Life in Miniature at the K & W Cafeteria

The Eldest Unnamed One is drunk on being 18, in love and his impending high school graduation. He is brash and goofy, a know-it-all and a kid again...and it is only Tuesday.

We are in line at the K & W Cafeteria, trying to pretend we don't know each other. I ignore his silliness. He ignores Mertis's silent disapproval. I talk to the Youngest Unnamed One and wish the line wasn't so long.

It has been a hard day in Old People Land. The social worker at one place, one of the young, good ones, may not quit after all, but only because her heart's been broken by the new boyfriend. I am selfishly glad.

I am thinking about this when I hear a voice say, "You know, you keep chewin' on that pen and you'll wind up swallowing it. You don't want to write your name that way, now do you?"

I turn and catch my breath. Hell. A frail old man in an orange ball cap, his jeans loose and cinched tight around his waist with a canvas belt, a frayed hole in the back of his pants exposes his shirt tail. His smile is disarming, his eyes gray-blue and too happy for what I am sure is about to come.

He has taken on the Eldest, the one who is never wrong, facing off against the kid with a happy smile and the clear expectation that this is going to be a wonderful conversation.

The Eldest chuckles, sticks the pen in his pocket and says something I don't hear...but the Beloved smiles, so I know he can't have insulted the old man.

"She your sister?" the man asks.

The Eldest smiles indulgently while the Beloved explains, "Girlfriend."

"Girlfriend, eh?" He gives the Eldest a collegegial smile. "Well, you favor, that's why I asked."

"I graduated high school in 1947," I hear the old man say. Two women I take for his wife and daughter try to pretend they're not with him, turning their attention toward the cafeteria line and murmuring to themselves about what they'll have and what will disagree with their tricky stomachs.

The Old Guy is oblivious. "1947," he says. "That was probably before your time, huh?"

The Eldest chuckles. When the Old Guy asks where The Eldest will be going to school, he feigns mock indignation. He's a State grad.

"What was your major?" I hear the Eldest ask. He seems truly interested.

I decide maybe I won't disown him after all.

The Old Guy tells the Eldest every parable and bit of advice he can think of and fit into the ten minute trip down the food line...And all the while my son listens, nodding and commenting, smiling and agreeing...even when I'm fairly certain he doesn't truly agree.

I look at the Old Guy and do the math. He is my father's age...were he here. I think of the Eldest and my Dad, of the way my father loved that boy and of how the boy loved his grandfather.

I remember the dream I had the night before. I am in my father's parents' living room. Both my grandparents are there, sitting enjoying the cocktail hour just as they did every afternoon. Only, I know they are dead. I know they are dead and I know my father is dying. He is with me, following me into the room. In my dream, dad is much younger. He is the same age he was when I was five.

He walks into his parents' house, sees his father sitting in his favorite arm chair and Dad's knees buckle and give out as he sags against me. I am trying to hold my father up and he is crying. He knows his father is dead. He knows he is dying. But I think he cries because he is so glad to have him back.

I am standing in the line at the K & W, watching my son and the new friend who needs to pack every bit of his life into the Eldest's awareness before they come to the end of the line and there is no more time.

I am following the two of them, half-attending to Mertis and the Youngest Unnamed One, pretending I care what we eat when all I want is my dad.

The Eldest Unnamed One realizes none of this, surely doesn't know what a microcosm this cafeteria has become for our lives and probably would care less if he did know.

Some days I wonder how the world can keep spinning without Dad. Missing him takes my breath away.

And then I see him in the Eldest or in the Youngest and I realize he is here after all...Dad would've listened to the Old Guy. He would've smiled indulgently at the Eldest, found his way into the heart and soul of the Youngest and made Mertis laugh.

He would've understood life in miniature at the K & W on a Tuesday evening.

1 comment:

Heather said...

Oh Nancy..I can't tell you how many times your posts have brought tears to my eyes and made me remember my own dad and my relationship with him in vivid detail.
I know how there are days when you feel like your heart is being ripped right out of your chest when you think of him. And I know how there are days when seeing something of him in a loved one brings a smile instead of tears. Just cherish those days and the memories you have of him..they keep him alive in your heart.