Vestiges of another time seep from original golden-wood, wide-board floors that creak under our steps. We wind to a booth at the back of the Omelette Parlor. Yellow-drenched walls enfold us in a warmer, gentler age of old farmhouse memorabilia. I can’t hear the stories tucked into the walls of this structure built in 1893, but I feel them. I walk in the middle of two generations, my grandmother on one arm and my ten-year-old daughter sashaying beside me.
Grandma settles on one side, and I scoot Lily over on the other bench with an amiable hip-bump. Lily snags the crayons and activity placemat provided by the hostess and is soon engrossed. She describes everything she is doing out-loud, commenting and questioning with gusto. My conversation with Grandma floats and wanders around her narration. I try to hold a line of thought, with, I admit, a bit of annoyance.
Then a song familiar to Lily pipes over the airwaves, hovering somewhere over our table. Lily snatches it from the air. She doesn’t just listen to the music. She embodies it. Arms upheld, she sways and mouths the words, completely oblivious that she is sitting in a restaurant booth and not dancing on a stage.
When her lunch arrives, Lily doesn’t just eat it, she becomes one with it. After dumping an ample puddle of catsup for her curly fries, she enthusiastically drowns each bit of potato one-by-one. Red smothers her fingers, smears her face, and drips on her dress. Two napkins and fifteen minutes later, she’s conquered them all.
Part way through our meal, Grandma indicates that she has a secret to tell Lily. Lily stands up and leans way over the table. I pretend not to hear as Grandma exaggeratedly whispers behind her hand, asking Lily how old she thinks I will be on my birthday. I catch the general drift of their conversation, but miss the details as Lily nods vigorously and Grandma smiles.
That glint in Grandma’s eye takes me back to childhood. My Grandma taught me how to blow chewing gum bubbles; how to catch a fish and gut it; how to savor every bit of their mountain property – complete with big red barn, motorcycle and snowmobiles. In my memories of those days, she is usually laughing. Today, she wears brilliant red, popping against the sunny yellow walls.
She began her life in a farmhouse much like the Omelette Parlor setting. At age 17, she left her little town in Wyoming and trekked across the country by train for an internship in Washington DC with the Navy, a radical leap from farms and rural community. An experience like that would challenge any 17 year-old today; but this was the 1940’s, when stereo-typical rural American culture painted women neatly into the kitchen. And she thrived. Her scrapbook from that year captures the thrill of exploring the US capitol city, attending a Major League baseball game, and flickers of a romantic relationship that stayed behind when she returned home.
She is an elegant 86 now. Sometimes the accumulated losses of the years hang like weights from her heart. She has said good-bye to so many loved ones over the decades – parents, friends, husband of sixty-four years. Though relatively healthy, body parts just don’t work like they used to. But she never lets any of it drag her down for long. It would be easier to stay safely home and maybe sulk, but she still attends as many of my kids’ events as possible. This past summer, a bout of bursitis attacked her hip. But she wanted to watch a baseball game. So I drove her out on the running track to the bleachers on the far end of the field, like a queen. As my husband and sons opened her door and helped her alight, she grinned like royalty and relished the moment. So did I.
When we finish our lunch, we are not a group to slip out quietly. The attention of all the surrounding diners rivets on Lily as she leaps from the bench, sparkly silver shoes landing first. She is dressed for a ball in a full-skirted fancy yellow party dress, with just a few catsup smears on the front. She proudly tops it all off with white-and-black-striped sunglasses. I offer an arm to my beaming Grandma, her white hair contrasting with stylish red sweater. We parade to the door of the restaurant, trailing Lily. Everyone smiles as we pass by.
And why not? We could live a quiet life, sliding under the radar. Honestly, as a rather reserved introvert, I’d prefer to hover in the background. But I follow in the footsteps of a grandma who embraced life enough as a small-town teenager to run away to the big city and reveled in every moment of it, a grandma who made sure her grand-daughter could blow a decent gum-bubble. And I spend my days with a daughter who lives out-loud.
Life is short. So, here’s what I would say based on the inspiration of my grandmother and daughter: dance to a song you like no matter who is watching. Savor the moments of ordinary life. And to make them even more special, wear that fancy dress and those sparkly silver shoes on a lunch date.
Most of all, tell the people you love how much they mean to you.
I love you Lily and Grandma.