When I was ten the family had a routine. Dad worked on Sundays. Mom drove dad to work at 5:30 in the morning. I woke up at that time, wrapped my papers, and delivered them while Mom drove Dad to work. Mom came home and went back to bed for a while. I spent the morning visiting some other heathen children in the neighborhood who didn’t attend church and we’d hang-out for a while.
Sometime during the morning Mom made ham salad, a pie, or some other dish. We’d get in the car and drive out to Grandma’s and Grandpa’s. They lived nearly eight miles away. We got to their place before noon and ate with them.
Dad got off work at 2:18 PM in the afternoon. We normally left Grandma’s and Grandpa’s a little before 2:00 PM.
Mom liked to visit her folks. It was boring for me. There was nothing to do.
Every trip to Grandma’s and Grandpa’s I was given the same instructions, “Don’t ask for anything or expect anything.”
Grandma always had a dish of candy on the dinning room table. It was round and crystal with a lid. The candy was always white or pink mints. It was the only thing worth looking forward to. Take that away and you have nothing.
Oh how I loved those candy mints. Mom saw my frustration and rewarded my compliance by asking for me.
“Take one,” Grandpa would say.
One! To a boy, that’s telling a crackhead you can only have one hit. I think the old man knew what he was doing.
Mom said, “Take two; he can have mine.”
Grandma and Grandpa didn’t want to appear stingy (which they were) so they often hid the candy as if they had none. One time when we arrived a few minutes early I saw Grandma hide it in the buffet.
Mom would ask, “Don’t you have any of those mints?”
Grandma and Grandpa just came from the Church of the Brethren; how could they lie?
In time I began to notice that when the other grandchildren were there they had full and unfettered access to the candy.
In time Grandma and Grandpa sought another strategy. When Mom and I were the only ones coming they set out horehound candy. I don’t know how to describe its taste, but the first time I tried it, I spit it out. It’s like candy Listerine only it does nothing for your breath. Grandma and Grandpa found it amusing. This perhaps salvaged their conscience, “We give out all the candy our grandchildren desire.” When the other grandchildren were present the mints flowed like Doritos at a Super Bowl party.
I grew resentful of my cousins. I loved them, but felt they were better, more privileged, and more loved.
With each drive to Grandma’s and Grandpa’s I got the same firm instruction, “Don’t ask for anything or expect anything.”
One day Mom and I arrived. My uncle (Mom’s brother), aunt and two daughters were already there. My uncle wore a suit, he smelled like he just came from the barber, his shoes were shined, and looked quite dapper. My aunt wore a beautiful red outfit. Her hair was permed neat. Her perfume smelled sweet. Her lips were bright red with lipstick. She was elegant. My two cousins were in frilly dresses. They had small purses and cute little hats. They looked liked they just came from church. They were cute and adorable. Mom had slacks and a flannel shirt. I wore a pair of jeans with the knees worn through. I looked and felt like Slip Mahoney from Bowery Boys.
Grandma was preparing a huge meal. I went out to the kitchen and offered to help set the table. She gave me chores; I set out the plates, the silverware, cups, glasses, napkins and so on. I thought it strange that Grandma didn’t give me a word of thanks or commendation. I was doing a pretty good job.
Finally I brought the food to the table. Everybody, but Grandma and I, was in the living room. The food smelled great.
I ask Grandma, “Are we ready to eat?”
She said, “Umm humm.”
I ran to the living room and called everybody. “It’s time to eat, dinner’s ready.”
I raced back to the dining room and found a chair. Mom came over to me and said, “We’re not eating. We’re not invited.”
Mom and I sat in the living room for a while as polite conversation and the clank and tinkle of silverware came from the dinning room into the living room accompanied by the odor of home cooking. Mom with hidden bitterness and embarrassment looked out the window. I craned my neck to see what was going on at the dinning room table.
After the meal Mom made a sandwich from left-over meat for me. She didn’t eat anything.
Over and over in my mind I recalled the embarrassment of calling everybody to eat and finding a seat only to be told that we weren’t invited.
Now I know why Mom said, “Don’t ask for anything or don’t expect anything.”