By Tara Lindis
Your son, God bless him, tries to take you to the nicer restaurants, the ones with flowers and fruits in their salads, fish that swim wildly, bread baked the morning of the day it’s served. He worries about your health, your heart, your potential high cholesterol, insulin resistance, the likes of Type 2 diabetes. He talks often about trans fats, high sodium, the way sugar can kill an immune system. He takes you to cute breakfast places that serve organic avocado toast on properly fermented sourdough, freshly baked buttermilk scones, homemade apricot jam, grass-fed butter, organic fair-trade dark roast coffee. He explains patiently the nutritional benefits of locally sourced farm-to-table food, of fewer ingredients, less processing, fewer chemicals, because it is your health, and your health is your life.
The thing is, you can’t even help it, how you slip into a vinyl booth at a diner. The way you look forward to the selection of sweeteners, the perpetual springtime of pink Sweet & Low, the pale yellow Splenda, the light blue of Equal. The paper napkins rest, an eternity of them, in the dispenser on the table, and the saucer of creamers and half-and-half in plastic thimbles, the only cream on earth that can spend all day on a table and not spoil. You love how the diner sticks rice in the salt-shaker, that you can see it through the glass sides. It settles your shoulders that at the diner, the salt will never clump—it will always be grains of salt.
You can’t explain it to him, that there are other things besides this rationality, this sobering responsibility that your mortality depends upon every bite of locally-grown-organic non-pesticide-non-GMO-socially-responsible-progressive-migrant-farmers-deserving-more-money thing you put into your mouth. Not to say you don’t think migrant farmers deserve every dime they earn and should earn far more, but that you find the food you put in your body cannot nurture your ethics and values alone. You are trying to nurture and feed something else.
You go to the corner diner, not for the ice cream scoops of butter that’s actually canola oil and god knows what, but because once a week, your mother took you as a girl, just you and her. She was gorgeous, your mother, in her suits, the only mother you knew who worked, who wore shiny heels and nail polish, who had perfectly rolled curls of auburn hair with pretty hats, who lived in the city to support you after your father disappeared. Your grandmother who raised you was Victorian and Protestant strict, but your mother, while she only ever drank black coffee and ate half a grapefruit and one triangle of white toast, allowed you waffles with strawberries and mountains of whipped cream, hot chocolates, heaping sides of hash browns. For that weekly hour, no one on earth existed for your mother but you. Until it is that Saturday she doesn’t come, when you hear a new job, a new city, and a new husband claimed her. By then, you were fourteen, a woman enough yourself, according to your grandmother, and you spent the afternoons working in the department store so that on Saturday, you could go to the diner.
You know what your son will find, later on, and you can already see the look on his face when he does, even though by then you will be dead. He will open your dresser drawers and instead of your underthings or nighties, he will discover endless diner paper napkins, each one carefully marked with the date, the things your mother said, and then after, the dates you waited, and waited, and waited. He will find them next to all the coffee spoons that one by one slipped into your hand, a natural fit as if it belonged to you, because it did. It all belonged to you.