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Dinner with Granddaddy

I think Granddaddy's favorite adjective is "big." For some reason, he seems to be preoccupied with size. He's not a particularly large man by any means – just your average, healthy, 91-year-old man who lives by himself and manages just fine. While most people are taller than he is, nearly everything that I can see in his living room or kitchen seems to be remarkably average-size.

For example, on his most recent trip to Nashville, we went to REI to get him some pants he'd been wanting. He really desired some performance pants, the kind that zip off into shorts. He doesn't hike or anything, nor is he really that active. But I guess when you've been around for nine decades, there are instances when you need to be in shorts instantly. I can't think of any such situation where I'd need to go from pants to shorts (or vice versa) while watching CNN in my living room, but then again, I'm only 27.

Needless to say, when we pulled the pants off the rack, he thought they were mammoth – much too big to fit him. After I persuaded him to take them into the dressing room and try them on, he saw that they fit just fine. So fine, in fact, that he was wearing them when I arrived at his house in Columbus yesterday.

One time, my dad bought him some shoes. And while the first adjective out of his mouth to describe them was 'nice,' he soon remarked that they, too, were big – not when he was wearing them, mind you, but just when he was holding them, rotating them in his hands in order to get a better look at his new footwear.

I tell stories about my grandfather, fully aware that one day in the very distant future, I will be just like him. My wife makes sure I never forget this as she reminds me of this possibility every time I exhibit a similar behavior, especially that of being fascinated by very ordinary things.

Nonetheless, I was in town for an evening, and I arrived around dinnertime. After changing a setting for him on his new (and big) TV, I asked him where he wanted to eat. He wanted to go to Hazel and Doug's Drive In.

I value local eating, but eating locally in Columbus, Mississippi isn't exactly the same as eating locally in Nashville. Most local establishments in Columbus, while institutions in their own right, don't have star ratings above two or health ratings above 70 (I'm guessing). Plastic tablecloths, laminated menus and some sort of buffet can be found at each of my grandfather's favorite dinner spots. They just opened a Santa Fe steakhouse here, and even have an Applebee's, but when I let him pick, I know we're going somewhere that doesn't have its own Web site.

We get in his new car to head to Hazel and Doug's. Yes, at 90, my grandfather felt it was time for a new ride. Not to upset any stereotypes placed upon the elderly, he opted for a Mercury Marquis. And guess what? It's big. According to him, at least. It's just a regular four-door Marquis, but to hear him describe it, you'd think he was driving a Hummer or possibly even a Winnebago. For Granddaddy, the biggest part of the car is the trunk. He once posited that you could fit another car in there. I've yet to see that happen, but can't wait for that phone call – the day when someone rear ends him at a traffic light. The collision will pop open the trunk and the offending car will drive right in. Granddaddy won't know anything happened until he gets home, pulls into the garage, and watches a confused motorist emerge from his trunk.

As we drove to the Drive In, we passed a very large high school, a big new housing complex, a good-sized retirement community, a sizeable orphanage, a grand warehouse and a huge parking lot. I start to wonder if Granddaddy has actually been shrunk in some way, perhaps even mentally, as if he's a normal sized man trapped in the body of a flea or a toddler.

We pulled into Hazel and Doug's Drive In. I immediately noticed that there is no actual drive in, like at a Sonic or a movie. There's a parking lot and a drive 'through', the two of which may equate to a drive 'in' in Columbus' local eating mathematics. I'm very certain there have been no riots about Hazel and Doug's choice of a restaurant name. I secretly hope there will be, though, maybe even during dinner.

When you walk into Hazel and Doug's, you should immediately notice two things: 1) If something is to hang on the wall, there must be an image of Elvis Presley on it; and 2) There must be some sort of requirement among the over-70 crowd that you have to eat here once a week. I am literally the youngest person in Hazel and Doug's Bistro (hey, if they call it a drive in, I can call it a bistro).

Granddaddy talks about how on his last trip, he ordered a very large baloney (that's how they spell it) sandwich. I don't know many folks who want to eat a baloney (or bologna) sandwich, much less a 'big' one. And, if he would have really wanted it, I could have had such a special and elusive glimpse at this colossal sandwich. Instead he opted for the BLT with French fries. I chose a hamburger.

While we waited for our food to arrive in their special red baskets, I heard yet another story about something big. On a recent trip to see one of his daughters, Granddaddy and my dad drove down to the Mississippi coast. Apparently, once they got to Meridian, they were able to drive on a new highway. But this highway was so special, so new, and (dare I say it) so big that Granddaddy called it 'super,' as in, "Sam, we drove on a superhighway all the way down to the coast – 80 miles an hour the whole way."

I was familiar with the information superhighway, but never the Mississippi superhighway – the one that leads you straight to Aunt Rachel's house and a bunch of casinos.

After a few more minutes talking about my sisters and Columbus happenings, our food arrived. She set down Granddaddy's order first – a BLT that he described as, you guessed it: big. Even tough I knew such a description was coming, I had to laugh since the BLT in question was made on two slices of white bread. And this wasn't homemade bread in which you could make a slice as big as you wanted. This bread came out of a bag only minutes before. As such, the B, the L and the T were all very average-sized, and anything but big.

The waitress then faced me. And that's when it happened.

She sat down my tray, full of fries and a handmade all-beef patty. And when I saw the hamburger, I immediately said, "That’s a big hamburger."

I couldn't believe it. I had just become Granddaddy, a man three times and ten years my age, all in the course of a drive and a dinner. Everything seemed wonderful and large all at once. Apparently, sitting in the Elvis shrine that serves greasy food had done enough to turn me into the man I'm supposed to become, albeit many decades prematurely.

I finished my (apparently) titanic burger, ate my fries, and asked for the check, which was printed on a very regular-sized piece of paper. I vowed to make no more comments about the size of certain things.

That's Granddaddy's job.