by Janet Di Nola Parmerter
Reprinted from the Winter 2019 GCB Digest.
When our five-and-a-half-year-old grandson Tyler arrived at our home, he shocked us with an extraordinary announcement. He firmly professed, “My name is not Tyler, it’s REALLY Chris!”
A bit taken aback, I said, “OK, Chris, now let’s just have a nice day together.” This meant a fun-filled day with everyone who lived with us, including Tyler’s 89-year-old great-great Auntie Rena, 82-year-old great-grandma Nona Alice, his 84-year-old great-grandfather Papa John, his very patient grandfather Pop-pop Keith, and me, his “Let’s play hide and seek” Grandma Janet. Tyler thinks he will always win at hide and seek because grandma is blind. He always forgets two important things: because this is grandma’s house, she knows the best places to hide, and how well grandma can hear where he runs to hide.
To begin our afternoon of entertainment, Keith and I planned to take out the whole gang for lunch. The Loganville IHOP seemed like a doable choice, but could taking out three octogenarians and a feisty five-year-old really be a relaxing afternoon? Keith and I thought it was possible.
The first step was to get into the restaurant. As we slowly entered the IHOP, Keith and I tried to hold onto the whole tribe while simultaneously opening the heavy glass double doors. Unfortunately, my dad, who always wants to be first, barreled past everyone, knocked Mom into Auntie Rena and Auntie Rena into my white cane, Tyler and me. After looking like some comedy skit, we all made it inside. Before being seated, I quietly informed the hostess not to give Auntie Rena a menu, because if she read it, she wouldn’t eat a thing. Auntie Rena still thinks it is somewhere around 1940, and if food cost more than a dollar, she refuses to order anything except water. She is shocked when she sees menu prices, and always complains, “Oh my, how can they charge that much for a hot dog?” Having devoted many decades teaching the Bible for $25 a month, she watched every single penny and still does.
Compounding that with her phobia about eating and getting fat, feeding Auntie Rena has always been a chore. Since her siblings and mother were all overweight, even with her tiny 110-pound body, she was, and still is, obsessed about becoming fat. For a while I sneaked her a children’s menu and she ate fine. Then, she saw the comment about the menu being for those 10 years old and under, and refused to eat anything off that menu. Fortunately, after a clever waitress remarked, “Oh no, miss, that also means ten years under 100 years old,” she once again began eating from the children’s menu.
Immediately after the hostess sat our group down, Dad called the waitress to the table and ordered his lunch. Mom took the menu from the waitress’ hand and began reading it. Dad looked at Mom and said, “Alice, the waitress wants your order.” Mom never took her eyes off the menu and with an irritable response said, “John, I just got the menu. I’m reading it.” The server replied, “No problem, I’ll come back.” Instantly, Dad, who is always running the show, put his hand up in a stop position and said, “No, wait!” In a frustrated tone he complained, “Alice, it’s the same thing all the time. You know what’s on the menu, just order.” Mom, who loves to read everything, replied, “I like to read it anyway. I’m not ready.”
The server looked down, not knowing whether to leave or stay. Having heard this same conversation my entire life, I quickly added, “Excuse me, we’re not ready either, so could you please come back in a few minutes.” Grateful and relieved, she rushed off as Dad shook his head and let out a huge sigh.
With all this going on, everyone was distracted and didn’t see Auntie Rena grab the regular menu, until we heard her muttering to herself, “Forget this! Who would pay that for this stuff?” We all looked over just in time to see her throw the menu on the table and turn her head in disgust. Making the quick switch, I handed her the children’s placemat menu and whispered, “Here, Auntie Rena, this one has cheaper prices,” and slid the other one off the table. In a second, she pushed away the paper menu with the games and coloring pictures on it, then angrily said, “This says for one to twelve years old!” Remembering the line from the other waitress, I confidently added, “Oh, this menu is also good for someone one to twelve years under 100 years old.” Once again that worked, and she ordered French toast.
After the food fiasco ended, I played giant tic-tac-toe with Tyler while Mom called the server back so many times the waitress almost wore out her shoes. First it was, “Excuse me, may I have another napkin?” Then, “Excuse me; do you have another type of syrup?” Then, “Excuse me, could I have this, and could you please change this spoon?” Finally, Dad said, “Alice, you are going to drive the lady nuts,” and Mom replied with her standard comment, “WHATEVER!” Oblivious to the strained conversations, Keith and Tyler colored pictures on the paper place mat, as I perused our disconnected group and cheerfully asked, “Is everyone having fun yet?”
With the chaos of getting everyone into the restaurant, ordering, eating, and paying for the meal, Keith and I were a tad stressed. The next step was to maneuver these three octogenarians and our little man back home.
As soon as we stepped outside the restaurant doors, it poured. Holding tight to Tyler, we trailed Auntie Rena, who seemed entirely baffled by the raindrops. Half under her breath she mumbled, “Oh my, oh my, look at this, I’m getting wet!” She tried to avoid the raindrops by vigorously swirling her arms around trying to push them away.
Meanwhile, my father raced past Auntie Rena so he could be first to the car. Now, annoyed that he had to wait, he leaned against the car. Keith tried to catch up to Dad after paying the check. When Keith finally reached the van, he could not get the door open fast enough for Dad. As he struggled to step off what seemed to be a Mount Everest-sized curb, he held onto the mirror, which folded in toward the car, and he almost fell down. After regaining his balance, he huffed and puffed while complaining about the still-locked door. Pulling up the rear was my mother. That day I forgot the walker; she only had her extra cane and my left arm. However, the hand of my shared left arm also firmly held Tyler, who desperately tried to escape the grandma grip. Unfortunately, I could not use my other hand to grasp Tyler because I use my right hand to hold onto my white cane.
Slowly shuffling toward our parking space, I attempted to prevent two canes and three humans from becoming a tangled fivesome. Tyler, Mom, both canes and I finally made it to the van. After doing a quick Mom hand-off to Keith, I ran around the van with Tyler, helped Dad climb into the middle row behind the driver, and still never let go of Tyler’s slippery hand. In the meantime, Auntie Rena pulled herself onto the middle row of the van, stared out the window, and did this pretend whistling thing she does prior to having a seizure. After a second, she pushed the button to open the door, and jumped out and into the van many times. At some point, Keith told her to stay inside the van. As she tried to climb in, she pulled the handle, and the door began to close. Frantically, I sprang over Dad and pushed the button to re-open it, as Auntie Rena yelled at the door, “Hey, hey, now you just stop that!”
Amidst all the commotion, as my mother partially climbed onto the front seat, she gasped for breath. Keith, with his feet solidly planted, gave a heave-ho and pushed Mom onto the front seat. With half her body still hanging out of the car, he lifted her right leg, squeezed her bottom onto the seat and slammed the door. Now Keith and I did a quick Tyler handoff, and Keith carried him to the back of the van. Since Tyler could not pass these three exhausted elderly obstacles to get a seat, the only entry was through the back hatch. As Keith lifted it and prepared to slide Tyler and his car seat in from the rear of the van, Auntie Rena began coming out of a seizure. Quickly, Keith shoved the car seat onto the back third row and plopped Tyler into the van.
Because Auntie Rena was always intimidated by Dad, she decided to move as far away from him as possible. In a flash, she crawled to the third back row alongside the car seat and proceeded to fasten her seat belt. At the same time, of course, she sat on Tyler’s belt, which Keith needed to lock in the car seat. Keith struggled as he stretched over the trunk space and back seat to unfasten Auntie Rena’s belt and free the other seat belt. After finding the other strap, he clicked in the car seat, placed Tyler in his chair, locked his belt, slammed the hatch, dropped into the driver’s seat, sat back, and just stared ahead. No one moved or said a word as we all waited for Keith to begin driving. Still motionless with closed eyes and his head pressed against the headrest, I wondered if he fell asleep.
Surprisingly, even Tyler did not utter one single word. So, with our family securely strapped in, Keith shook his head and robotically began chauffeuring our tired family home. Wasn’t this our fun day of “taking them out?”
Still silent, Tyler looked around from one elderly person to another and methodically analyzed the past 30 minutes, from exiting the IHOP until now. In a still abnormally quiet car, Tyler looked around at this elderly entourage, and with a smile finally announced his brilliant deduction. “Grandma, do you know why it’s REALLY good to be five or even six years old?” Curiously, I responded, “No, little man, I don’t! Tell grandma why.” Looking down at his legs, he firmly patted his thighs with both hands and proudly answered, “Because my legs are good, and I can walk!”
So — to take out or not to take out, that was definitely the question. So, what is our answer? After analyzing those five fun-filled hours, Keith and I decided the next time we choose to do a take-out day, it will be the traditional way: pick up the food and peacefully bring it home to the family!