I know I've said this before, but there are very few people in the world I love more than my grandfather. He's 88, and he's old. I ought to know: he never stops reminding me, and everyone else, of it. Born in Blaine, Arkansas in 1922, he's the oldest of eight children and they were a poor family. Like barefoot-in-and-living-in-a-one-room-cabin poor. He recently told me they ate a lot of meat growing up, then proceeded to regale me with tales (again) about hunting possums and squirrels, even a hedgehog once (he admitted they might not have eaten that).
Above all, though, my grandpa is a man of simple tastes. I only point these things out because they provide important context for the story I'm about to tell.
On Sunday, we went to the local casino to play bingo. It's one of my grandpa's favorite pastimes, and I try to take him whenever I'm able to. It was a fun group: me, my uncle, my aunt, my grandma, and my grandpa. With daubers in hand, we sat down with a mind to make that bingo parlor our bitch.
(And indeed, we did. I bingoed twice, back-to-back, winning a total of $600, and my grandma bingoed a couple of games later and won $500).
As family tradition dictates, the winner must buy the losers dinner. Since I had pocketed the most, I said I'd pay. We sat down and my grandpa, who is not a great eater on his best days, looked at the menu and said "I think I'll have Belgian waffle." Breakfast for dinner? Awesome.
It came time to order and my grandpa said what he wanted. The waiter said "I'm sorry sir, we don't have waffles." Apparently, the casino restaurant stops serving breakfast at 11am. Disappointed, my grandpa quickly looked at the menu again while the rest of us ordered. When it came his turn, he ordered the salmon. My grandma raised an eyebrow.
"Soup or salad, sir?" the waiter asked.
"Salad," said my grandpa.
"What kind of dressing?"
"What kind do you have?"
The waiter listed the options and my grandpa chose bleu cheese. My grandma raised another eyebrow.
While we waited for our dinner to come, I played keno and mention was made of how surprising grandpa's choice of entree was. I figured he just had a hankering for some fish. What did I know? My grandma, now with both eyebrows pointing toward the heavens, just sat and shook her head (they've been married 65 years; she might know a thing or two about him).
The salad came and my grandpa began eating it. At some point he asked "Why'd they call it blue?" and my uncle replied "It has little blue specks in it sometimes." This seemed to satisfy my grandpa and he finished the salad without incident.
When our entrees came, the waiter placed my grandpa's salmon in front of him. My grandpa said "Why'd he bring this?"
That's when the trouble began.
Grandma: "That's what you ordered, honey."
Grandma (to me): "Ew. I can smell that fish from over here." (she's notorious for her dislike of seafood).
Grandpa: Silently cuts up his salmon
As more conversation about the salmon followed, my grandpa reached for the salt shaker and began sprinkling it all over his fish.
"Dad!" my uncle said. "You're not allowed to have any salt."
"Salt is good for you," grandpa replied.
"That's one thing the doctor said, you can't have any salt."
My grandpa returned to silence as the rest of us began eating our own meals. A few moments later, he placed his fork over his fish and pushed the plate away from him.
"Father," grandma said. "Aren't you going to eat that?"
"I'm not hungry."
"Well you ordered it, you have to eat it."
"It's okay," I said. "He doesn't have to eat it if he doesn't want to."
Meanwhile, my grandpa began tearing the lids off of the thimble-sized containers of half & half and drinking them.
"Grandpa," I said, "Do you want me to buy you a glass of milk?"
"No, these are good," he said.
Now I have to stop here and mention that normally, this sort of wanton display would have mortified me. And yet, as the waiter approached us, watching with horror as my grandpa sucked down the mini-containers of cream, I felt totally okay with the situation. This, I think, is what parents must feel when their children act out or do otherwise embarrassing things. You love them, and you just deal with it.
I addressed the table. "I kind of feel like somehow, this train has run off the tracks."
The waiter looked at me, then at the salmon, apologetically. "You want me to take this?" he motioned. I nodded. Before he left the table, my aunt spoke to my grandpa.
"Daddy, do you want some apple pie with ice cream?"
"Sure," grandpa said.
"Will you eat it?"
"Yeah, I'll eat as much as I want of it."
This could have meant one bite or the entire plate. I decided to take the chance.
Me (to the waiter): "Do you have apple pie?"
Waiter: "We sure do."
Me: "Bring him some apple pie and ice cream, please."
Waiter (taking the salmon away): "I'll take this off the check for you."
Me: "Oh, and can I have another glass of wine?"
My grandpa did, in fact, eat every bite of his apple pie and ice cream. At one point he did begin eating it with his fingers and my aunt said "Daddy, use your fork." Having had enough I said "Really, who cares how he eats it?" And my grandpa piped up and said "Fingers were the first utensils!"