3. Gramma’s Good China

3. Gramma’s Good China

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

Gramma’s Good China

The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.

~Steve Maraboli

For years, every Saturday afternoon my family—Mom, my stepfather and I—had dinner at Gramma’s house. We watched sporting events on TV, played Yahtzee and enjoyed a home-cooked meal: spaghetti and meatballs, pot roast, chicken and biscuits… you get the idea.

Anna Marie, or Gramma as we all call her, is seventy-nine years old and very set in her ways. She attends church every Sunday, never misses an episode of 60 Minutes, completes the daily crossword puzzle in the newspaper, makes apple pie for every holiday and refuses to ever take the good china out of the cabinet because her regular dinnerware is “good enough.”

However, one Saturday at the end of October things were different. My mom, my stepdad and I stayed home because my father was coming to visit. My biological father, that is, who I hadn’t seen since he left town sixteen years earlier. He called asking to visit, saying he wanted to see me.

I was dreading it.

Saturday afternoon when the doorbell chimed, I peered through the blinds at my father on the porch. He looked older, heavier, grayer. For some reason, I expected him to look exactly as he did in the single photo I had of him—the two of us at the lake when I was seven. I kept the picture in my sock drawer.

My father, mom and stepfather were politely exchanging pleasantries when I stepped into the entryway. My father extended his hand to shake mine. “David,” he said, smiling. “It’s great to see you, son.”

I knew what I should do, but I couldn’t. My arm, my hand was immobile.

This man had walked out on us. He had never been there. He missed every Christmas and birthday, my basketball games, my college graduation; why would I shake his hand?

I nodded, grunted and sat on the couch.

Mom told him about her job and the vacation cruise that she and my stepdad had taken, then motioned towards me. “David’s been busy lately with his job and finishing his thesis, haven’t you, honey?”

I nodded. “Yeah, high school, college, getting a job. A lot can happen in sixteen years.”

“David,” Mom grumbled through clenched teeth.

My father held up his hands. “It’s okay. I understand. You’re not thrilled to see me. This was a stupid idea, but I wanted to see you.”

“You’ve seen me.” I shrugged.

“Why don’t we have dinner?” Mom suggested. “I made meatloaf.”

“Thanks anyway. I’m not hungry.” I got up and headed for the door.

My father called after me. “I’d really like you to stay.”

“But, honey, you haven’t eaten,” said Mom.

I walked out the door.

And that’s how I left it. I didn’t say another word about it. My father didn’t call again. The following Saturday we went to Gramma’s as usual.

Secretly, I stewed about my father, daydreamed about him, lay awake at night, replaying the visit. What should I have said or done? Why did he leave? Why did he return? Did he know how much he hurt me? Did he even care? I was angry. I couldn’t let it go.

Two weeks after my father’s visit, I took Gramma grocery shopping for Thanksgiving. When we returned home, I put the groceries away while Gramma sat at the kitchen table reviewing her shopping list.

“Green beans; got it,” she mumbled, checking off items. “Potatoes; got it. What have I forgotten?”

I set the bag of onions on the countertop.

“Oh, the apples,” Gramma said. “I forgot apples for pie.”

“Okay,” I replied.

Gramma reached out and caught my sleeve. “What’s wrong, David?”

“I’ll get apples tomorrow.”

“Not apples,” answered Gramma. “What’s wrong with you?”

I shrugged. “I’m fine.”

“You’re not fine,” Gramma said. “In this family, food is serious business. If I’m talking about pie and all you say is ‘okay’, then you’re not fine.”

“I’m putting groceries away.”

“I know what this is about,” Gramma announced. “It’s about your father.”

I turned away and slid two jars of olives into the cupboard.

“Your whole attitude has changed,” Gramma said. “Ever since he came to visit, you’re not the same.”

“This isn’t the time,” I told her, grabbing another grocery bag off the floor.

“This is the perfect time,” she replied. “You finish with the groceries. I’ll make coffee.”

Ten minutes later we sat at the dining room table, facing each other over a plate of brownies.

Gramma sipped her coffee. “Tell me about this.”

“I’m mad,” I replied. “He left us and hasn’t bothered to keep in touch. Why has he come back?”

“Your father wants to make peace.”

“Well, I don’t want peace. I don’t want to see him.”

Gramma pointed at me. “This isn’t good. You’re tearing yourself up. And you’re making life miserable for everybody else being such a grumble-bug.”

I couldn’t help smiling when she mentioned the name she had called me since I was a baby whenever I got upset. “My father is making me a grumble-bug.”

“No.” She shook her head. “You’re allowing your father to make you a grumble-bug. You’re making yourself miserable and you know what? Your anger isn’t affecting your father a bit. He doesn’t know you’re a grumble-bug.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Look at it this way,” Gramma explained. “Anger is like taking that beautiful turkey we bought and leaving it on the counter until it spoils and smells bad. Then, to really show your father how angry you are, you cook the spoiled turkey and you eat it yourself hoping your father gets sick.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” I said.

“Exactly,” replied Gramma. “Neither does the way you’re handling this situation. Your father goes off to live his life—you stay sick with anger. You’re only hurting yourself.”

I shrugged. “What do you suggest?”

“Forgive him.”

“No way, Gramma.” I folded his arms. “Why should I?”

“Forgiveness isn’t always something you do for the other person,” Gramma explained. “Sometimes you can forgive to help yourself feel better.”

“What do I do?” I asked.

“Invite your father for Thanksgiving.”

I shook my head. “Do you know how uncomfortable that would be?”

“I never said it would be easy,” Gramma answered. “But it’s better than eating spoiled turkey the rest of your life.”

“Okay,” I agreed. “I’ll invite him to dinner, but on one condition.”

“What condition?”

I pointed to the cabinet in the corner. “It’ll be a special occasion. The regular dinnerware won’t do. You’ll need to use… the good china.”

So, the following Thursday, we had Thanksgiving with my father and the good china.

“Are we actually going to eat off it?” Mom asked, stroking a plate with her fingertips.

It wasn’t my best Thanksgiving, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had imagined. We had a good meal and my father joined in the conversations. My father and I played Yahtzee after dinner. I discovered we both were Dallas Cowboys fans. After the apple pie, I walked my father out to his car.

“I’d like to get together again sometime, David,” my father said. “I have a lot to tell you. And I’d like your forgiveness.”

I nodded. “I’ve got your phone number. I’d like to hear what you have to say. I’ll call you.”

My father held out his right hand.

This time I did shake his hand. It wasn’t easy, but I knew if Gramma could use the good china, I could do this. I was starting to feel better already.

~David Hull

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