Almost twenty years ago (yeesh…) my brother and I got our first job. We shared this job, because I wasn’t old enough to have one, and he was, but I really wanted one, and he half-wanted one. So we signed up to get a paper-route, he filled out all the paperwork in his name, and we split the work and split the money (Unrelated– but do you know how terribly your newspaper delivery person is paid? TIP THEM REGULARLY)
That December, the company had a Christmas party for all the local delivery kids at the local Pizza Hut. This was twenty years ago, mind you– so back when having a ‘Christmas party’ rather than a ‘winter break celebration’ was still okay, and– vastly more important to this story– before the advent of cell phones. My Dad drove us to the Pizza Hut and told us to call him when we were done and he’d come back and get us. My brother was ten, and I was eight, and we weren’t allowed to eat junk food or drink soda at our house. So a few hours later, our bellies were full of pepperoni pizza and Coke, and dark had fallen over our sleepy little town. My brother went up to the front to ask to use the phone, and the manager told him– more rudely than she needed too– that she needed to keep the phone lines open for orders. So Vinnie came back over to me and informed me that he guessed that we were going to walk home.
I don’t remember the walk very well at this point, but it was December in Nebraska, and we had assumed that our Dad would be picking us up afterwards, so I’m sure we weren’t as bundled up as we should have been. Google Maps tells me that it’s about two miles from Pizza Hut to my house, and we had to cross one major highway. Well. Major for my hometown. Which, at the time, meant that on occasion a car would drive by.
I do remember my brother leading the way, and we came upon the town library, which meant we’d gone too far. I remember crying when I saw the library, because I thought we were lost, but Vinnie had walked to the library from our house tons of times. We just cut through a parking lot, crossed an alley, and were home. As an adult, the distance is literally laughable.
When we got home, my parents were incensed. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but I’m sure that phone calls were made and words were exchanged. And then my Dad laid down THE LAW, which henceforth has been followed in our house, even when all other laws have been cast aside:
NONE SHALL EAT FROM THE HUT OF PIZZAS, NO MORE, FOREVER.
Pizza Hut was dead to him.
On Sunday, my grandmother and aunt came to town and so we all went to church together and then to lunch. My Grandma is 88, and a force to be reckoned with. And I’m serious. GET TO RECKONING.
So we are sitting at Godfather’s on Sunday– the only other pizza place in town– and we’re chatting about how much the Godfather’s has changed over the years, and someone brings up Pizza Hut…. and how none of us have been there in twenty years. At about this time, my Grandma speaks up and says that she hasn’t gone back, either.
“Seriously?” I asked, “You’re boycotting them, too? Because of us?”
“I won’t even eat at a different location.” She replied. “Even in another town, or in another state. That company has lost my business; make my grandchildren walk home. In the snow. AT NIGHT.” (You see? We all use caps lock in my family.)
So my brother and I looked at each other, and tried to conjure up a few memories from that night– from this harrowing journey that has, apparently, ended up costing Pizza Hut twenty years and two generations worth of patronage– and he can’t even remember it, at all. When I related to the family that I cried when we got to the library, because I knew we’d gone too far, my aunt replied, “Well I hope you did, after all the dramatics that your Grandmother has imagined.” She told us that whenever they come to town, when they pass the Pizza Hut, my Grandma starts a little mental tracker in her head. After about a mile or so, she says, “They’re still walking. It’s been a long ways– and they’re still walking.”
We were laughing at it on Sunday– it’s been twenty years!– and my Grandma replied, with fire in her eyes, “If you took me up there right now, I’d let them know just exactly how I feel about it.”
Internet, I was so touched by this. Even after my brother and I have basically forgotten about this event in our lives, and my Grandmother was ready to get in a chain fight over it. I had no doubt that if that manager was standing in front of us right then, my Grandma would have stood up out of her chair and “given her the business” as we say in my family, when we’re amongst polite circles. In my heart, I felt like my Grandma had spent the last twenty years punishing Pizza Hut because she couldn’t go back in time and bring us warmer coats, a ride home, or a cell phone. She couldn’t tell that silly manager what she could do with her stupid phone when it happened. She couldn’t just sit outside in her car and wait for our party to be over. So she had spent the next two decades getting a shot of adrenaline every time she saw a Pizza Hut sign.
That’s love, baby.
I’m feeling a little blue, Internet. The same day that I was having this revelation with my grandmother, a family friend was lying in a hospital bed across the country, taking his last breaths. This was a gentle man who loved everyone, who welcomed everyone, who was interested in everyone. He emailed my Dad about this new book craze about a little boy wizard who lived under the stairs, and got my whole family hooked. This was a man who got to know my fiance over the Internet, just because. And I don’t mean he friended him on Facebook and said hey every now and then– he was so genuine, and asked questions… he looked at every one of our wedding photos, and was so excited for us when we had Maren. He sent us books from his used book store and encouraged me when I got tired or angry at school. He is the number one reason that I felt like maybe I could learn to cook, after always being made fun of for my creative ways to ruin holidays with my contributions. He would randomly leave quotes from Pink songs on my facebook wall– at first I thought to make me laugh, and then I realized that he just really liked PINK. 🙂
One time I remarked to him that Mitch was too good for me, and I didn’t deserve him, and he replied, “Oh pssh. Yes you do.” He commended my parents, all the time, on what great kids they had.
The older you get, the more you start to recognize mortality and its awful realness. I remember a few years ago, when another of his friends passed away, my Dad lamented, “This is how it happens. You get older and older, and people die one by one, until you get old and then there’s no one left but you.”
I’m not old. But I’m old enough now that tragedy doesn’t seem as random or as rare as it did when I was young. It happens. It happens to people you know, people you love, people you have grown to depend on in your life and people that you take for granted. It very hyperbole-laden to say it, but it’s so true– I feel like the world is a little dimmer today. I think about all the people who passed away before I had the chance to meet them, and I hate that part of life. It breaks my heart that Maren will never know these people.
But… in the great paradox that is grief, I also find myself being so grateful today. I’m so glad that there are people in the world that love me enough to give up Pizza Hut for twenty years. And I’m glad that I have people in my life that I can love like that, too.
And, sometimes like today, when I’m feeling like this, I’m glad that there are people who don’t love me, because I love them anyway. I want my love to be infectious– in a nice way, not an STD-kind-of-way. I want to tell everyone– hey– I will give up Pizza Hut for you. For TWENTY YEARS. Because guess what? Twenty years is NOTHING. It gets over SO quick.
Let’s not waste anymore time squabbling, friends. Lets love everyone. And eat at Godfathers.