My primary memory of the diner was that is was brown. It was 1983 and interior design hadn’t fully shaken off the 1970s.
Memory is odd. I remember the color of the diner, but not why we were there. I’m pretty sure it was for my great-aunt Cassie’s memorial, but that’s largely due to the timing and who was there. And I’m not really sure where it was - Concordia, Great Bend? Some smallish rural Kansas town.
But I remember the diner and I remember the booth we sat in. All four of us - myself, my grandmother, my mom and my dad. It was, and this is why it stuck in my memory, the last time we’d all sit together. And while we don’t always know lasts, I was pretty sure of this one even then.
Empathy is your brain’s best guess at the emotions of others around you. And, because our brains are really annoying, done in a way where you essentially feel them. My 12 year old brain was playing a lot of flavours of anger and sadness and impossible hopes on a loop. My own emotions were pretty clear - panic and a desire to flee the scene.
But I sat. We sat. And it was generally fine. It was frosty, but I think my parents were on their best behaviour for my granny who had lost her sister. My parent’s divorce had not been a happy affair and I’m not quite sure it was complete at this point. If it wasn’t, it was just a few weeks or months away. So “best behaviour” wasn’t a very firm or stable thing, but it lasted for the duration.
And then we left. My mom and I in one car, dad and granny in the other. That was that, from then on parents were a one on one thing for me.
Right now, sitting on my granny’s secretary, are my parent’s ashes. It turns out I was wrong. There’s one last trip together. Again to a memorial service for my aunt in a rural town. This time though it’s also for them. And the little rural town is Irish. It’s an echo of that day in 1983.
But it’s in my mom’s stomping grounds, not my dad’s. And lunch today will be happy tinged sad, not the haywire of emotions that day was. And maybe this time the memories will be happier. Less brown panelling and a desire to flee, more on people and sharing. I think mom would approve and so would aunt Trixie. And dad… well dad’s just going to have to deal.