Today, Mom and I dined at the local Mexican restaurant that her and Dad frequented over the years. The homey place is decorated with birds and the staff know my mom well. One server in particular, Maria, always goes out of her way to greet Mom. She even checked up on her when Mom was sick and didn’t come to the restaurant for a few months. Maria is a very kind and positive person. She always brightens Mom’s mood.
Today Mom mentioned how she missed coming to the restaurant with Dad, and Maria commented about what a wonderful guy he was. It’s always nice to hear these random kind comments from people who knew Dad. He was a quiet and unassuming guy, and did not have any local friends that he socialized with. But apparently his goodness shined through to those seeking it out.
In the end, these small but meaningful connections make up our legacy. I think Dad would be pleased that so many people think fondly of him.
As I was making restaurant reservations last night, it got me to thinking about how Dad would change our last name if we had to check-in and wait for a table at a restaurant. This didn’t happen too often, as we mainly ate out at fast food joints, where there was no wait and no reservation required.
Interior of The Red Chile. It hasn't changed! Photo credit: Ai M., Yelp
But there was one Mexican restaurant we used to frequent, The Red Chile in Cerritos, Calif. and it was often packed when we went and we would have to wait awhile for a table. (I just Googled it and it is still going strong, and people still wait for an hour for a table!) My parents were particular about where they wanted to sit (not too close to the front) and since we were semi-regulars, the staff learned to humor my parents. We pretty much ordered the same thing each time as we were creatures of habit. My mom ordered the chile relleno, my dad a burrito, and until I was older, I would just get refried beans with cheese and a side of tortillas. It was the only time I ever got real butter and I loved slathering it on the warm, soft tortillas and how the melted butter greased my fingers as I bit into a folded tortilla.
But back to our name. My dad was obsessed with the Kennedy family. He read numerous tomes about their lives and could make your eyes glaze over with his litany of Kennedy tales that he could recite at the drop of a hat. And if you wanted to make my dad mad, just say something critical of the Kennedy clan. He was not fond of his last name because he didn’t think it sounded “Irish enough.” So when he would put our name down on the waiting list, he always wrote, “Kennedy” instead of “Johnston.” He then would quickly depart outside to smoke a cigarette, leaving my mom and I to remember that we were “Kennedys” at least for the duration of the meal.
As I became a typical surly teenager, I would blow our cover to the restaurant hostess. “Our name is actually Johnston,” I would say as she led us to our table. I’m sure she didn’t care what our name was, as long as we paid.
Dad, I guess you can go by whatever name you please wherever you are now. No reservations required, and no waiting lists ever.