Monday, November 4, 2013

A Little Something for the Birthday Queen

The Queen Mother was 72 when my little Princess was born. Mom started slowing down soon after that, so the “Gramma” my kids know is a different person than the “Mom” I remember. I love my mom, and I'm lucky to still have her, but sometimes I just wish she had her old spark. That's why I tell my kids stories like this about the person I wish they could have met.

When I was a sophomore in college Dad died. Mom found ways to keep herself busy, and increased her visits to me and my brothers, who lived in nearby towns. I went to a small college, where pretty much everyone knew everyone else – and their parents. I was lucky enough to live in the dorm with the same group of girls all four years. When I say Mom visited me, I really mean she visited all five of us.

Visiting parents were always a big hit on campus because they meant we got real food! I don't think anyone's parents ever managed to have a private dinner out with just their own student. We were a pack, and we hunted like a pack, always finagling to bring a friend to dinner with us. Even if the visit didn't include a meal, it usually included a trip to the grocery store (with goodies to be shared among the pack) or maybe even homemade cookies!

Mom had access to UPS pick up where she worked, so she was a great one for sending cookies. Our mail was delivered to tiny post office boxes in the dorm's main lobby. If you received a package larger than a matchbox, you had to ask the front desk worker to get it for you. It was impossible to keep cookies a secret (and all boxes were assumed to contain cookies)! Mom wouldn't have wanted me to hoard them, either. She made cookies to be shared.

I know she took us out to eat several times, but there's one dinner in particular that I will never forget. My friends and I met Mom at this little Mexican restaurant in a town that was no more than a blip on the road between home and school. El Charro's was just this side of rundown, but they had the tastiest Americanized-Mexican food around, the servings were huge, and the prices were low. The tables didn't match, the chairs didn't match, the plates didn't match, the utensils didn't match, the plastic glasses were scratched and didn't match, and the chips and salsa were the best I've ever had. And they were always crowded.

It was a long(ish), narrow restaurant, just wide enough for the bar and a single row of tables. A few more tables filled in the open space between the end of the bar and the kitchen. After a short wait the six of us managed to grab one of the tables across from the bar. People stood behind people sitting at the bar, leaving a narrow path for the waitress (she must have been 105, but was as spry as a 25-year-old), who dashed from the kitchen to the front of the restaurant and back again.

With six of us, and the kitchen struggling to keep up with the orders, it didn't take long for us to finish off our chips and salsa. We tried several times to get the waitress' attention, but she flashed by so quickly it was impossible.

That is, until Mom balanced the empty chip bowl on her head.

Whoosh, the waitress was there, whoosh she was gone, and whoosh we had a full bowl of chips! We were all laughing so hard we could hardly eat them.

I don't remember anything else about that night, but I can still see Mom sitting there with that woven wood bowl perched on her curly, grey-haired head, behaving like nothing was out of the ordinary.

A quick Google search turned up a source for those “retro” bowls. I may have to put one on my Christmas list. Maybe I'll take it out and balance it on my head if I ever need a reminder of how things used to be.

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