The elevator doors opened to reveal a large room with art deco decor, linens and silver, servers smartly dressed in white shirts and black suits. The maitre’d warmly greeted my gramps, “Good afternoon, Mr. Lundeberg. What can we do for you today?” Gramps’s arm linked through mine as he replied in his gravelly voice, “My lady and I would like the best seats in the house.” The maitre’d nodded, shot a glance my way and probably wondered the same thing I did, “lady” was a misnomer.
Unlike my impeccably dressed Gramps who wore a suit everyday of his life, I stood there as a 17-year old wearing American flag boxer shorts, a Miss Michigan t-shirt, and old Keds with no socks. Mascara maybe graced my lashes and my hair had air-dried. Since Gramps always looked like he was going to a business meeting and had often taken me to lunch at places like D.B. Sweeney’s, a casual place that served 244 different types of sandwiches (and where his “usual” was a hot dog and vanilla milkshake), it was really hard to discern that he planned to take me to the upscale Signature Room, where we now stood on the 95th floor of Chicago’s Hancock building.
My mortification did not end there as I looked out the windows to see nothing but sky. I clutched Gramps and tried to not to hug the furnishings or run back into the elevator to return to the safety of the first floor. The maitre’d told us our table was ready and led us to a table perched by the window; an interrupted view of the skyline and lakeshore greeted us. I shifted my chair away from the window while Gramps commented on the beauty of the view. Sharing my opinion was not an option.
With Gramps everything was an experience. He never settled for the mundane and expected everything to be done well. This is why when he took me to the Museum of Science and Industry when I was twelve and tried out the driving simulator, he taught me to not over-correct my steering. Or during the week I spent with him at the family cottage at Clear Lake in Indiana when I was 10 (and he was 80 and there was no TV!), he showed me the proper way to swim by cupping my hands and breathing properly. Afterwards, we sat on the dock and he made funny designs with my hair and asked, “Is this a hair-do or a hair-don’t?”. His catch-phrase for the two of us was “You’re unique and I’m antique.” He took me to Greek restaurants where I ate Garbage salad and made me eat duck at a Chinese restaurant. In the evenings he spoke to me about how to treat business clients and what my goals should be in school.
So it was no shock when at lunch that day he suggested that I have the shrimp salad in the avocado cup; to him it looked interesting and like something I couldn’t get just anywhere. Little did he know that I loathe avocados. I decided to keep it a secret, too, for if I told him how much I hated them, my lunch fate would be sealed. There was no way I was going to look like a slob on the 95th floor and eat avocado. Making a noncommittal nod, I scanned the menu quickly for something else that I could “sell” to him as interesting, and found the smoked chicken fettuccine. “I’ve never had smoked chicken before,” I stated smiling brightly, “and what a different way to eat fettuccine!” It worked. I was spared the avocado.
I didn’t know then, and it’s hard to know these things, that that would be my last lunch with him. The next time I saw him, he was debilitated by illness and was not sure who anyone was. He remembered me and sang me “St. Louis Blues” and recited lines from Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat. But that day at lunch, with him in his suit standing proudly and stating, “My lady and I would like the best seat in the house” is how I like to remember him.