05 July, 2010

Breakfast at Victor's 1959 Cafe

"This old man, he played one, he played nick-nack on his thumb with a nick-nack, paddy-whack, give the dog a bone, this old man came rolling home."
This 83 year old man came rolling into my home after celebrating his cousin Bill's 80th birthday. Bill's living in long-term nursing care at the present moment: wheelchair, diapers, seeing impaired, hearing impaired, speech impaired, eating impaired. I remember him from his earlier years with the St Paul police department, but haven't seen him for 35 years. The two cousins had lost track of each other until a lovely day in late June. It rocks the world as my Dad watches his generation drop away. Each funeral triggers his inner alarm clock and brings him to the state of awareness, grace, and gratitude: last meal, last trip, last embrace, last chance. Our time together is often at a table with food. Last time we were together we decided on Victor's. Cuban. His first time. Maybe his last. My Dad takes food and meals very seriously. He grew wondering when the next meal would appear. He was blessed: he didn't actually miss many meals except by choice. And to this day he makes an effort to show up at the table, not just on time, but a little bit early. Not eating is an indication of ill-health, decline or deterioration. "Off your feed" is his expression. Eating out enhances the ritual. There is a playful reverence in the gesture. Picking the restaurant, selecting your meal, choosing companions. Witnessing his cousin's limitations caused anxiety, increases his awareness of the present moment. and intensifies his gratitude. "I'm older than he is," he reminds me. "Please don't let that happen to me."

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