We were eating lunch at an awful diner in Whitehall, New York. I thought that maybe this would be the last time that I would see my grandfather, and I was determined for him to order dessert: pie, ice cream, cake, anything. I wanted him to ask them to warm it up for him. Strange that my parents and I acted like it was normal to drive in the car, over an hour each way, to get to this place that he was supposed to call “home,” which was apropos of absolutely nothing in his life or ours.
For his last birthday, his ninety-first, we cooked the Seymour Dinner. If we’d had it our way, we would have had real mashed potatoes, fresh peas, homemade gravy and grass-fed beef. But I insisted, and we all knew, that Gramp wanted the Seymour Dinner, and that meant the same exact Seymour Dinner he’d eaten for seventy years. We bought eighty-five percent lean ground beef, canned peas, instant mashed potatoes, Brown ‘n Serve dinner rolls, and Gravy Master. I did defy the recipe’s call for a frozen store-bought pie and made a fresh apple one instead. I thought that this was the least I could do for him.
We served him his dinner on a tray, which he was used to by then because this was how he took all of his meals at the nursing home. He couldn’t see anything, and demanded that the food be placed as if around a clock, and presented to him by explaining that the meat was at twelve o’clock, the peas at three o’clock, the roll at six and so on.
“No, no, no, NO! I want the potatoes at six o’clock!” I’m sure he argued. We tucked a napkin into his collar and he was soon silent in his delight at eating, the only remaining physical delight in his life. As he ate his nose dribbled incessantly, and my brother brought him a box of Kleenex, which he pulled out and stuffed into his shirt pocket, one after another after another, coyly, as if none of us could see either. He assumed there was a wastebasket at his feet, and throughout the meal kept dropping his used Kleenexes to the floor; the dog’s ears would perk and all of us would sigh and say to each other with our eyes that it was okay.