When Tom’s Dad came home he stuck his head in the room and said hello.
At 5:30 they were called to wash up, supper was about to begin.
Rich mused to himself, “At home, it was, come and get it. Which is, frankly, a bit more inviting. The only time I ever washed for a meal was if I was elbow deep in grease and cow manure. I’m not completely void of civility and social grace – I watched enough movies and I had relatives who were proper and educated. I know enough not to belch or release gas at the table too. Although if properly timed that did raise a laugh or two at home, depending of course on the intensity and length of output, as well as the lingering odor. If people had to leave the table and head for the front porch – you achieved greatness.”
They sat at the table. Nobody made a move for the food. It soon became a bit uncomfortable.
“Where’s Mother?” Mr. Miles asked.
“She’s in her room.” Mrs. Miles said. “I’ll get her after we say grace. Would you like to say grace, Rich?”
Rich was so flabbergasted and caught off guard that he responded by merely moving his lips and nothing intelligible was uttered.
“Tom,” Mrs. Miles said, “I think we’ve embarrassed our guest. Would you mind saying grace?”
Mr. Miles appeared irritated, but bowed his head and said, “God we thank thee for thy bounty we are about to receive, amen.”
Everyone said “amen.”
Mrs. Miles excused herself and rose. “I’ll get mother.”
They waited until she returned with a small thin elderly woman dressed in a flowered dress. She was decrepit and moved slowly. Mrs. Miles was impatient with her and prodded her to move faster by nudging and gently pushing with her hands. Mrs. Miles pulled a chair out for her, but when she took too much time to settle back into the chair, Mrs. Miles said, “For God’s sake,” and shoved the chair into the back of her knees. Rich nearly said “amen” again. The old woman fell into the chair and nearly tipped over once she sat.
“Tom, get her some food,” Mrs. Miles said abruptly.
Tom stood and slapped food onto her plate like it was a prison chow line.
“This is Grandma,” Mr. Miles said as if she weren’t there.”
“Hi Grandma,” Rich said. “I’m Rich.”
She glanced up from her plate and smiled quickly.
“She’s lost her mind,” Mr. Miles said. “They say it’s hereditary. That’s what I’ll have to put up within a few years.” He glanced at Mrs. Miles.
Mr. Miles sat and the food began to be passed. The meal consisted of a small bowl of tomato soup, a tossed salad, stuffed pork chops, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans with slivers of almonds, and fresh lemonade.
“Where do you and your family go to church?” Mrs. Miles asked.
Suddenly it came to Rich in a flash. “Tom likes me and wants to hang around me. His parents do not approve. This meal, this weekend, and these questions are designed to demonstrate to Tom, I am not of their ilk. One thing that I had learned in the last two years about competing with snobbery, give them the show they paid for, strike back with sarcasm.”
Rich smiled politely. “We haven’t attended church since the family left England two hundred years ago. We worshiped at Stone Hinge. My Mother’s side were Druids, but we all converted to the religion practiced by the Incas, mainly because of the human sacrifices.” Rich looked at everyone long enough to see the confusion change to a light-hearted titter. “Actually we are Lutheran, but, to be honest, we seldom attend.”
“You should come to church with us some time,” Mr. Miles said.
“Sure, I don’t mind,” Rich said. “Tom says there are some hot looking girls that go there.”
“He did not,” Mrs. Miles insisted.
“When did I say that?” Tom said defensively.
“I’m just kidding,” Rich said.
“I should hope so,” Mrs. Miles said.
The mood changed with some forced smiles.
“I understand your Father works for the state,” Mr. Miles said.
“That’s right,” Rich said and waited for him to ask what he should have asked to begin with.
“What does he do?” Mr. Miles asked.
“He works at the nut house, loony bin, la la lockup, booby hatch, funny farm; the state hospital,” Rich said.
“In what capacity?” Mr. Miles asked.
“He watches the fruitcakes, nuts, and squirrels,” Rich said spinning his finger near his head.
“That’s an odd way of putting it,” Mrs. Miles said as if mildly offended.
“It’s kind of like watching old people who have lost their minds,” Rich said and gestured with his fork toward the grandmother.
Mr. and Mrs. Miles made eye contact. Rich did not know what the glance meant because he had no way of knowing how they thought, but he had an idea.
“What does your mother do?” Mrs. Miles asked. “I understand she works outside the home.”
“My mom is a cashier at the drug store in Northland Plaza,” Rich said.
“I think I’ve seen her there,” Mr. Miles said.
Rich wanted to say, “what are you doing checking out the chicks at the drugstore?” But too much sarcasm can quickly turn on you.
“Edna worked at a drugstore when we were first married,” Mr. Miles said. “Didn’t pay much in those days. As soon as I moved up in the company I got her a job in personal. Now, she practically runs the place.” He chuckled. “She gets more raises than I do.”
“That’s not so,” Mrs. Miles said. “You got three raises in the past two years and I only got one.”
“Yes, dear,” Mr. Miles said, “but that one was as big as my three.”
Rich said to himself, “I lost. I should have kept up with them, but now I am no longer the participant – I am the audience. I guess that’s good, but it was so much fun.”
The smug talk continued, all artfully designed to inform all that neither Rich nor his family suited their realm.
“Do you plan on attending college?” Mrs. Miles asked.
“I would like to,” Rich said.
He thought to himself, “perhaps, they might display some interest if I display sincerity.
Rich continued, “but I don’t think I’ll ever have the grades.”
“Nonsense,” Mr. Miles said, “you’re a bright lad. It’s not brains. It’s fortitude and ambition.”
‘Now I get it,’ Rich thought. ‘I always thought I was dumb, rather I’m lazy and uninspired only. I’m not as nearly bad off as I thought.’
“If you work hard you can achieve about anything.” Mrs. Miles added. “Tom wants to attend dental school at Ohio State University. How about you, what would you like to be?”
“Maybe I’ll be a minister,” Rich said.
Mr. and Mrs. Miles’ mouths turned down and they nodded with approval.
“I know what you’re thinking. How can a kid who doesn’t go the church be a minister?” Rich said. “I guess I’m kind of like the guy who always wanted to fly, but couldn’t afford it, so he became a pilot.”
Rich had no idea why he said that. He thought it was the ultimate calling and little discussion would follow.
“Dentistry is a really secure field,” Tom said.
“And God isn’t?” Rich said.
After that, the conversation turned to the weather, work, and more weather.
After the meal, Rich and Tom helped clear the table. Mrs. Miles left Grandma seated. She placed a picture puzzle on the table in front of her.
Tom said, “Mom, she’s just about done with the puzzle.”
“You know what to do,” Mrs. Miles said.
Tom walked over to the table and turned the puzzle upside down and scrambled all the pieces.
“No, no,” Grandma said in a weak voice. “Why did you do that, Tommy boy? I was about done.”
Rich was appalled and his face must have shown it.
Tom looked at Rich sheepishly and said, “It’s actually good for her. It keeps her mind busy.”
Tom and Rich walked to Will Davis’s house after supper and played pool in his basement for a while.
Rich and Tom returned to Tom’s home to a slice of apple pie topped with a scoop of ice cream.
Rich sensed the verdict was in on him. His contact with Tom would be somewhat curtailed and thus his entrance into the ‘in crowd.’
Mr. and Mrs. Miles said little the rest of the evening.