It’s amazing what I don’t hear when I listen. I hadn’t thought much about our lunch topic and lamented more about the inevitable issues of dating or puberty. I rehearsed those conversations alone in the garage. One day they’ll call me from the bullpen for fatherly insight.
We sat in an Ely, Nevada diner after two weeks on the road. We had talked about everything: politics, spiritual beliefs, sports, the economy, careers, gum chewing…flatulence (my topic), anything. Our waitress, a woman in her 70s, had a hair bun larger than an overgrown zucchini. She shuffled across the linoleum to our table. She scratched down our orders and trudged away.
My trio pondered the trip highlights. Hun, my wife, and oldest daughter Kate, liked the Colorado hike. Younger daughter Maggie reminisced about Arches National Park. I strolled to the salad bar, the only place in Nevada with vegetables, and plated up. I drizzled on French dressing.
The waitress returned with burgers and fries. Maggie slid the condiments from the table corner, pushed her fries aside, and squirted a ketchup puddle the size of a Frisbee. Not a single molecule hit her fries. She started dunking.
Hun grabbed the ketchup and poured a large puddle of ketchup, without touching any fries.
A cherry tomato rolled off my fork as I watched Kate. She drizzled ketchup over her fries. Some fries were doused, others unscathed.
I then realized that we were an intermixed family of dunkers and drizzlers.
I wondered, considering natural selection, how the ketchup-dunking gene claimed the respective chromosome. My daughters and I share some common traits. Both kids are somewhat musical, athletic and social, like me. Both are artistic and mechanically inclined like their mom. Kate is thoughtful and sensitive whereas Maggie is purposeful and blunt.
I asked Maggie why she dunked. “Are you copying Mom?”
“I’m my own person, Dad, I have reasons to dunk. I control the ketchup and fry ratio. Saturated fries don’t taste good. Sometimes I’m not in the mood for ketchup. That’s when I take a break and leave the fry bare.” She actually made sense except I wondered why someone needed to take a ketchup break.
“Then,” she continued, “When I’m bored with naked fries, I dress them with ketchup clothing and eat them, one by one.”
She sounded like an executioner. I turned to Kate.
“Maggie is not right, but she isn’t wrong,” Kate deliberated.
I never expected their rationale and certainly never anticipated the innuendo. Guess I rehearsed the wrong speech in the garage. I just wanted to know why they dunked or drizzled. It seemed black and white.
“Kids, no more fries for you.”
After lunch we barely left town before getting into a heated debate about Lay’s® and Pringles® potato-chips. Pringles canisters are great for road-trips. They’re indestructible and can be used as wheel chocks. Bags have more air and crumbs than chips, it’s a fact. I met opposition.
“Pringles aren’t real potatoes. They’re counterfeit,” Hun argued.
Kate and Maggie agreed. The trio implemented a vehicle-wide canister ban. “Pringles are coagulated mashed potatoes passed off as chips, just like hot-dogs are fake meat. How much starch is used to make Pringles anyway?”
The potato-chip battle wasn’t worth fighting. We had another 300 miles to go and I wanted to avoid hitchhiking.
The conversations bewildered me. I asked simple questions and anticipated straightforward answers. Instead I got inferences about relationships and authenticity. It took a lunch-stop in Nevada for me to notice how expressive my kids are, and not just about ketchup or chips. Looks like I’ll be waiting in the bullpen a while longer.
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