Sunday, September 9, 2012

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

This is a tale of grilled cheese sandwiches.

I am not a shopper and never have been. Getting me into a store to buy anything other than baseball cards is a waste of time and effort as far as I am concerned. Much of my clothing can tell stories about incidents well before the new millenium.

As my mother's battles with her dementia began, layers of her existence began to peel away. The lunch dates at the club with the army of friends she had through all the years began to slow. The trips to the movies became more effort than reward as her ability to hear what was happening or comprehend its meaning became ever more diluted.

But shopping was a different story.. My mom always loved to shop. Not that her closets were overflowing, and not that she spent exorbitantly. But shopping was, for so many years, an integral part of her routine. So,even as my mom's condition led to much of her life receding, there was still the stores. And my sister.

There is one member of every family who is the most empathetic, the most caring, the most of what we all strive to be in our better selves. So it is in my family that my sister fills that role. She is so devoted to my mom's well being that she forces me, by her example, to be a better son. There is not a day that goes by, not an hour really, that my sister is not consumed by her concern that my mom's life is as perfect as it can be in an increasingly imperfect universe.

And as good a shopper as my mom once was, she is no match for my sister. So, through these last years, as we have tried to spend more and more time with my mom to fill the ever increasing gaps in her routine, my sister has soldiered on to shop after shop, week after week. But not me.

Which brings me back to grilled cheese sandwiches.

My central role in my mom's life was lunch or dinner partner. Until that became a physical impossibility for my mom earlier this year, I used to dine with her as often as possible. For the longest of times, this meant that I would find myself at Louie's Charcoal Pit on several occasions every week.

From 1948 until 1980, Teaneck was hometown to my mom, two of her sisters and countless friends. There were two restaurants that would serve as frequent host during my mom's ventures to Cedar Lane. Louie's, a local diner, was one and Bischoff's the other. Bischoff's was home to the best home made ice cream anywhere. To this day, my wife's absolute favorite food is coffee chip ice cream from this establishment. But their grilled cheese sandwich, while good, is not the same as the one you can get at Louie's.

Which brings me back to that grilled cheese sandwich.

As my mom's dementia began to accelerate, she lost the ability to read and interpret a menu.  Even before her eyes failed and she could no longer see the writing on the page, she was unable to decide that she wanted grilled chicken, or tuna fish or egg salad. So, she would stare at the images before her and reflexively conclude that she was in the mood for a grilled cheese sandwich.

After a while, even the waitresses knew the routine. When we entered the restaurant, the cup of hot java would be in front of my mom within a matter of seconds. Often it sat there, unattended, until my mom realized it was before her, would take a sip and then chastise the establishment for giving her cold coffee.

I can't tell you how many grilled cheese sandwiches my mom has ordered during our lunches together. And when she eventually lost the ability to tell the waitress or waiter what she wanted to eat, it became my task, or that of my sister, to advise that what would really suit my mom's fancy was a grilled cheese sandwich.

My mom no longer is able to go to restaurants, or to shop with my sister. A different act in this play has now taken center stage, one in which my mom's apartment is now the setting. As much as some of those lunches or dinners were struggles, as much as those endless journeys to the stores must have been hard for my sister, I know that both my sister and I miss those days and look back on them with a mixture of many emotions.

Grilled cheese with Dorothy Nussbaum in Teaneck, at Louie's Charcoal Pit. Nothing else like it.


Anonymous said...

Robert, Beautifully done. This really touched me. Steve

Anonymous said...

Robbie, This is so beautiful. Thank you so much for sending it along. It's no wonder you're an internet radio superstar!


Anonymous said...

Louie's used to treat Fred with that same sort of dignity to.. like he was frozen in a younger time to them.. Good for them!

Anonymous said...

you just keep getting better and better, I'm waiting for the published book.


Anonymous said...

Loved that story! All these memories to cherish…
Thank you for sharing.


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Anonymous said...

I want to thank you again for your wonderful blog posts. Grilled cheese was so poignant.