Remembering a Lifetime Ago, Now and Again

We took Mr. Restaurant Gal’s mother out to lunch for her 81st birthday.

Times are not good for her, and they are not getting better. They will only get worse. These are givens.

Times are hard for Mr. Restaurant Gal as he keeps careful track of his mother during these not-good times. It will only get tougher. This is a given.

But today was her birthday, and since she still knows us quite well and knew it was her birthday, we celebrated by taking her to a nearby restaurant. Nothing fancy, just a local upscale-casual chain. Simply getting her out was special enough for all of us.

I patiently answered the same questions about the kids five times in ten minutes. And again ten minutes later. We covered the weather pretty thoroughly. Mr. Restaurant Gal helped her navigate the book-like menu, then reminded her two more times what she had ordered.

During a lull, as she sipped her iced tea, Mr. Restaurant Gal’s mother watched as a server handed out menus to an adjacent table.

“You know,” she said as she took another sip of her tea, “I used to be a waitress.”

What? This was news to me. I glanced at Mr. Restaurant Gal. He nodded toward his mom.

“You were? Really?” I asked.

“Oh yes, for an entire summer when I was in high school,” she replied, all hesitancy gone from her voice.

“Did you like being a waitress?”

“You know, I did. It was actually a lot of fun. My best friend from high school and I went up north together and got jobs at this resort in the mountains.” She paused then, fumbling for something in her purse.

“Were the guests nice to you?” I asked, wanting very much to draw her back to one of the more coherent conversations we’d had in a long while.

She stopped worrying with her purse and looked at me. “Most of them were. You really got to know them while they were there for the week. Some were so polite and so kind.”

She smiled as she remembered, then added, “But some, look out!”

Ha! I know those types.

“Difficult customers, huh?” I smiled.

“Pretty tough. ‘Get me this. Get me that. I said, now!’” she laughed, mimicking these long-ago, yet universal customers. “Yes, some weren’t so nice.”

Believe me, I’ve met my share, I wanted to tell her. But that would only distract her. Instead I asked, “Did you make a lot of money in tips?”

“Well, some people tipped better than others. Most waited until the end of their week, then they gave a us a nice big tip.”

She took another sip of her drink. “Yes, I would say almost every customer tipped us well. I made a lot of money that summer, you know, for a teenager!”

The conversation lapsed as our lunch arrived. After we had sorted out the entrees among us, I was surprised again as Mr. Restaurant Gal’s mother continued: “They put us up in these dorms. Never charged us for room or board. Just let us make our money from tips. We had a lot of fun, all of us kids up there together like that.”

I tried hard to picture her as that vibrant teenager, waiting tables, having a blast with friends after her shift, living on her own all summer.

She took a bite of her crab cake, then turned to me and asked, “Have you ever worked in a restaurant?”

And so we were back to today, a time of nothing remembered for more than a moment.

Mr. Restaurant Gal and I exchanged a glance, a sad smile.

“Yes, Mom, she’s worked in a restaurant,” he winked at me. “Now and again.”

“Well, you might like it,” she told me. “I did.”

“I’m pretty sure I would, too,” I told her.

Now and again.

Now. Again.






12 responses to “Remembering a Lifetime Ago, Now and Again”

  1. rach Avatar

    my grandma’s getting like that. it’s strange how they can remember details from so far back and be totally lost in the present day.

  2. shakennotstirred Avatar

    Oh I remember those days with my Grandmother. Years ago memories were vibrant and todays moments gone in a flash. Thank you for bringing back memories of my Grandma. I can still remember… now and again.

  3. Julie Avatar

    I saw my grandma in September. She didn’t recognize my father (her son), but didn’t hesitate to give me a hard time about not seeing her since I was in high school — twenty years ago. I have seen her multiple times since then. She recognized everyone the next morning, though.

    We had celebrated her 90th birthday very early so that all the grandkids could make it. Since then, her cancer has spread and she’s been heavily medicated. I’m just glad she had that one memorable day with all of her kids and grandkids and some great-grandkids. Her party was the first time all of us had been together in about 25 years.

  4. Aaron DeLay Avatar

    That was very touching. My grandmothers’ went through the same cycle. It was hard. This touches on the warm parts of those days as well as the heartbreaking. Damn you Gal, you have me choked up! One of Grandma’s died December 19, 2001. We got together for Christmas to say Goodbye.

    It’s never easy. But hearing stories like these helps. Thank you!

  5. matt Avatar

    My grandmother passed away a couple years ago, and the last 5 years of her life were exactly like the dinner you described. Very frustrating for my dad, but if we could get her talking about the past it was almost like she was herself again – until she forgot who she was telling all these stories to.

  6. Jenne Avatar

    I worked with end stage dementia patients, it was the most rewarding work, and the most tiring. My favorite moments were when they would tell me about their childhood. Things will never be like that again, I will never know what life was like for them, unless I take the time, like you did, to talk with them. If I don’t, all those experiences will die with them. I’m glad, RG, that you were able to catch a glimpse of your Grandmas past.

  7. Phil Avatar

    The mind is a strange thing. I can certainly sympathize.

  8. SussieQ Avatar

    She went to work at one of those resorts like in the movie “Dirty Dancing”! What a wonderful memory….I love my grandmother too!

  9. Kim Ayres Avatar

    My mother-in-law is now past the point where we can take her out for a meal, although fortunately she does still recognise most of us. Glad you had a good time 🙂

  10. Natalie Avatar

    My husband’s grandma is in her mid 80s and starting to have problems remembering things. Sometimes she remembers things that didn’t happen. Sometimes she says things that sound paranoid– like that she thinks hubby and I aren’t talking to her because we must be mad at her about something. Hubby’s mom is really having a hard time; she takes it all personally. But Grandma is the one who’s really frustrated. She knows that something’s not right and she doesn’t like it one bit.
    And yet, the distant past is crystal clear. I love hearing her stories about her life back then. It’s like traveling in time.

  11. Katie Avatar

    Thanks for sharing the story. My grandpa is going through the same thing. It sucks.

  12. LanaWood Avatar

    This is one of the hardest and best things your husband will ever do. I know how difficult this type of situation was for my family, and I wish you all the patience and strength you will need for this time in your lives. Make sure you take care of yourselves and each other as well. You do no one any good if you do not take a rest when you need it, and you owe no explanation or patience to anyone who begrudges you a moment to yourself.