Deal that year: The Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Never had there been a more glaring conjunction of The Cool with the Uncool. Here were the Beatles, the coolest of Cool lads on our planet, being introduced by awkward and white-bread bland Mr. Sullivan, who seemed thrilled to have them on his show but as flummoxed as most other adults were by their delirium-invoking popularity with teenagers.
There was the same disconnection in my family as we watched his show that February night. My sister and I loved their long-haired looks, their clothes, their music, their lyrics. My dad was grumbling about “those four meshuggenahs” (if you don’t know that Yiddish word by now, I’m not translating it again, folks). Dad hated their gyrations, their accents, their grins, and the eardrum-splitting screams they evoked from all the teenaged girls.
A few years after that, when I was in college, Dad was talking with his oldest brother (my Uncle Al, the sweetest man I’ve ever known), complaining how the American young men were now imitating the Beatles with their long hair and shaggy mustaches that made them all look “like bums.” Uncle Al gave his youngest brother a sweet, patient smile: “But Lester — look there at the long hair and mustache on Elliot.” Dad looked at me, back to Uncle Al, and answered him in their native Hungarian, as he occasionally did when he had a wry retort: “Rajta jol nez ki”— “But on HIM, it looks good!”
That was our dad — always offering complete support of his daughter and son, even when he had to reverse all of his reasoning in order to exclude us from an otherwise blanket condemnation. Now THAT’S “unconditional love” — sorry, Lassie and Fido, not even you can compete.
And that same time period, the late 1960’s, gave me my fondest memory of Dad and the Beatles. He came home one day from work saying he’d just heard the most haunting, beautiful love ballad on the car radio sung by Frank Sinatra. When the announcer mentioned that both tune and lyrics were by Beatle Paul McCartney, Dad said he almost drove into a telephone pole from shock. The song was, of course, Yesterday, which has the most cover versions of any song in history. More than 1600 artists have recorded it!
And my dad, a harsh vocal critic of the newfangled, ugly hard rock, was open-minded and receptive enough to admit that he had been wrong about at least one Beatle. He told me that Franz Liszt himself would have been proud to have composed Yesterday. And Liszt, the greatest Hungarian composer of all time, was an artistic-god to my father. One time, Mom asked him to write down the items he wanted her to pick up for him on her grocery run, and he handed her the information, chuckling as he pointed to its heading: “Lester’s Shopping Liszt.”
For a moment, as I was writing this essay, I could not remember why my preparing dad’s scrambled eggs this Sunday reminded me of him and the Beatles. But now I do.
Dad died in the mid-1980’s while I was still in my 30’s. Shortly after his death, I read a fascinating interview of Paul McCartney where he said that he awoke one morning having composed the complete melody of what would become Yesterday during an overnight dream. He ran to his piano to save it. He hadn’t created the lyrics yet, but he knew the melody would begin with three strong somber beats, and so he entitled it “scram-bled-eggs” just until he could come up with a proper three-syllable name for his song.
How I wanted to share that delightful tidbit with Dad, who had so loved that song. But he had just died and was now gone. At that moment, I understood fully McCartney’s last line of his poignant refrain —“Now I long for yesterday.” But now I also understand that all of us, through loving memories, can relive any happy yesterday we choose and thus make our todays rich as we carry our beloveds with us into our tomorrows.
Elliot writes: I know most of you have some Beatles memories to share. I'd love to hear them. Or, of course, you could just tell me how much you enjoyed this essay. Wait — does that sound needy?
Remember to include your city, and how you know me, to jar my memory (which is sharp as a tack on events in 1964, but less so on where I left my darned glasses ten minutes ago). You can skip this step if you're my sister or my friend or have already done so.