Simple steamed eggs… and a chat with Percy Baines

The troublesome Percy Baines


Margaret Coombs

Margaret Coombs

Margaret writes:

I was interested to read that piece about that mind-reader you met, and it set me to thinking about old Percy Baines, who was the opposite. He was so opposite to a mind-reader you could tell him what you were thinking and he wouldn’t know what you were thinking. This was mostly because his head was always wrapped around what he was going to say next that had nothing to do whatsoever with what you were thinking. Percy claimed he was a half-cousin of ours, which might’ve been, the way people have lived and misbehaved around here over all these generations, but Henry and I never pursued it, and maybe you’ll see why.

We were up to pay a short visit to Thelma Rall, who was Percy’s next door neighbor, and when Henry and I got there her house was wide open but her car was gone. Percy poked his head over the bushes, and I called out to him. “Hello, Percy! You didn’t happen to see Thelma leave, did you?”

“She left yesterday.”

“Yesterday! But the house is wide open.”

“She left yesterday, then came back with groceries.” Now he was headed over to us and I could see we were going to be in for it. “And she left today, too, but isn’t back yet, ‘sfar as I can see.”

“You could’ve said that to start with.”

“For the moment, I remember yesterday better than today. But it’s coming back to me now because I remember coming downstairs and didn’t trip till I hit the braided rug near the front door that the the cat had roughed up overnight, and finding my way to the coffee pot, which is one of those stovetop stainless steel percolators that’s perfect on a gas stove when the power goes out, like last winter when it hit for four days or more, I forget, and I always thank myself for buying that pot –”

Percy's cat and the rumpled braided rug he tripped on.

Percy’s cat and the rumpled braided rug he tripped on at the bottom of the stairs.








Percy's stainless steel stovetop percolator

Percy’s stainless steel stovetop percolator, perfect for power outages.

Henry chimed in, “You two catch up, I’ll go into town to the hardware store to get the chain oil.” So, he was off, and Percy never missed a beat.

” — yard sale, over to Searsport, don’t know why I was there in Searsport except maybe to head over to Thorndike to see a man about some chickens he wanted to sell, that musta been it, yes, it was that chicken trip, and we ended up talking for some time and it turned out he was a Democrat and was considering a move to our area for one reason or another and I told him there was a time in my life our town had but one Democrat out of some three hundred voters, and we knew who it was – a fine fellow named Jeffrey, liked by all, volunteered at the library and the ambulance – but one year he died and that November we had an election of one kind or another and it turns out there were two ballots all chock full of Democratic votes. I had to make a joke, “Looks like old Jeffrey voted absentee… twice.” We still didn’t know who it was, but in time it didn’t matter because change was coming and Democrats moved in, one after another, just like summer complaint along the coast, and so I told the fellow, the fellow with the chickens, well, you’d be welcome of course, but still outnumbered. I didn’t buy his chickens, but we had a good chat, for the most part.”

“Percy, you see how long ago Thelma left? We’re here to pay a visit.”

“Well, she left about the same time the Sewall’s terrier set up to barkin’ its fool head off over God knows what, but I can’t tell you when that was. Now that little yippy dog…”

Well, you can see what I was up against. Soon enough, he’d lapsed from the yippy terrier to his drive back from Thorndike and passing by a pig farmer. “… and this fellow had his pigs and the pigpen close to the road, with a big apple tree hovering over it, and he had a pig in his arms holding it up to one of the branches laden thick with apples so the pig could eat them, and I was fascinated enough by the sight to stop and get his attention and called out, ‘Hey mister. Why you doing that? Isn’t that a waste of time?’

“‘Time?’ he called back. ‘What’s time to a pig!?’

“Well, I guess he had a point but I still don’t see it, not fully. People around here sometimes say things that can chew at your mind for days, and you never quite get the full sense of it. But now here comes Thelma back, that’s her car, so none of this mounts up to a hill of beans.”

All this time, Percy had been holding a little plastic bag in his hand, empty. He’d been clutching it so his knuckles almost turned white. It was a zip-loc type bag. “What’s the bag for, Percy? You’re hangin’ onto it like grim death.”

He looked at me, then at the bag, and stood stock still, finally speechless. It just wouldn’t come to him – he gave me a big shrug that said he didn’t know, and started to turn away as Thelma drove in her driveway. I called out, “Well, you be good now.”

“Too late for that,” he said with a wave behind his back.

Percy’s still with us, a little more dottery every week that passes, but last I heard he still manages okay by himself.

But even at his sharpest, he was the worst mind-reader I’ll ever know.


Margaret’s steamed eggs

You’d be surprised how many people don’t know this way to cook eggs. They either fry or scramble or poach them or maybe bake them if they’re feeling adventuresome, but if you tell people about steaming them in milk there’s no telling how they’ll react.

These are store-bought eggs, sadly, and not as fresh as I’d like. Our usual fresh egg source wasn’t plowed out at the time I wanted to cook them and photograph them, so I got them at the store and of course they appear a bit wimpy, with spread-out whites.

It’s real simple:

Start with eggs in a hot teflon pan...

Start with eggs in a hot teflon pan…

I throw in a pat of butter, but you can use oil. Fry them over medium low until the whites are about half finished.

... add some milk...

… add some milk…

You only need about a quarter cup – you don’t want to drown them! The milk actually adds some richness of flavor to the eggs.


... cover loosely...

… cover loosely…

When the milk bubbles up, throw on a loose cover of some sort, and keep your eye on the clock. It only takes a minute or two over medium low heat.

... the milk steams the eggs! No flipping!

… the milk steams the eggs! No flipping!

I throw on some cayenne pepper, because Henry likes it too. See the nice milky coating on the top of the egg? Delicious!

That’s all I’ve got for now, except to add we had a very short visit with Thelma Rall that day because her niece called about to have a baby and Thelma was the appointed house-sitter.


There it is. I’d love to write about mud-time but I don’t expect to see it till June, with luck. – NW






Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.