Mother is eighty-something years old and enjoys the health and enthusiasm of a ten-year-old, with a few added quirks. Let me preface this by assuring you, I don’t mean her mind is going. She hasn’t changed in all the years I’ve had the great fortune to know her. Also, I am not complaining about her, just passing on a few things I’ve learned a person will experience should they spend a little time with her.
Lunch out with Mother always starts with an understanding. I understand I will be paying unless she tells me otherwise ahead of time. Let me give you a little background. She is a tightwad. When we stop for a cup of coffee, she always holds her little yellow change purse where I can’t see it, pretends she has no change, even though it’s bulging, and asks, “Can you pay for my coffee? I hate to break a dollar for coffee.” Technically, this is true. She never said she didn’t have change. She just hates to break a dollar for coffee. If we went to a car dealership, she’d say, “Can you get this. I hate to write a check for a car.”
First of all, bathrooms are a priority at every stop. In the name of good hygiene, a bathroom visit is the first order of business at a restaurant. Handwashing before a meal is a laudable practice. As soon as we get in line for a table, or are seated, Mother makes a bee-line for the bathroom. This is not out of the norm. The minimal bathroom visit is thirteen minutes. This includes waiting in line, stepping back for anyone in distress or with children, conversation with other bathroom goers, and meditation and stall inspection time. Then she has get in line to soap, wash, dry, and inspect her hands,face, teeth, and general appearance before leaving. It goes without saying, she steps out of line at any opportunity, giving up her spot to any and all, in the name of kindness. (Kindness to the public, not her party) Eventually, she rejoins her party at the table, after we have put the server off a time or two. As often as not, we’ve already ordered beverages, which include an iced tea for her. This implies someone else will be picking up the tab for lunch, since Mother has no intention of ordering tea. “It’s too expensive. I’ll have tea at home.”
She peruses the menu while regaling us with tales of those she observed or became acquainted with in the restroom or enroute back to the table, fascinating fare. I am not kidding. She has come back with people’s life history, including tales of running away with the circus, being born with an identical twin incarcerated in one’s body, to miraculous spontaneous cancer cures. I have no idea how she elicits these stories. Eventually, she chooses her choice of the chicken and vegetable offerings of the day, to the relief of the server, and turns her attention to the other diners. There’s always a story. She sees someone she knows, someone who looks interesting, or someone who reminds her of her Cousin Kathleen from Virginia, and she’s off. “Remember how Cousin Kathleen always shut everything down to listen to her “bituaries” (obituaries) on the radio, and was so full of stories about all the dead people? She knew all the recent and ancient gossip on everybody and resurrected it when their obituary aired.” Cousin Kathleen did know a lot of great stories. It was interesting to hear about the spicy pasts of her octogenarian neighbors, proving there’s definitely nothing new under the sun.
Mother enjoys her food, and is a slow eater. I usually finish my meal and have dawdled over two or three glasses of tea by the time we let the server know Mother needs a takeout box. She loads it up with her leftovers, and anything left on our plates, eventually rounding up enough for two or three meals at home. “If you’re not going to eat that chicken, I’ll put in my takeout box…and if you don’t want the rest of your salad, and that roll……..”
By this time, someone in the group has confessed that they will pick up her tab, though she protests unconvincingly, just for the sake of good manners. She was “raised right.”
Mother disappears to the bathroom for her post-prandial visit, “as long as we had to wait for the check.” The check came while she was gone. She came back, totally surprised to find me paying check. “I didn’t know the check would come so soon. I’ll pay you back later…….
It’s always easy to tell I am supposed to pick up her ticket. If she intends to pay, she lets me know before getting to the restaurant. “Now don’t try to pick up my ticket. I’m paying my own today.” This usually happens when it’s her trip to the doctor or her special errand. I am content to pay for her meals forever, it’s such a pleasure to still have her company.
Quite often, a stranger, usually a man in his sixties or seventies from a nearby table insists on buying her lunch, just because they’ve enjoyed overhearing her conversation at lunch, often saying she sounds like their mama. They were “raised right.”
Another trip to the bathroom is in order before we hit the road. Another thirteen minutes, while I pay the tab and keep up with her takeout box. Finally, torn from the bosom of all her new friends, ready for the next step. ………..To be continued