Last night Colin and I sat together in the cold front seat of our van. We were parked on the curb beside Cafe Miranda in Rockland, Maine. It's a small neighborhoody place (not our neighborhood, unfortunately) and our table for four wasn't ready yet. Colin's brother Marty and my husband Scott remained inside next to the coat rack, waiting. I trusted that one of them would come out to the curb and rap on the passenger's side window when they were ready for us, but I wasn't so sure they would.
Earlier, inside, Colin age 11, had been expressing his disapproval of our restaurant choice. He was disappointed we were not going to eat at his favorite restaurant, Moody's Diner. The details of all this restaurant deliberation are so tedious, even to me, that I won't trouble you with them. The fact is that Colin and I were discussing the matter alone in the van where his wheedling and whining wouldn't bother anyone but me.
I decided to use the age-old "son, you're old enough now to hear the truth" approach.
"Do you remember several months ago when we went to see Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow?"
"Remember how, after the movie, Dad said he liked it?"
"Well, he didn't. He hated it. He told me later he was wondering if he could have slipped out in the middle to go to Sears to buy some tools he needed and then slip back before it was over. We faked liking it so we wouldn't spoil it for you."
"You didn't like it either?" Obviously this has come as a shock.
"Except for getting to watch Jude Law for two hours, no," I said firmly. (The guy who made it spent most of his twenties in front of a computer creating visual effects that simulated 1930's comic books. He must have ordered a lot of pizza and had no social life and, well, when you watch the movie, it shows.) "I want you to do the same thing right now. Go into that restaurant and fake it for Dad so he can enjoy himself. This will be the first bread he's eaten in three weeks and I want him to have a good time. You can do that because you love him, right?"
"Yeah, I suppose," he said and then he gave me a plaintive look and his bottom lip wobbled a little. "But I really wanted to go to Moody's. Their grilled cheeses taste so good."
"I know, buddy. I know."
We had a lovely dinner. The promise of good bread and Samuel Smith's Old Brewery Pale Ale put Scott into a stellar, story-telling mood. Marty quizzed us on world geography to his heart's content and Colin's passion for all things Roman was met in his discovery of a salad on the menu called "Et Tu Bruté" (It kills a Caesar.)
"This is the best salad I've ever eaten!" he told the waiter repeatedly.
A few years ago I wrote an editorial for the Diocese of Maine newspaper, The Northeast called "The Power of Peanut Butter." I told of my older brother, Jimmy, who lives on an island in Southeast Alaska. Jim makes part of his living by hosting fishing charters in the icy, capricious waters west of Ketchikan. The tourists who hire him and his boat hope for the big 200 pound halibut. He tells me that sometimes he has to go farther off-shore than he would like in order to find them. But that’s what his guests pay him to do.
Jimmy told me about a fishing trip with a party of young men in their early twenties. They were keen to have an Alaskan adventure and out to catch the big fish. After an unsuccessful morning, they finally hauled up some big ones off a point that extends several miles out to sea. The return trip…rounding the point and heading back to the harbor…was rough. The wind came up and the current near the point worked to push them back. As the waves grew so did the uneasiness of his guests. The bravado of the early morning dissolved into seasickness and downright fear.
“I wasn’t so thrilled to be out there myself,” said my brother, one of the most affable, easy-going guys on earth. “I made sure everyone had their life-vests on. I was nervous but, as the skipper, I sure as hell couldn’t show it.”
That’s when he asked one of his guests to reach into his cooler and get him a peanut butter sandwich. “I told him I was hungry, which I wasn’t, but I knew that doing a normal thing like munching a sandwich would calm everyone down. And it did.” After awhile they cleared the point, put the wind behind them and surfed the big swells to the safety of the harbor.
There's a power that comes of acting like you aren't scared when you really are and there's a power that comes of pretending to enjoy something for a loved one's sake when you really don't. It's a gift we can give to those we love and I believe grace often comes of it. I suppose that if eleven isn't too young an age to learn this, neither is 42 or 62 or 82.
Late last night Colin lay in bed while I sat in a comfy chair in the darkness of the game room. I could see him through the frame of the open door, propped up on one elbow reading. Scott could be heard through the wall talking excitedly on the phone to our friend Michael about a desirable pinball machine he has discovered in Marietta, Georgia. (Oh, God.) Colin looked up at me across the distance.
"I had a good time tonight. I didn't have to fake it."
"It was nice, wasn't it?"
"Yeah. Good salad. And the Elvis bathroom is great, better than Moody's bathroom."
In the hall I heard Marty open our bathroom door, signaling my turn. He was humming a tune he plays in jazz band. He stuck his head in Colin's room.
"What?" he said, looking in at us.
"Oh, nothing," I said, smooching the top of his head as I squeezed by.
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