When they hit their seventies, however, they began leaving town for a few months out of the year. Like migratory birds and many fellow Jewish grandparents, they flew south for the winter, fleeing the Philadelphia cold for the balmy weather of south Florida.
One year, when I was thirteen, I decided to visit them. Over my spring break, I flew by myself into the Fort Lauderdale airport, where they met me and drove me up to their condo in Pompano Beach.
I wasn’t expecting a wild week. These were my grandparents, after all. My mom-mom was in her 70s, my pop-pop in his 80s. I’d brought along Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried and a few magazines and planned to catch up on my reading and beauty tips while listening to my dub of The Who’s Tommy, an album with which I was inexplicably obsessed at the time.
And for the most part, my experience in Pompano Beach matched my expectations. The week was filled with a lot of reading and music and car rides that involved us getting moderately lost while my mom-mom tried to give directions and my pop-pop snapped back, “For God’s sakes, Harriet, I know where I’m going!”
As my week in Florida drew to a close, my grandparents decided they should take me to a nice restaurant on my final night. Some place special. Considering one of our less successful meals had taken place at an establishment called The Flaming Pit, an all-you-can-eat type of restaurant catering to the over-80 crowd, the stakes were high. None of us wanted another Flaming Pit.
The quest proved more difficult than expected. I didn’t know the area, and my grandparents seemed suddenly bereft of ideas. Every time we ventured out in their car, we’d scan our surroundings for a restaurant with potential.
“What about that one?” I’d say.
“We went the other week, and it was terrible.”
How anything could be more terrible than The Flaming Pit I wasn’t sure, but I took their word for it.
Then, one day, as we drove along the highway, my mom-mom glanced out the front windshield at a huge billboard looming in the distance, one with a big owl with uncharacteristically large, orange-rimmed eyes. As we got closer, she leaned forward and read the billboard aloud.
“Hoo-ters,” she said, drawing out the oo and putting an extra emphasis on the t. “‘Chicken, clams, shrimp’ — well, now that sounds delicious.”
Hooters? My mom-mom was suggesting we go to Hooters?
“No, mom-mom,” I shot back. “We’re not going there.”
“Just…because. We can’t.”
She sighed and shrugged her shoulders. “Okay. If you say so…”
Which, by her tone, meant, “My, my, aren’t we a bit difficult to please.”
Now, to put this in perspective, my grandmother is a woman who, for years, would not patronize a restaurant if they didn’t have tablecloths. At home, she would always serve “something to start” — a slice of cantaloupe or soup or half a grapefruit. For her, there were certain rules one followed when eating and dining, and some things just were not done. (Again, I have no idea how we ended up at The Flaming Pit.)
So for her to suggest a place like Hooters meant her ignorance as to the nature of this restaurant was so profound that she didn’t even know what she was suggesting. I’m sure all she saw was a lovable cartoon owl with big eyes who wanted us to try his chicken, clams, and shrimp. Had she laid her eyes upon the restaurant’s infamous busty waitresses…well, the word scandalized comes to mind
In the end, I don’t remember where we ate, or whether it was any good. But I do remember that it wasn’t Hooters, and as far as I’m concerned, that was the best send-off they could have given me.
So, tell me: did your grandparents ever take — or try to take — you somewhere really embarrassing?
Photo by llahbocaj via Flickr Creative Commons