“Paul, it’s 7:05.” said my mother as though it was the end of the world.
It was a summer morning in 1984, and I was lying in bed in a hotel room in Dyersburg, Tennessee. We were there on a trip to visit my grandparents, who lived in a small town about 14 miles to the north. My mother was trying desperately to get me up.
“Paul, Grandpop and Nana are country people. They get up and have breakfast at six. We’re late.”
“So, why don’t we get up at a reasonable hour, go to the Shoney’s across the street and have the breakfast bar, and then meet up with them afterward?”
“Paul, we can’t do that. We came up here to see them.”
“We WILL see them! Say we eat at Shoney’s, and then get to their house at nine. And we’ll be there until nine P.M. That’s twelve hours! We’ll see plenty of them!”
“Paul, they don’t want us to have to go to the trouble of going to Shoney’s.”
“How is that trouble? Eating out is fun! They have all kind of different stuff on their breakfast bar… sausage, pancakes, French toast… we can eat as much as we want, and we don’t have to be there at six, or even 7:05.”
“Paul, we’re obligated to have breakfast with Grandpop and Nana. We owe it to them. When you’re an adult you’ll understand these things.”
The absolute worst way to convince me to do anything is to tell me I’m obligated to do it. But, I could tell my mother wasn’t going to back down, so I got up, showered and got dressed, and got in the car.
My mother would soon be wishing I had won the argument. I would too.
We pulled up to my grandparents’ house and walked into the kitchen. “There he is, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed!” said my grandfather. “We hope we didn’t get you up too early.”
“No, not at all,” said my mother cheerfully.
So we sat down to a breakfast of bacon, sausage, biscuits, and eggs. There were several Mason jars of homemade preserves on the table. “We have an entire freezer full out back,” my grandmother told us. “This stuff keeps forever. Like that jar of blackberry preserves there – we canned that in 1982.”
“Well!” said my mother. “It tastes just like it was canned yesterday.” Personally, it seemed to me like a lot of work to pick or buy the fruit, cook it, and store it when you could just drive to the grocery store and buy a jar of Smuckers for three bucks. But it made them happy, so I was happy for them.
“Paul, try some of this pear jelly on your biscuit,” my grandfather said, pushing a jar my way.
I hesitated. The contents of the jar looked… funny. The jelly was brown, approximately the color of Coca-Cola. From what I remembered, pears were yellowish-white, or whitish-yellow… you know, pear colored. But, I reasoned, maybe they added cinnamon or other spices that turned the jelly that color. And I loved my grandfather and didn’t want to hurt his feelings. So I spread some on my biscuit and took a bite.
It wasn’t bad. It tasted like pears. I smiled and took another bite.
“Guess when that pear jelly was canned,” my grandfather said proudly.
“1983?” I guessed, which would have been last year at the time.
“No, way before that,” he said.
“NINE… TEEN… SEVENTY!”
1970????? Fourteen years ago? I was barely able to stop myself from spitting the biscuit across the room. I managed to get out, “wow, that was a long time ago,” as I tried not to choke.
And because I didn’t want to hurt my grandparents’ feelings, I had to finish the rest of that biscuit, with pear jelly on top that was old enough to get a learner’s permit to drive.
And to top it all off, my grandfather picked up the plate of biscuits and “accidentally” lost his balance and dropped another one on my plate. “Whoop!” he said. “That’s all right, there’s plenty more jelly!”
I can’t remember for sure – it’s been 21 years – but I’m pretty sure that the next morning, we found a reason to explain why we were running late, and since we didn’t want to put them out, we’d just run by Shoney’s breakfast buffet.