At the March concert this year, a family with several young children ranging from elementary school to middle school (maybe middle school), sat behind me just over my left shoulder.
I could hear them crunching chips loudly. One of them dropped a cardboard box of something; I heard it clatter on the floor. There were giggles and barely suppressed whispers. Occasionally there would be snorts of laughter, quickly covered up. I could not see but I could sense a great deal of squirming.
Then I heard their father hiss in a low voice, "Behave NOW." His words were followed by a nanosecond of quiet, then more giggles.
Those giggles catapulted me back to my childhood. Suddenly I was 7, I was 8, and we were eating out in a real restaurant (as opposed to a drive-in).
We didn't eat out a lot when I was little, given the number of us and the tightness of my parents' budget during those years. So when we did, it was a Big Deal. The time I remember most clearly was coming back from a day in northern Kentucky when we had been visiting family. Usually, we ate well when we were down there, but for some reason, that didn't happen this day and my mom and dad realized they would never make it all the way home without feeding us.
So there we were, all in a large booth at what was probably a Frisch's Big Boy, my parents probably ordering for us so we did not unwittingly blow the bank. It was probably something simple: burgers, fries (which could be shared). There were even drinks—maybe a Coke, maybe (maybe) a milkshake split between all of us.
Drinks with straws.
It was my older brother Dale, braver than the rest of us, who dared to go after that one last, all but unattainable drop in the bottom of the glass at the end of the meal. It was certainly Dale who looked at that drop, looked at his straw, and decided to risk everything.
How could he not?
My dad, who always sat ramrod straight when eating, sat up even straighter when he heard the first slurp of the straw. "Stop slurping," he hissed in as loud a whisper as he could manage without drawing attention to our table.
Dale was not done, though. There was still a little bit left in his glass. And, buoyed by his example, I was also ready to take on the challenge.
We tried to slurp quietly, but there is no such thing. Dad was on us in a minute. "I said, 'STOP SLURPING,'" he growled in a somewhat louder whisper, in agony that someone—a waitress, a patron, perhaps—someone would soon be turning around to wonder who had brought these little hooligans to such a nice dining place.
We must have been just out of arm's reach, because my dad was not adverse to administering a quick rap to the head to get our attention. It must have driven him mad. He had a whole litany of mealtime rules, ranging from "no elbows on the table" to "close your mouth when chewing" to "sit up straight," and here were two of his children—his own flesh and blood—humiliating him in public with their atrocious table manners.
He hissed louder, between gritted teeth, "I am NEVER taking you out to eat again."
That threat just caused Dale and me to giggle. Never taking us out to eat again? Ha! We didn't eat out ever, so what kind of threat was that? We tried to hold our giggles in but they came slipping out, just like they did for those kids at the concert in March. We had slurped our drinks, we were being hooligans, and we were getting away with it.
Well, we were getting away with it until we each got a swat on the butt when we were marched to the car by our still steaming dad.
My dad will be 79 this summer. I have not slurped a drink in his presence for many, many years. I am not sure I would dare to. But every time I do slurp a drink (Dad was right: I am an incorrigible hooligan), I think of him and that long ago restaurant meal.
Dad stories. Those of us who grew up with a dad of any shape,
size, or temperament, have a million of them. On this day of the year, we
tend to remember them a little more: the good ones, the bad ones, the ugly ones, the outstanding ones, the screamingly funny ones.
Dad stories. My son Ben will become a dad this August, and Ramona will start accumulating her own Dad stories. May there be a million of them.