Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Lunch at Don's

Don's Restaurant was always dark and cool and noisy. Sometimes, in the summer, my mom and sister and I would meet Grandpa at Don's for lunch. Grandpa had been retired from the coal mines for a while; so he spent his days visiting with his friends on Main Street.
Back then, Main Street had a movie theater that showed Jaws and Star Wars and Kramer vs. Kramer. It also had a Baptist church, a bank, a clothing store called Watson's, two dime stores (T,G, & Y and Newberry's), a soda fountain called Rexall's, a jewelry store called Stiles's, and, of course, the Courthouse. Grandpa and his friends gathered to talk and chew gum in front of the Courthouse. Some of them smoked cigarettes or chewed tobacco, but not Grandpa. Grandpa chewed cinnamon Dentyne and would only give me "half a cake" if I asked for a piece.
Because he never learned to drive, he took a taxi downtown every morning. When I asked my mom what Grandpa did all day downtown, she said he "loafed around." Sometimes, he took care of business at the bank. Sometimes he sat at the counter in Don's Restaurant and talked with whomever sat at the stool beside him. I wondered what they talked about.
On days we met Grandpa at Don's, he was already there, holding a table for us. It was usually a corner booth, the vinyl seat cold against the backs of my legs. Don's was so noisy, with clattering silverware and clinking ceramic plates. We could barely hear each other talk. Grandpa didn't talk much anyway.
He ordered Cokes all around, while I took my time looking over the menu. Chicken fried steak, macaroni and cheese, breakfast served all day, tuna salad... I thoroughly read the neatly typed descriptions of each entree; but I always ordered a grilled cheese sandwich with a side of steak fries. The plates were white with a green ribbon of paint circling the rim. I squirted a pool of vinegary ketchup between my fries and sandwich, scooting the pickles out of the way to save them for last. I savored the perfectly grilled sandwich, thick with melted cheese; and I ate every last one of my fat, flat fries. Grandpa cleaned his plate, too; and my sister used a waxy red crayon to trace letters on the paper kids' menu. We never said much. Mom ate her tuna salad with a fork in one hand and a Saltine cracker in the other. Her packages from Newberry's leaned against her hip on one side. Her wicker purse stood open on the seat beside her; but she didn't need to pay. Grandpa always took care of the check.
I wish we'd taken a picture there, something to look at and remember. Three generations gathered around a wobbly Formica table in a dimly-lit diner, Grandpa wiped the corners of his mouth with his paper napkin, mom asked about his day, my sister sat on her knees, and I made a face when I bit into a sour pickle.
My Grandpa died when I was in my early 20s. By that time, Don's Restaurant had been closed for years. Most of downtown died store by store before Grandpa passed away; but he still took a cab downtown everyday as long as he was able.
I wish I had a picture to remember us at Don's Restaurant just exactly like it was, just exactly as we were...a moment in time that seemed so ordinary then and so memorable today.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

What If

My head felt empty. For several hours yesterday, I had forced every question right out of it. I, who love knowing things, mentally took each "what if" captive and wrestled it somewhere below my brain stem. I could not afford to stop and think. I had to act and act fast.
We thought it was food poisoning...when my 17-year-old began to feel ill Sunday night. He and his dad and grandmother had been to a soccer tournament in Indianapolis. Prior to his game, they ate a mother's day brunch at a local restaurant. Jack had sausage gravy and biscuits.
When he got home, he said, "I don't feel so good."
"It must be the brunch," he said. "My stomach hurts. I took some Rolaids; but it didn't help."
By 9:00 PM, he was sitting on the floor, hunched over the toilet in his downstairs bathroom.
"Where does your stomach hurt?" I asked. He said it hurt right in the middle, around his navel.
He couldn't stop throwing up. I sat up with him all night. He would doze for an hour and then be up again, nauseated, vomiting. I kept checking his temp...not high at all; but he felt clammy.
The next morning, I went to work for half a day. The vomiting had slowed down; and he was sleeping. My mother-in-law said she would stay with him.
It was our first day of state assessment. I decided to administer the test and then leave my students with a sub for the afternoon. I could barely concentrate, handing out test booklets, reading the instructions, sharpening pencils, monitoring students. When my sub arrived, I hit the door running. Something nagged at the back of my mind. "What if..." I shut it down. The appointment with our family physician was at 1:00. I made my way across town. My son, still nauseated, sat in the passenger seat, a plastic garbage can between his knees.
The doctor also suspected food poisoning. He ordered a shot to help with the nausea. He pressed Jack's stomach. He didn't like Jack's reaction.
"I think we should do a CT scan," he said.
Insurance didn't agree.
I said, "Do it anyway." The what ifs were scratching at my brain, clawing their way in.
Jack drank the contrast; and we waited. The radiology tech performed the scan.
"Do you live near the hospital?" she asked.
The what ifs were screaming in my ears.
I did not need the tech to explain. I knew she could tell me very little until the doctor read the scan. I made eye contact with her. She held out a piece of paper and asked me to write my cell phone number down...again.
Jack and I got into the car.
"Where are we going?" he asked.
"To the hospital," I said.
"But the doctor hasn't called yet," he said.
"Just to be safe," I said. The what ifs were so loud, my voice sounded muffled in my own ears.
The doctor called as I was pulling into the hospital parking lot.
"It's a hot appendix," he said. "They're waiting for him in surgery."
The what ifs drowned out the directions the registrar gave me.
"Can you just walk us there?" I asked. I must have looked desperate. I could see her mouth moving, telling me how to get around the hospital; but I could not understand.
She walked us to surgery.
Hours and prayers later, we are home again...just released from the hospital. The emergency appendectomy was a success. The surgeon removed Jack's appendix before it ruptured. Jack feels so much better. He says he feels like he could take off running...
"Not for three weeks," the doctor says.
I thank God for the power of prayer and the power to stifle those crippling what ifs. I thank God my son is okay.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Snow Cones

Everyone gets one snow cone.
They choose the flavor.
We pay.
"Don't we get to play?"
Michael asks.
He has a football
tucked under his arm.
"Just snow cones today,"
I say.
He grumbles
under his breath.
He forgets
that I have teacher ears.
"Be grateful,"
I remind him.
My eyebrows
make an exclamation point.
My face is
an emoji with gritted teeth.
I'm tired.
It's been a long week.
110 seventh graders
make a loud, crooked line.
The snow cone truck
is parked behind the football field.
Two college students
scoop the ice.
"No seconds," I say.
Funds are limited.
The girls order mango.
The boys, blueberry.
One girl orders lemon.
"I thought it would be yellow,"
she complains.
It's clear instead.
And sour.
Someone nudges Luke's elbow.
His cherry snow cone stains the grass.
My face
is an emoji
with a sideways frown.
Luke twists his mouth,
His elbows bow out,
He holds his empty spoon
in one hand.
His empty cone
in the other.
He glances at me
over the top of his thick glasses.
A heavy sigh
freezes in the roof of my mouth.
"Get back in line,"
I say.
I motion to him.
I nod encouragingly.
My face
is a smiling emoji
with red cheeks.
I remember.
Today is supposed to be fun.
"Add one more to the purchase order," I say.
Funds aren't that limited.