When Mike and I started dating, it was a big deal with his family because he hadn’t brought a girl home before. It was a REALLY big deal when I was asked to go to a family function at his grandparents’ house.
Of course, I was warned about “things” in advance. Things like women did not eat with the “men-folk” and women stayed in the house, preferably the kitchen, all day. Women served the men first, who eat in order of seniority/age with the elder men sitting down first. Then, the women served the kids. THEN, the women got to eat the meal. After everything was picked over and cold (no microwave). Whatever was left was okay for women to eat – EVEN THOUGH THE WOMEN WERE THE ONES WHO MADE THE MEAL.
I was warned because Mike knew this wasn’t going to fly with me. Turns out, there was nothing to be worried about.
Within minutes of our arrival, Mike’s grandpa wanted to show me his garden. We walked to the back yard and I was extremely polite. I ooh’d and aah’d over his vegetables. Then he walked down a narrow path, bent down, picked something, and came back toward me.
“Try this, girl,” he said. (Every female in the family was “girl,” and I doubt he actually KNEW any of the women’s names.)
“Sure,” I replied, taking a green pepper from his hand and biting three-quarters of it. I chewed it, swallowing whole as much as possible.
Thank goodness I was wearing dark sunglasses. My eyes were watering. My mouth was on fire. But I’d be damned if I’d let him see that.
“Well,” I said. “It’s a little warm, but do you have anything HOT?”
Mike grabbed the pepper from my hand and took a bite. He ran into the house screaming, mouth on fire, for a glass of milk. When he came back with a drink for me, I refused and held my eye contact (from behind my sunglasses) with his grandpa.
Mike’s grandpa clasped his hands, did a bit of a jig, and kind of giggled. He was absolutely tickled.
From that moment on, I had a name – in fact, I was the only woman referred to by my first name, and not called “girl.” I was also invited to eat WITH him IN THE GARAGE. It was monumental for the family. Not everyone was pleased.
For the next 15 years, Mike’s grandpa would ask me about peppers, give me a huge hug, and call me by my first name. I was also the only woman invited to eat in the garage and watch wrestling (“wraslin’”) with him.
I don’t know why I decided to google his name today. He was near 90 years old and I don’t believe he had ever been on the Internet, let alone have an online presence. I typed his name into the search engine and …
Up came his obituary.
He died on September 20. Ethan and Lauren are mentioned in the obit as his great grandkids. Mike is mentioned as a family member who died before him. There is no reference to peppers (not that there should be).
No one called to tell me he passed. Of course, I don’t have a relationship with his family, but I honestly thought his parents would call when Mike’s grandpa died. I even mentioned this to my mom a few weeks ago, that I thought Mike’s parents would reach out when his grandpa died. I told my mom that I’d send a pepper plant to his funeral service.
But, I didn’t know he had already died.
God bless you, Charles. I guess I’ll let you know now that the pepper was the hottest damn thing I ever tasted. But, you probably already knew that. Thanks for referring me by my name and letting me dine with you in the garage at family functions. I have very good memories of you. XOXO