My uncle was a snug fit at the soda fountain of Howard Johnson’s restaurant in Elmhurst, IL because it was built in 1966 to maximize the number of customers who sat there to order ice cream. His manly frame was built for something more substantial.
He found a way to board a stool, with care, like a spacecraft’s tricky docking with the mother ship. He reached a hand to escort my petite auntie onto her stool and smiled his best uncle smile at me on the first day of my first summer job as a waitress.
My uniform with fruit-of-the-month corsage (strawberries) stopped itching. My feet didn’t pinch, much. I owned this. I was smooth. Passed menus resembling stone tablets. Narrated daily specials (strawberries figured prominantly). Set napkins and utensils. Flipped order pad. Took order. Something with strawberries. Fetched two waters.
The next moment showed me that love is not earned but given for free. I plunked the supersize water glass with such a show of fake competence, it tsunami-ed onto my uncle’s lap, a lap so tightly tucked under the counter, escape was futile.
He didn’t glance down. He didn’t flinch. His uncle smile didn’t dim.
Not one bit.