Whenever there are cars in the driveway across the way here on Main Street, more than one car, I start to get worried. Mrs. Smith hasn’t been feeling well, not so surprising at her age, and she keeps quiet over there. She stays home most of the time, venturing out to go to the doctor and also to get her treatments. I see her son’s truck every night around five, when he pulls in for a visit on his way home from work. But last week there were two cars, then three. Then four. Where I come from that means something’s wrong.

Mrs. Smith answered the phone at the same time as her daughter when I called to check in, so it was a relief that she could pick up the line. Daughter went quiet and let her mother handle her own phone call, which I later understood to be an act of daughterly restraint, when I learned how sick she was. Mrs. Smith’s voice was thin and sweet, breathy, not sure what on earth has gotten into me, she said. I asked if she was in pain. No, no pain, just needing to rest, she said.

When I dropped off banana bread a few hours later, one of the pretty red-headed Smith daughters answered the door. That I’m not sure of her name is one of those things I can’t stand about myself. Mom is sleeping, she said, and has gotten down with something in her chest.

The next day the car situation hadn’t let up, and I needed to head down state. Here I had a whole mother lode of deviled eggs, pretty ones that I’d pickled with a beet the same way we handle our Lebanese turnips. That pink catches my eye and I’ve been admiring the pink eggs in a big jar on the counter at Goodrich’s forever, thinking how nice they’d be for deviled eggs. How nice at Easter.

I pulled out a paper plate to deliver the eggs across the street. It was around noon and Mrs. Smith could have them for lunch with her daughters. The plate seemed awfully…plain…and I discovered in the cabinet next to the plates a packet of paper doilies. Mom must keep them there for just such an occasion, I realized, since I had never put them up there myself. I noticed in that moment how much I love paper lace, that it speaks a certain kind of TLC-language of the plate. That’s a language in which Mrs. Smith is fluent.

When I first came back to Harbor Springs to stay a couple of years ago, I thought a lot about the good people of Main Street who had influenced my whole family, especially the Smiths. I wrote something of it in an essay for our town paper, the Harbor Light. I’m not sure how it is that I got to grow up on both Wagon Wheel Lane and Main Street with the kinds of neighbors that change your life, but I did:

On more than one occasion we arrived from downstate to find a beautiful apple pie, warm and fragrant, on our kitchen counter from Eris Smith. Mr. and Mrs. Smith, our neighbors on the other side across Ingalls Street, and their many children have meant a great deal to the Aboods. Their roots in this town match those of the massive maple trees in their yard, deep and sturdy. Their men march in the town parades as veterans; they meet life’s challenges, of which they have experienced many, like those maples as well: with great strength and fortitude. Mr. Smith used to watch us coming and going from his own porch, always telling us to drive safely back down to Chicago or wherever one might be headed, and to come back soon. I remember when they lost a son, a young man, years ago and my parents referenced the Smith family in instructing ours, as one we should emulate for their resilience in the face of adversity. We have found ample opportunities to make use of this instruction.

So when John Smith called knowing I’m still downstate and wondering could they park in the drive?, I suspected things had taken a turn. Sure have, he said, doctors were surprised she made it through last night.

What stunned me about the call was in the telling. John had that same ultra-pleasant tone of voice as his mother, perhaps one of the great treasures she passed on to her children. It’s a voice of friendly calm, one Mrs. Smith shouted out to me from her door whenever I came up the walk: Hello Pumpkin! And when she saw a plate or a bowlful in my hands, Aren’t you the workingest girl?!

It’s a voice of genuine everything-is-gonna-be-ok, even when there’s trouble. A voice that has more concern for its receiver than itself. A voice that makes you want to try awfully hard to keep up with the neighbors.

Pink Deviled Eggs with Yogurt and Mint
Here are some tips for boiling and peeling the eggs. It will be much easier to peel the eggs if they are a couple of weeks old. Use regular yogurt or thickened labne with the yolks; both impart delicious tang and flavor.

8 large eggs (2-3 weeks old)
1 teaspoon baking soda

For lightly pickling:
1 cup white vinegar
2 whole cloves
½ cup water
½ beet, trimmed and diced (1-inch)

For stuffing:
8 hard-boiled egg yolks
3 tablespoons laban, plain yogurt
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
½ teaspoon yellow mustard
¼ teaspoon salt

5 fresh mint leaves

In a large saucepan, cover the eggs with cool water by 1 inch and add the baking soda. Bring to a boil, then remove the pan from the heat. Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and let the eggs sit, off the heat, for 16 minutes.

Run cool water over the eggs until they cool substantially. Either shake the pan now to crack the egg shells, or take each egg out individually and crack both ends, then gently roll the egg on the counter under the palm of your hand. Peel the eggs under cool running water, starting at the large end of the egg to get under the membrane.

To lightly pickle the eggs, place the eggs in a bowl or jar with the beets. Combine the vinegar, cloves, and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Pour the vinegar mixture over the eggs and beets, and let the eggs sit for about 2 hours for a light pink color that only penetrates the edges of the eggs.

To stuff the eggs, slice them in half with a sharp knife and remove the yolks. In a small bowl, mash the yolks thoroughly with a fork, breaking up as many lumps as possible. Stir in the yogurt, mayonnaise, mustard and stir thoroughly. Taste and season with salt, adding more yogurt or mayonnaise to make the filling loose enough to dollop and thick enough to hold its shape.

Fill each of the egg white halves with the yolk mixture. To chop the mint, stack the leaves and roll them up crosswise, then slice thinly crosswise (this is chiffonade-style). Sprinkle the mint over the eggs and serve, or cover and chill until serving. Makes 16 deviled eggs.

Print this recipe here.

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