My grandma, Mary Kowalski, is a tough as nails 97 year old polish woman who rings in at 4’6” just shy of 100 lbs with a passion for Jesus, fasciation with blue sky, and love for dancing and music. She often exclaims “you know what? I’m going to die soon!” to which I respond, “Good! The Lord will take you when He thinks you’re ready!” She also loves to ponder the question “why are men so much better than women?” To which I respond, “I don’t know! Why are woman so finicky anyways?” She is the healthiest 97 year old I have ever seen, with no major health problems and the ability to outwalk people twenty years younger. Sure, her mind isn’t what it used to be as the dementia is getting stronger, but she can still enjoy life and she recognizes her daughters and my dad by name, and often me when her brain is fresh.
With that being said, she is still an old coot who rambles on and on about how everything was better in the past and how everything in the present is bad. Pleasant conversation around of the table is no longer an option, and now my visits are always centered around taking her out to lunch. The ongoing question is “Where should we take grandma to eat?”
Here are some general guidelines for having the least amount of drama possible:
- No spice
- Comfortable chairs
- Not too loud
- Not too quiet
- Not too busy
- Not too empty
- Small portion sizes
- Always end in dessert
The lengthy wish list was met by PF Chang’s when she lived in Arlington, Virginia. Grandma would happily share noodles, shrimp, and the broccoli and chicken without a fuss, and the waitresses knew to have the bottle of wine opened as soon as we sat down. Since moving down to the Shenandoah Valley, the closest second best has been a Chinese Buffet with an all you can eat $10.99 deal.
The buffet includes surprisingly good sushi as well as your standards: kung pao chicken, beef and broccoli, moo go gai pan, noodles, rice, shrimp, general Tsaos, and skewered meat. You certainly get your weekly dosage of sodium and msg, but it is a killer deal and pretty tasty.
This past visit, we made the fatal flaw of allowing my grandma to go up to assemble her own plate….. let the chaos begin. My mom fawned over each decision as my dad’s booming voice explaining each dish echoed through the restaurant. Grandma, of course, picked out the dishes we knew she wouldn’t like including tasteless rice noodles and peppery chicken.
Two minutes after sitting down, she looked at her plate and exclaimed “they serve you way too much here!!!!” followed by making sour faces at each bite of food. My mom tactfully swapped out a few items, and we made it through lunch with minimal drama.
Next came the part that is easy: dessert. My grandma has always loved sweets, and her ability to pound through a whole box of chocolates without contracting diabetes has never ceased to amaze me. We drove her out to Smiley’s Ice Cream, a farm to cone shop with the best ice cream the Shenandoah Valley has to offer. It is located on the Mt. Crawford Creamery, and you can visit the cows right next store and even buy free range eggs, grass fed beef, and organic milk. Each flavor is unbelievably creamy with a pure taste that hasn’t been tainted by preservatives and chemicals. The most amazing part is that a double scoop is only $3.50!
Sure enough, my grandma scarfed down her cup of chocolate ice cream with her only gripe being “they gave me far too much!” A problem I was more than happy to assist with.
The day’s activities wiped her out, and she was happy to get back to her room at the assisted living facility where she proceeded to fall asleep next to her stuffed owl.
When it comes to eating with old people, simple is always better. Trendy farm to table spots, ethnic cuisine, and loud vibrant restaurants will never go over well no matter how good the food may be. Sticking to foods that person has liked throughout his/her life (grandma always loved Chinese) in a simple, calm setting is the path of least resistance. Besides, going out to eat with my grandma isn’t a foodie experience, it’s a family experience. The focus is quality time over flavor and giving her a stimulus beyond the nursing home walls to keep her body moving and brain pumping.
Food brings people together, and chances are I’ll forget what I ate, but I’ll remember time spent with little old Mary Kowalski.