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I’m sitting in a booth with my parents at Bricks Restaurant in Motley, Minnesota. Bricks used to be the old El Ray Café, named after its original owners, Elmer and Raymond. Bricks is bigger and nicer than the El Ray, which went the way of poor management and an aggressive horde of flies. Bricks still offers truckers a convenient place to stop off Highway 10, just like the El Ray did, and the locals still eat there; Bricks has a tourist shop, a larger menu, and no flies. But there is no Elmer, and no Ray.
My mom remarks on the cool and drizzly day as the three of us stare out the window. “Look at all the standing water,” she says. “I almost set foot in a puddle this deep (she shows us how deep with her hands) last night in the church parking lot. I had to move the car, and even then, I stepped in a puddle.”
I love the rain because I’m from Phoenix. It could rain for my entire week here and I wouldn’t care.
“How ya feelin’, Dad?” I say, checking in with him, always checking. My dad has Parkinson’s and can move from upbeat to troubled in minutes. He sits across from me and my mom, wearing the eye patch I made for him last night. I made it out of Kleenex, shaping it just so, taping it to his glasses. My dad’s right eye is blind but still lets in a little light around the periphery, which makes that eye work hard to see more, which gives my dad headaches. No eye patch under the sun has satisfied him since he lost his vision months ago; he finds them all uncomfortable or faulty in some way. It took my coming two thousand miles and this homemade patch to satisfy him. He doesn’t care that he’s wearing a wad of Kleenex on his face. He loves his eye patch.
“Pretty good!” he says, sipping his Pepsi. I’ve never seen my dad enjoy Pepsi as much as he does now. He says it’s a nice jolt; I guess he likes jolts now.
“Well then we’ll have a good time at the nursery after this!” my mom says brightly. Our plan is to stop by Rosenthal’s Nursery to pick out geraniums for my dad’s parents’ graves. They’re in the same local cemetery where my parents’ graves will be someday.
“If we still want to go,” I say. I look at my dad, whose one good eye sparkles.
“But if we don’t, we won’t,” he says.
“But if we can, we will,” my mom chimes in.
We are all grinning, remembering an old family story from when we lived in Escanaba, Michigan. I was seven and I had a little friend named Randy who was five; he lived down the street and was over at our house playing one day. My parents were gathering their own children and beach supplies to go to the lake, and as usual, my dad asked Randy if he wanted to go. Randy was so excited, he spun like a top in our driveway.
“If my mom says yes, then I can!” he said. “But if she says no, I can’t! But if she says I can, then I will! But if she doesn’t, I won’t! But if she says yes, then I can! And if she says no, I can’t! I hope she says yes so I can go, but if she doesn’t, I can’t….”
Randy, who in retrospect might have been slightly hyperactive, continued on like this until my dad thundered at him: “JUST GO ASK YOUR MOTHER!!!” My dad was never very long on patience.
Thirty-seven years later, we sit in this glorified truck stop doing the same routine.
“If we don’t go to the nursery,” I say, finally, “it’s okay.”
We eat our breakfast and Mom goes to pay the bill. I help Dad into his coat, help get him up and steadied on his walker. He’s dizzy and exhausted. He points to the floor next to our booth and says, “I could lay down and go to sleep right there, and that’s no joke.”
“We don’t have to go to the nursery, Dad,” I say. “We’ll just go home.”
“Sounds good,” he says in a gruff whisper.
Back in the van with my mother at the wheel, we drive down the highway, then down some streets, then past the cemetery where my grandparents wait for their geraniums. One more turn and we’re on our street, back home.
If my dad feels better tomorrow, maybe we’ll go to the nursery. But if he doesn’t, we won’t. Maybe we’ll fill the hummingbird feeders instead. Maybe we’ll eat some of my mom’s lemon cake.
We try to find something to be happy about every day, if we can.