Everyone in the family called her Mom. She was my father’s father’s mother, my great grandmother, and her time overlapped mine by a handful of years. Filet-O-Fish sandwiches will always make me think of her.
She was born in the West Virginia hills at a time when indoor plumbing wasn’t yet widely available. She is said to have been determined, ornery even. Her pluck served her well; she owned half the small town in which my father was born, including the local tavern. My father slept in a room above the tavern; Mom Grey did most of the work raising him.
Much of the family moved to South Bend in the 1950s looking for manufacturing and construction work. (Good thing, or my father would never have met my mother.) Mom Grey moved north at some point too, and by the time I came along she had a house on a narrow street near downtown. We visited most Sunday afternoons and I loved to go. She always had Hershey bars in the refrigerator just for my brother and me. We’d sit on her wooden front porch, which stretched across the front of the house, and play with a box of empty aerosol cans she inexplicably kept in a cardboard box. Or we’d get the rag off the kitchen sink and try to rub the age spots off her legs, which I can’t imagine now why she tolerated!
She had a very old TV, and behind this panel right at kid height were about a million knobs. I was obsessively drawn to knobs and buttons, and so when nobody was looking I’d pull off the panel and twist them. This almost certainly caused her to utter choice words when she settled in that night to watch Gunsmoke.
My brother and I were fascinated with a conch shell she used to prop open a door. The first time one of us reached for it, Dad quickly intervened as it had been strictly off limits to him as a boy. But Mom Grey would have none of it. “You let those boys play with that shell!” Dad stood down. When the family matriarch spoke, everyone fell into line.
Whenever our stay slipped into the dinner hour Dad would drive over to McDonald’s to buy us all Filet-O-Fish sandwiches, since Mom Grey enjoyed them. It was a testament to Dad’s devotion to his grandmother, for Dad was tight with his money and his wallet would not open so easily for anyone else.
Filet-O-Fish Sundays lasted only so many years, though, as Mom Grey passed on when I was six.
McDonald’s is next door to the hotel where my church has been meeting, and more Sundays than not I hit the drive through after service. Every Filet-O-Fish I’ve eaten has brought back these pleasant memories of Mom Grey.
If you’re wondering about the patch over my eye in the photo above, here’s the story behind it.