Some events happen so many times they become more of an amalgamation of memories, rather than actual singular episodes. They become the stuff of legends and no matter what actually happened, it plays the same in my head. I can’t differentiate one experience from another, I remember them all the same way.
I was a princess riding in the back of my grandparents red Chrysler. It was such a big old car and I was so tiny to have the whole backseat to myself. The seats were vinyl and my little girl legs always stuck to it. But I didn’t care, I was the the most important one riding through town, with my grandfather at the wheel.
Looking back, I realize this was the time-frame in which my grandmother started to get sick. Of course, my 8 year old self didn’t see it or least I didn’t understand it. But my grandparents would take me out to eat anytime I stayed with them and they always took me to the same restaurant.
An odd name for a restaurant, to be sure, at least my younger self thought so. The old Greek man behind the counter greeted my grandparents by name. They obviously went there a lot, although I didn’t think of such things when they took me there.
It was enormous to me, table after table filled with 4 sparkly place settings each complete with a paper place-mat and a cloth napkin. Each table held a small white vase filled with yellow and white daisies or red carnations or whatever flower fit the season. It’s the only thing that changes in my recollections. The interior seemed so festive, yet somehow cozy. The walls were filled with red vinyl booths, just like the seats in my grandparents car.
We always sat in a booth.
And my little girl legs stuck to the vinyl just the same.
I was the main attraction when we were there – I could order anything on the menu. Anything. It didn’t really matter though. I was a creature of habit and I would order the same thing, time after time after time.
To begin my feast, only a cup of cream of chicken soup with rice would do. So thick and chickeny, I still search for that soup on menus today. I am usually disappointed to find, it is never as good as it is in my head.
The soup was accompanied by bread and butter from the bread basket. My grandfather and I preferred the long rolls, but if they didn’t have any, the dark rye would do. We would dip our rolls into the thick soup and sop up the remains with the tail ends of our bread.
My grandmother would order a salad with thousand island dressing. She would offer me half and I’d have the best of both worlds. Soup AND a salad. I was a princess, indeed.
My main course sometimes varied, depending on the day of the week we visited. Fridays meant fried perch with macaroni and cheese. Other days would mean chicken kiev or spaghetti. The spaghetti was made with those really fat spaghetti noodles and oodles upon oodles of Parmesan cheese. My favorite was the chicken kiev. My grandmother would cut it up for me as I watched the hot butter ooze out from the middle. It came with rice and was slathered with chicken gravy. Yum, yum, yum.
But the best part of my feast was the dessert. I could not leave the restaurant until I had a bowl of peppermint ice cream. Talk about comfort food. Merely thinking about peppermint ice cream reminds me of my grandparents.
My grandparents never got dessert, in fact, my grandfather would save the little cups of sour cream that came with their baked potatoes and eat that while I ate my peppermint ice cream. That was his ice cream he would say. He’d tease me, too, because he never let me try it. For years I thought it was something all grown-ups did. I was sad to learn otherwise.
When we were done with our desserts, my grandfather and I would go up to the counter and pay the bill. He would give me the money and the tab and I would hand it to the old Greek man behind the counter. In return, he handed me the change, which I promptly gave to my grandfather, and a dum-dum. One of those tiny little suckers that lasted no more than a minute or two and then they were gone. Just a whiff of flavor, but enough to make you feel like a princess yet again.
I never remember the ride home to my grandparents house. As soon as I was settled in the back of that old Chrysler, I would fall asleep.
Both belly and heart full. I was content and I felt loved.
Going out to dinner with my grandparents is one of my best childhood memories. My Grandmother, in particular acted as a buffer between my mother and I. Even though I know now, that my grandmother was ill, she always took time with me. Always made me feel loved and wanted, unlike so many memories I have of my mother. This particular memory sums up how I wanted to always feel. I was the center of attention and I was appreciated simply because I existed.
During my stay at the hospital, one of the nurses mentioned that she had gotten peppermint ice cream at a local gas station/ice cream shop. I spent the rest of the day pining for my grandmother and wishing I could have one more dinner with grandparents. The ice cream itself was irrelevant, I very rarely even eat peppermint ice cream. The mere mention of it though, had my head in the past for the rest of the day.
Such a powerful association for me. Peppermint ice cream equals Love. What could be better than that?