Meet us at Cristo's

Image by Ande_Hazel from Pixabay

“Meet us at Cristo’s!” How many times did I say that or hear it from one of my friends when we were teenagers?  It’s long gone now, but the greasy spoon was a place where we shared dreams and made memories.

It was casual, clean and cozy, with cartoon decals of steaming hot dogs and hamburgers on the plate-glass windows. There was no flashy, neon sign; just the restaurant name in yellow lettering on the front door.  Inside, white, paper tablecloths covered small, square wooden tables scattered around the room. Four wooden chairs that squawked against the floor when we slid them out were placed at each table.

As teenagers, we ran as a pack so the first thing we did when we got to Cristo’s was to push a few tables together and crowd around them. There we could stay for hours, talking about everything and nothing as only young people can. Whether after school or a last stop after a night out, Cristo’s was where we could be found.

Spiros and Jimmy were the two young Greek men who owned and ran the place, neither of whom spoke much English. Spiros waited tables. He was slim and lithe, with dark eyes, and a lock of straight, black hair that flopped onto his forehead. He always wore a white apron tied at the waist over dark trousers, a white shirt and a scowl. The scowl gave him gave him a certain appeal, a hint of rebellion bubbling close to the surface, and he was just handsome enough to get away with it. Sometimes my friend, Benny, would get it into his head to make Spiros smile. I don’t know how he did it, but he often succeeded.

Jimmy, the other owner, couldn’t have been more different. Round and smiling, with black hair that waved away from his face, he was a Greek version of the Pillsbury Dough Boy (minus the pastry chef hat). He was always behind the counter, either at the grill or the cash.  He knew we would stay for hours and never spend a lot of money but he always greeted us with a warm smile.  And he made the best fries.

They were freshly-made, not those sickly-looking, frozen, matchstick fries that try to pass for the real thing. Jimmy’s were a perfect, crispy golden-brown on the outside with pale, piping-hot, white flesh on the inside.  We would watch him lift the fry basket out of the hot oil, then pile the fries into white porcelain bowls.  Spiros would swoop by the counter, pick up the bowls and drop them unceremoniously in front of us.  

Some of my friends sprinkled fine grains of white salt on them. Others reached for the old-fashioned, glass vinegar bottle and generously squirted some on their fries. Not me. It was the plastic ketchup packets that I reached for.  After making a diagonal cut in the corner of a small packet, I squeezed it gently from the bottom, carefully and methodically placing a tiny pearl of bright red ketchup on each and every fry. When I was done, it was a work of art. 

Sometimes after eating we’d order coffee. To be honest, it wasn’t very good, but it gave us a reason to linger a little longer. Then, reluctantly, we’d head for our respective homes, having had our daily fill of good friends, good fries and mediocre coffee, until we met up again the next day.

SoCS: The Next Big Win

He had booked the last flight home and it was intentional. “That way, they won’t be expecting me. The element of surprise will be on my side,” he thought with satisfaction.  The plane’s wheels hit the tarmac rudely jostling the passengers and then it sped toward the gate before the pilot applied the brakes. The aircraft then coasted the remaining part of the way until it nosed its way to the gate.

“Right, showtime,” he said to himself as he hefted his carry-on bag from the overhead bin.  He knew his family would not be overjoyed to see him. His father, in particular, had muttered “Get out of my sight,” in disgust and frustration the last time they saw each other. His mother would be his saving grace. He was her weak spot, her Achilles heel. He felt a pang of guilt when he thought about how he would play to that to get her to loosen her purse strings yet again. But not enough to deter him. After all, there was a great Casino in his hometown and he felt his next big win coming on.

Written for Linda G. Hill’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday. This week’s prompt is “ght.” Find a word that contains the letters “ght” in that order, and use it any way you’d like. Bonus points if you use three or more different words containing those letters. Have fun!

The Night Before

It has been more than three years since my mother moved into a seniors’ home. But time hasn’t made the memory of the eve of her move less heart-wrenching.

THE NIGHT BEFORE (May 2016):

 Tomorrow we are moving my 89-year-old mother to a seniors’ residence.  She has been in transition, living with us for the last 10 months when it became clear she could no longer live alone.  It has not been an unqualified success.  We live in the suburbs and it is lonely and isolated for her, especially since I work full-time.  So, tomorrow, she is moving into a residence closer to her old neighbourhood. The thought of this frightens her in the same way a child’s first day of kindergarten might. “But I won’t know anyone,” she tells me. I try to reassure her that there are activities she can join where she will meet people without even leaving the building. There is a music evening every Wednesday, a movie night, Bingo and much more. I can tell that right now, there is no comfort in this.

We spent the last two weeks shopping for everything she needs for this new chapter of her life:  sheets for a twin bed, a micro-wave oven, even many of the little things we use every day without thinking like scissors and a can opener.  My brother will be here early in the morning with a small truck to load up all her worldly possessions.  We’re all tired and as I head to bed on the last night my mother will spend under my roof, I push open the door to her room to say good night.

Her night table lamp is on but she is asleep in her recliner, jaw slack, breathing deeply. She has had a very sore back for the last two days and I suspect it is because this is the third night in a row she falls asleep in her chair.  “Mom,” I whisper. I say it again, more loudly this time, and her eyes fly open.  Her face is deeply lined and her once luminous hazel eyes are now almost hidden, like dried raisins, beneath drooping eyelids. But there are still traces of the local beauty pageant contestant she had once been. Beneath the aged skin is still a fine bone structure. Her rich auburn hair, now a faded blonde touched up by the hairdresser on a regular basis, is still surprisingly full.

 “We have a big day with an early start tomorrow. You should go to sleep in your bed,” I say. She looks at me and I can tell she’s disoriented, but whether it’s from coming out of a deep sleep or anxiety, I don’t know.  Finally she says, “Tell me again what’s happening tomorrow.”

This is more familiar territory. She knows she’s moving tomorrow and the stress is wreaking havoc on her brain.  The same thing happened a few years earlier when her last remaining sister passed away. It’s the details that keep escaping her:  the schedule, the who is doing what and how. So I patiently tell her again how we are heading to her new home. That my car is already packed with the little things.  That my brother and a friend will be here with a truck to move her dresser, recliner, sewing machine, and other bigger items she is taking.  That I will stay with her for two days in her new apartment and then my brother will stay for another two to help her get oriented.  

I see her processing this information yet again.  Then she looks at me and asks, “But am I coming back here tomorrow night?” And my heart breaks into a million pieces.