“He must be YOUR son,” I recall my father telling Mum. “He won’t eat potato salad!”
“He doesn’t take after ME, ” she retorted. “An Irishman NOT eating potatoes is unheard of!”
I think I was six and I was a potato connoisseur. I knew what I liked and what I didn’t like. I liked potatoes (so much they could be served at every meal and I would be happy), but would not eat potato salad or scalloped potatoes. My parents discovered early on not to force-feed me anything.
“No, don’t,” Mum told Gramma Rabbit, one night when she was babysitting me when I was much younger, “Remember the strained peas and Danny’s dress shirt?”
Years went by. I joined the military, got married, had kids, lost my wife. Got married again, had more kids, got divorced. Honourably discharged from the military, found by MiLady, married her … and here we are 🙂
MiLady and I were engaged for a year before we got married. It was that summer that we flew my mother to Alberta to see where her grandchildren were living and why I agreed to move so far away from her.
We took her to see the Rocky Mountains, where the boys insisted we stop at their favourite vistas, as we slinked through the serpentine route to a little place called Jasper.
One stop had some picnic tables and a large enough area that the boys could play safely enough away from the sheer cliff face drops. As Mum watched her grandsons, I helped MiLady and her daughter, Heart, set up and dish out the lads’ plates. When we were ready, I called everyone in.
“Mum, lunch is ready.”
She offered to get the boys, but I told her that they would not hear her, as they were too far off. I would do it.
Taking three steps away from her, I took a deep breath and remembered my Army training.
“ONE! TWO! THREE!” I barked then waited.
In the distance, three little men froze and looked in my direction. I spun on my heels and marched back to the table and sat down.
“FOOD!” they cried in unison, and my mother watched as they dropped everything and bolted back, forming a line at my right side, youngest to oldest, waiting patiently to see who would be sitting where.
“One!” Junior called out to me.
“Two!” replied Captain.
“Me,” answered Chef.
“Not, me, Chef,” Junior whispered correcting his six-year-old brother, “Three!”
The little red-head looked up at his older brother with disgust, shaking his head. “Me!” he repeated.
“Enough,” MiLady called. “Who’s hungry?”
I was thankful at that exact moment for having lost the hearing in my right ear all those years ago while in military service. My mother had been sitting opposite me and had found the overly exuberant respose more than loud enough to plug her ears with her fingers.
As MiLady assigned seating places, I interrupted.
“Where are the toys you were playing with?”
“Are they where you found them?”
Chef shook his head, before getting a gentle backhand to his arm from Captain.
“Have any of you washed your hands?”
Junior and Captain got up and dashed back into the field to fetch the toys. Chef remained seated, smiling wide playing his “I’m cute” routine.
Mother fell for it.
“No, you were out there,” I told him. “It isn’t fair to your brothers. Go bring something back in or you sit to an empty plate.”
Bang! He was gone like The Flash — a quick red blur.
Unfortunately, I had forgotten that there were only two toys that were being played with — a frisbee between Junior and Chef and a soccer ball by Captain.
Chef met his brothers just as they were running back. They stopped briefly. Chef explained, pointed in my direction, the other two boys looked up at me, then turned back to Chef.
Captain shook his head and proceeded to come in, that left Junior, who gave the frisbee to Chef, who smiling bolted back as quickly as he could, while Junior – looking at the ground – dragged his feet.
By the time he arrived at the table, Captain and Chef had taken the best spots, on either side of Grams!
“Wash up.” I said. When he returned, MiLady had a generous portion on his plate.
“You can sit here,” I told him, as MiLady and Heart slid to one end of the table and I moved to the other, so that he could sit opposite his grandmother.
Captain and Chef watched dumbfounded.
“You thought of others before yourself, Sweetie.” Mum smiled at him, “Boys don’t do that, only men do. I’m very proud of you!”
It was then that my mother glanced in my direction and observed my plate.
“OH MY GOD!” she shrieked. “Since when do you eat potato salad?”
MiLady beamed, as I had foretold her that the Old Girl would eventually notice.
“Since she makes it the way I like it,” I quipped.
Mother’s head snapped to the opposite side of the table. I could not tell if her look was of disbelief, disdain, a combination of both or something worse.
“How do you make it?” she hastily inquired, intent to get an answer — you know how mothers are with their demanding ways, but they don’t make it look or sound demanding.
“Potatoes, mayonnaise, cubed cheddar cheese,” MiLady started.
“Yes, yes,” Mum replied, “Mine has all that, yes!” Then she turned back to me — “So, why do you eat hers?”
“Pickle!” the boys chimed in, then returned to their plates.
“Pickle?” she repeated in shock and disbelief.
I nodded, smirking at her before sneaking a quick wink at my fiancée.
Flabbergasted, Mum thought to change tactics. “Well, can she make my coffee cookies?”
Mum’s coffee cookies involved a lot of things in massive quantities that are not good for you … like brown sugar, instant coffee, mounds of butter and shortening. The closest thing that I have found to it are Texas Drop Cookies (minus the chocolate chips.).
“She burned the very first batch,” I confessed.
“AHA!” the Old Girl smiled.
“But after that first time, she can do it,” I finished.
“Oh,” she said quietly.
“It’s okay, Grams,” Captain whispered, leaning into her, “I’ll still eat yours.”