John Olson, unrenowned for his lavish lifestyle or extravagant spending sprees, decided to take the family out to a public restaurant to celebrate my 12th birthday which I thought was a dandy idea since I had never been to one or two. Little did I know that would be the last time my body would find itself in such a place for four years. I asked Dad, the accountant, a couple weeks prior to this why he never took us to a public restaurant like all the other dads did. We went for a ride in the old car. He explained. "It's like this, son. Why should we spend good, hard-earned money at a public restaurant when we have plenty of groceries at the house and your mother loves to cook every night? Why? Who are we to deprive her of what thrills her the most? Who? How could we ever forgive ourselves for hurting her feelings by going to a public restaurant? How? This would not be as traumatic, though, as hiring a maid which would really get her upset. Listen up and stop interrupting and quit hanging out the window, boy. This is the most important part. If you tell your mother about our little conversation, I will give your 13c/month allowance to your sister from now till Kingdom come and you will be officially cut off from what little inheritance you deserve. Understand? Stick your shirt tail in and stop acting like a monkey. I told you to quit hanging out the window!", he related. I understood.
On family outings such as this, we would always take the good car (Mama's) and leave the old card (Dad's) in the driveway. The good car slept in the carport. The old car slept in the driveway. To those who have not lived very long, this "possession of car" law and corollary "parking space allocation" axiom would appear to violate sound logic and practical reasoning since Dad was the breadwinner and Mama was just a housewife (flood of comments?). To those inquiring minds, I would respond, "Au contraire, mon frere." Get your manuels out and let's engage ourselves in a quick review of Family Dynamics 101; Chapter 5 "Cliches and Adages". Verse 29 reads "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." and is applicable to every household from sea to shining sea. Think about it. According to ancient esoteric manuscripts, this proverb originated in the Olson home on Trowbridge Road in Valdosta, GA. and that's the gospel. Maranatha! The uninitiated are now initiated.
Off we went in our Sunday-go-to-meeting-clothes: Dad, Mama, Nancy and Steve - The All-American Happy Family! The atmosphere in the good car on the ride to the public restaurant was one of joy, laughter, merriment and harmony. Faithful husband and loving wife were holding hands in the front seat while precious big sister and Adorable Little Brother were holding hands in the back seat. We reminisced about unforgettable family moments from the past. We cut the fool. We sang hymns. The occasion was momentous and everything was blanketed with agape love. It was a beautiful, clear, star-lit Winter eve topped by a crescent moon and enveloped by the succulent fragrance of Togetherness misting the air and life was grand! We were out to honor the anniversary of the birth of one of God's Special Little People - one who would later be recognized and commended for his roles in promoting world peace and finding a cure for cancer. This sweet, innocent and huggable little fellow with the contagious smile who always had the happiness and welfare of his sister utmost in his mind was loved and cherished by all. But not that particular night.
I was astounded and perplexed by all the hustle and bustle within the confines of the public restaurant and had to keep raising my jaw into the closed position as it kept falling into the open position. The only times I had witnessed such carrying ons was when the TV was working. Nancy giggled when my impatient stomach angrily protested in the middle of Dad's twelve minute blessing as the food was getting cold. Mama had brought the Brownie camera and got someone to take a snapshot of us sitting around the table with The Birthday Present being the centerpiece. Cheeeeeeeze! I don't recollect everything I ate due to the fact that much of that night of infamy is now a blur and details are sketchy. This shall be understandable to the reader in just a short little while. I do know that of the 182 table manners which had been systematically drilled into me, I managed to remember 4.
I hastily devoured all the food that was placed in front of me and then was teased by the challenge from the last bite of Nancy's roast beef. I accepted. My diversion of her attention was good. My advance to her plate was good. My confiscation of the booty was good. My retreat from her plate was not good. Anne Olson, with eyes in the front, back and both sides of her head compounded with the reactions of a fly being swatted at and an aim that Sandy Koufax would be envious of, jabbed the guilty hand with a fork but this was good.
The next day at school I told everybody that I got bit by two snakes on the back of my hand after clubbing a bear to death who had mawled my eye. I rode that wave as long as I could which was two and a half days. I made a killing by putting a bandaid over the inflicted hand and charging the boys 10c to look at it and the girls 20c. Except Debbie Palmer who was no more than nine levels above me based upon all socio-economic indicators. Ahhhhhhh, Debbie Palmer - every boy's dream; The Lake Park Elementary School Pinup Girl; a cherubim amongst the heathen; a rose amongst the weeds; Little Miss Beyond The Universe. I paid her 20c to look at it. I never did end up kissing her probably because she barely knew that I existed. One day she accidentally touched my elbow which made me feel the same way Moses did when he received The Ten Commandments. I instantly and silently pledged to not wash that elbow until my grandkids graduated high school - a pledge unbroken to this very day. Maybe Debbie is now fat, ugly, thrice divorced and living in a trailer in rural Oklahoma which would serve her right for paying me no never mind. Betting odds are as follows - 2:1 she married the CEO of Coca-Cola; 3:1 she changed her name to Kim Basinger; 8 gazillion:1 her goal in life was to be Mrs. Steve Olson.
The beginning of the end was when the elderly waitress (about 30 years old) looked directly at Birthday Boy and asked if I would "care for dessert". Would I care for dessert? Would I care for dessert? I thought I was hearing things. I would cut off my right arm and all eleven of my sister's toes for dessert. This had to be the most stupidest question ever posed besides "Are you too sick to go to school?" or "Would you like to kiss Debbie Palmer?". Hesitatingly, I dared a glance at Dad. Smilingly, he gave two thumbs up. Pushing the envelope, I loudly proclaimed, "I'll take one of each!" Dad's smile went topsy-turvy as did the two thumbs. Some envelopes are not meant to be pushed. Dad suggested, "Try to answer the question correctly. See if you can get it right this time, kid. You have one more shot." All conversation in the public restaurant ceased. Two cooks came out from the kitchen and peered around the corner to see if I would blow this Golden Opportunity which I did. With knees shaking, heart palpitating, palms sweating and voice quivering, I heard my voice say, "I believe that I would care to sample the most expensive one, please." Dad hit the roof. Mama fainted. Nancy beamed as she knew it would be at least two weeks till I heard the end of this one. The two cooks chuckled. The elderly waitress dropped a coffee cup and saucer. Some of the patrons fell over.
In a voice heard all the way to Indiana, Nancy's father thundered, "Just give him some crackers and jelly!! That's all he wants!!!" The elderly waitress scooted off to corroborate with the two cooks. When I was licking my fingers from the third cracker and jelly, Nancy's mother roused herself, snatched me up and landed a vicious left hook right dadburn square on my pretty little face that would have dazed Cassius Clay. Such was the signature of her opinion on the matter lest there be some sort of doubt that chanced to find itself lingering at the wrong time and place. On the ride back home, I thought it best not to utter a word as it would probably be the wrong one and Birthday Boy was in Serious Damage Control; familiar territory/chartered waters. The only sound emanating from the good car was the occasional smacking of my puffy lips from the tasty crackers and jelly. None of the eight nostrils caught a whiff of the succulent fragrance of Togetherness which had somehow evaporated. I had to relinquish the J.C. Penney socks and Fruit of the Loom underwear which had come beautifully gift-wrapped as The Birthday Present but was not exactly what I had wanted. "The Lord giveth and thine mother taketh away." was not a misprint. Even the cocker spaniel Sandy, my best friend and constant companion, growled at me right before I tucked my own self into bed that night. My right eye eventually opened and the blueish/purpleish/blackish bruise was gone in only two months.
From that day forward, any time we would ride past that particular public restaurant, I would give Mama plenty of latitude and compliment her on how pretty her hair looked or how good she smelled or how slim she was getting or what a lovely dress she had on. Refer back to Family Dynamics 101; Chapter 5, Verse 29. Even after 37 years, I haven't been able to bring myself to return to that particular public restaurant as the two cooks may still be working there and would want to rehash the whole ordeal at my expense which is about as appealing to me as passing a kidney stone. Some emotional scars take longer to heal than others. However, I shall return one day to the joint to sample the most expensive dessert even if it does cost $1.99. I never did see the snapshot of us sitting around the table and how's the weather in your neck of the woods?