Parking Lot Dining


We hardly ever went to a restaurant when I was a little girl.  I do remember going to McDonald’s, that was a real treat.

Sometimes Dad just had to get out of the house and take a Sunday drive.  Once we got in the car to go see one of his brothers, and nobody was home.  We just went from Uncle Merle’s to Uncle Frank’s, to Uncle Gerald’s, and finally over to his sisters, Aunt Barbara.  Nobody was home, now that was really weird; Mom left a note on everyone’s back door, so each of Dad’s brothers knew we were thinking about him.  We never went to the front door at houses where we knew people really well like Uncles, that would be insulting, the front door was for company, not family and close friends.

Whenever we went for a drive like that, we always ate at one of my cousin’s house, so I was getting pretty hungry.  Dad said to keep our eyes peeled for a Dairy Queen, and maybe we’d stop.  Dad loved Dairy Queen almost as much as he loved his own home-made ice cream.  Of course that got me and Deanna and Bonita and Vickie and Loren and all the Little Kids staring out the window with only one thing on our mind.

Bonita saw a Tastee Freez first and shouted out, “There’s one!”

“Naw, that’s ice milk.  I don’t want that,”  Dad  said.  “Look  for a Dairy Queen.”

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We spotted a frozen custard stand; not good enough.  I pointed to a Dairy Queen, but too late, it was already in the rear-view mirror by the time I shouted out.  I started thinking Dad just invented this game to keep us busy, kinda like the way Mom  thought up jobs for us to do, and that kind of made me mad, ’cause when I saw that Dairy Queen, my mouth got juicy inside just thinking about the soft sweet taste of that soft-serve melting in there.  Then Dad pulled into McDonald’s and my heart just flipped over in my chest.

Dad lined us all on the back bumper of our black and white Chevy and told us to watch the sign turn-over, and then we’d know he had our hamburgers.  I tell you, my Dad was a genius of coming up with ways to keep kids still.  We just sat there all slack-jawed, staring at that sign until he came back.

“Are those all yours?”  a man said as he passed us.

“You better believe it, and I got three more at home.”  Dad laughed and headed inside for our hamburgers.

“Dee-ean.”  Mom said like she always did when Dad did or said something that she thought was a little bit wrong, but made her proud at the same time. I always liked it when Dad said there were more of us at home, ’cause then I knew he was really happy to have so many kids.  Besides that, I liked the surprised look on the questioners face, kinda like they didn’t believe Dad, but also like they thought it could be true.

“Did you see the number change?” he asked as he pulled sandwiches out of the white paper bag.  Bonita said she did; I was suspicious ’cause she just like to please Dad so darn much that sometimes she just saw what he wanted her to see.  The smell of greasy hamburgers and pickles made a cloud all around us; such a delicious smell.  We each got a gigantic milk shake, one all to myself.  Sort of.  Dad ordered nothing for himself, then hung around on clean-up duty:  “Are you finished with that?” he said. or “Do you need a little help.”  I had to focus; if I let a pickle slip or put my shake down, the next thing I knew, Dad was helping out by taking a big bite out of my hamburger, or by testing out my straw to make sure the milk shake was going through smooth.  I ate until it felt like my belly would burst; the rest went to Dad, same as everyone else.

When we got home that night, notes were stuck all over our back door  from my Uncles.  They visited us, while we were off visiting them.  “Gol-darn!  I wonder what they had for supper?”  I said out loud, which made Mom laugh and run her hand over my neck, then smooth out the back of my shirt.  I loved it when she did that, it was just like when she said, “Dee-ean” to Dad.

I’m a bit of a restaurant snob now:  I can eat out any day of the week I want, and I avoid McDondald’s like the plague, mainly because I try to eat healthy vegetables, fish, and chicken.  G-Money says I cook so much better than any restaurant, so he’d rather eat at home.  That could be true or he might be pulling one of his tricks to save the cash.

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