I awoke to rustling covers. Ara climbed out of bed, her feet trodding noisily on the floor. She yawned emphatically, emphasizing the sound effects. Romaine never stirred from her bed.
“Good morning,” Ara greeted cheerily. “It’s Saturday.”
I nodded, rubbing my eyes. Almost as soon as I sat up, I considered lowering myself back into bed. Apparently, this was not the reaction Ara was looking for.
“Don’t you know what Saturday is?” She asked, her eyes widening and foot tapping like I was delaying her.
“The weekend?” I guessed.
Ara shook her head, chuckling. She waited, expecting me to guess again, but I wasn’t quite awake enough. When the anticipation grew too large, she announced it herself.
“Pancake Day,” Ara beamed.
“Every Saturday. Don’t you have Pancake Day every Saturday? Gosh, I thought everyone had Pancake Day on Saturday.”
I shook my head.
Romaine stirred in the bed next to mine. She kicked the covers away and rolled over.
“Maybe we should wake her up,” Ara whispered. “I can already smell them, and Romaine hates them cold.”
I realized she was talking about pancakes and immediately noticed their aroma, lofting up from downstairs like an alarm clock. Ara tiptoed to where Romaine slept. She shook her shoulder.
“Romaine, Romaine,” she called.
Romaine’s eyes slowly peeled apart.
“What?” She asked crankily; her voice had the rasp of the freshly awoken. She tugged at the covers Ara sat on.
“It’s Emma’s first Pancake Day. Isn’t it funny she’s never had Pancake Day?”
Romaine turned to see me standing across from her. Never forgetting her manners, the dourness of her mood lifted.
She bounded out of bed and started for the door.
“Should we change?” I asked, lagging behind. Mom didn’t serve me breakfast until I was dressed.
“We always have pancakes in our pajamas,” Ara informed me. “That way, syrup doesn’t get on our day clothes.”
Romaine was already halfway down the stairs by the time Ara and I were out the bedroom door. When we arrived downstairs, Romaine sat at the table, her napkin in her lap, as Lynnie scooped pancakes onto her plate and asked how she had slept.
“Good morning, Emma. Did you get a good night’s sleep? I hope the girls didn’t keep you up,” Lynnie teased from the table.
“I slept great,” I said as I slid into my seat.
Lynnie placed Romaine’s plate in front of her. She eyed her pancake greedily, her fingers reaching for her knife and fork.
“It would be nice if you waited until everyone had their plates.”
Romaine poured syrup over her pancakes, but left her knife and fork untouched.
Ara and I sat ourselves on either side of Romaine, and Lynnie lifted Boo into his chair at the end of the table. He was too big for a high chair, but too small to reach the table, so he used a booster seat. We waited until everyone had been served and seated, unable to sit still, before digging in.
As Dave sat down last, Lynnie passed him a handful of pills, plain and white, which he bravely downed with water, eyes pressed together as he swallowed. Lynnie did the same, and they both began eating. Romaine, Ara, and Boo never looked up from their plates; one never notices normalcy. At our house, my parents took vitamins, small and brightly colored, maybe one pill, but mainly over-the-counter, chewy squares to regulate vitamin C, calcium, whatever. I was terrified of large pills; I imagined them getting stuck in my throat.
Once breakfast finished, during which we covered a variety of topics from children’s books to square roots to different types of trees, we deposited our plates into the sink, and Lynnie announced that we—Lynnie, Romaine, Ara, Boo, and I—would be going to the Farmers’ Market. Ara whooped, Romaine clapped, Boo bounced up and down; I had never been to a Farmers’ Market and wasn’t really sure what that was.
We piled into the car mid-morning, a little more than an hour and a half before my parents were expected to retrieve me. Romaine was allowed to sit up front, usually the perch of one of her parents, since there wasn’t any room in the backseat. Ara had taken the middle, since she was the smallest, aside from Boo, who had been strapped in his bulky car seat behind Lynnie. His little blond bowl cut bobbed up and down in his excitement.
The Farmers’ Market was a couple towns over, taking over the walking path along the river. It took nearly a half hour to get there, which is probably why Mom and I had never gone, but it was all fresh, organic, and largely vegan, which appealed greatly to the Enson-Morton clan. Ara and I played rock-paper-scissors in the backseat, Romaine swiveling around to partake until her sides hurt.
Lynnie parked about a block from the market and we shuffled out of the car. She let Boo walk himself, since he was actually wearing shoes for the outing, and held his hand as he toddled about. When we reached the street, Ara took Boo’s other hand, Romaine took Lynnie’s, I took Romaine’s and we crossed as if we were all her children. I wouldn’t have blamed the second-grade mothers for thinking she was the nanny: she didn’t look a day over twenty—hardly old enough to be leading four children, let alone her own, across the street.
When we reached the end of the crosswalk, just in front of the berry stand, Lynnie released our hands. Boo wobbled forward and Ara chased him, the two of them running about in zigzags and circles while Romaine and I stayed close to Lynnie. Romaine and I had a lively discussion about being beekeepers later in life—I would catch the bees, she would extract the honey—prompted by the large containers of organic honey prominently displayed at a nearby stand. Lynnie went around the market, collecting produce: berries here, apples there, asking our opinions and never minding whatever else we did while she took care of the shopping, provided we didn’t stray far. We were well behaved enough.
Romaine and I meandered as Lynnie did, continuing with our beekeeper fantasy, then on to a peach farm business, dreaming of going apple picking sometime. We decided that we had to go apple picking sometime, probably in fall, when the apple season was at its height. About three-quarters of the way down the boardwalk, Ara and Boo became antsy. They waited, slightly ahead of us, fidgeting, not playing, eager to press further on. We were too slow for them. Then, Romaine started to pay more attention to what her siblings were doing than to Lynnie and me.
“Just one more minute, Roma,” Lynnie said as she stopped at a stand selling nectarine jam– no preservatives added. She held up her index finger to Ara and Boo, who looked as if they could hardly wait any longer for whatever it was. Their anticipation was infectious.
Lynnie made her transaction quickly, carefully tucking the jam in the tote she had brought along as a grocery bag.
“Alright,” she said and nodded.
Ara skipped forward, Boo struggling to keep up.
“Come on,” Romaine said, taking my hand. We skipped behind Ara, bypassing Boo, and followed her to the end of the path. She paused at a vegetable stand. Lynnie caught up with us, holding Boo’s hand.
We entered the tent enclosing the stand. Arranged along the perimeter and in a table in the center were all types of vegetables: squash, zucchini, carrots, herbs I couldn’t identify. The Enson-Mortons paid little heed to the center table or the vegetables resting along the sides of the tent: they headed straight to the back, where the little old cash register sat, supervised by a kindly woman in her late fifties.
“Hello Romaine, Arugula, Butter,” she said, brushing a strand of curly gray hair out of her face.
“Hi Elaine,” they responded, Boo clipping off the starting vowel of her name.
“And who’s this?” she asked, gesturing toward me.
“That’s my friend, Emma.” Romaine piped up. “We have to find something for her.”
I finally looked at what the boxes in front of the register contained; the whole back wall was filled with lettuce: all different types, shapes, shades of green, and even colors. Ara ran to the far end, taking a thin plastic bag and stuffing it with the slim, leafy greens I recognized as the ones my mother used for extra flavor and kick in salads. Romaine’s namesake was just in front of the cash register as it was the most popular, the universally liked, the staple of most salads. Butter lettuce was next to the romaine, as it was another popular lettuce, with more decorative use than most others. It looked like a rose– but only the beautiful part, without the thorny stem. Romaine and Boo placed a substantial amount of lettuce in their baggies, Boo aided by Lynnie, since he couldn’t quite reach and tended to miss the bag. When Romaine finished, she walked up and down the row.
She stopped at the box next to the arugula and motioned for me to join her.
The lettuce was green and red-tipped, a little darker than my auburn hair. It was a mixture of color, different from the others.
“We can call this ‘Emma lettuce,’” Romaine suggested.
She handed me a small plastic bag like the ones she and her siblings had used, and I began to fill it, puzzling over nearly each piece, the pattern of the red and green, the curvature of the leaf, seeing if it were really “Emma lettuce.”
For years after that, I called it Emma lettuce: at home with my mother, at the supermarket, at the Farmers’ Markets I began to frequent later on, hoping every time that I’d serendipitously run into the Enson-Mortons. And each time I requested Emma lettuce, people would look at me quizzically, ask what I meant, until I pointed and they sighed.
“Oh, you mean red leaf?”
I could never bring myself to remember its real name.