Please enjoy this story again, which I first told 11 October 2010.
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 and ran the local tavern and roominghouse in the little railroad town where most of the family lived. My father slept in a room upstairs; 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. Mom Grey eventually closed the tavern and moved north, and by the time I came along she had a house on an alley near downtown. We visited most Sunday afternoons. She always had Hershey bars in the refrigerator just for my brother and me. We’d sit on her wide, wooden front porch and play with empty aerosol cans she 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. I can’t imagine now why she tolerated that!
She had a very old TV, and behind this panel right at little-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 all. If she ever cursed my name Sunday night when she settled in that night to watch Gunsmoke, I never heard of it.
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 — 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.
I haven’t had a Filet-O-Fish sandwich in years, thanks to the gluten-free diet I have to follow. But I used to order them at the drive-through all the time after church, just to feel that Sunday connection to Mom Grey.
Happy birthday today to my brother!