“Do you remember your grandmother’s favorite restaurant? The one with the vinyl seats in downtown Newark?” my uncle asked, with a strange smile of mischief on his face. I suspected the restaurant was long bankrupt – grandma had been dead more than 10 years, and she was the only person I knew who was a frequent customer. I’d hated going there, and I hadn’t thought about the place in years.
I cautiously answered in the affirmative.
“I still take her there once a year.” He looked carefully at me as he made that statement, analyzing my response. I began to wonder if he had completely lost whatever brains he had remaining, after years of hard living and questionable pursuits. I was careful not to respond, and merely raised an eyebrow…he wasn’t going to get the violent reaction out of me he’d hoped for.
Looking away, clearly disappointed in my response, he built on his statement.
“I have her ashes stored in a trash bag at my house. Usually, the bag sits behind my TV. But once a year, I bring it out and take her to dinner at the Chinese place. I think she likes it.”
So many thoughts run through my head. I wonder how he managed to end up with Grandma’s ashes and why they weren’t scattered in some appropriate memorial or placed in the typical urn. Grandma liked typical – she especially liked parties and people fussing over her. I doubt that she’d appreciate being stored in a trash bag behind the TV…she didn’t even really like TV.
I also suspected that she’d rather be taken out to a nice annual crab feast or lobster festival…cheap Chinese food sounded too mundane for Mother’s Day. My uncle clearly needed to raise his game if he wanted to keep Grandma from becoming a poltergeist and haunting him, his wife, and their 80 cats.
I also felt bad for the waiter. I wondered if my uncle at least ordered and tipped for two, and if he bothered to buy her a glass of wine for her meal. That would be the Irish approach…that or whiskey. I wondered if the trash bag went on the seat, or on the table…and if the waiter had ever asked the meaning of the ritual. I pictured kitchen conversations in Chinese about the crazy man from the dining room.
But most of all, I wondered what it would be like to join him next year.