The restaurant I’ve been looking forward to lunching in opens today at 11 o’clock. By noon the children and I are installed in a booth, our cheeks flushed from the bike ride, hands washed. Nels carefully pours sugar in his tea, all manners and focus in the shimmering green-and-pink of his dragon costume. Sophie reads aloud the paper Chinese Zodiac as I sip the sweetened tea.
I haven’t frequented this place much since my move to Hoquiam. It is one of those Chinese American restaurants, the food as consistent and familiar to a Pacific Northwest child as cheeseburger and fries. It is always precisely clean and you might have stepped into the sixties given the decor: laquered screens, diner-style booths, a formica bar. I always picture the little jukebox machines at each table, but today I realize this memory of mine might be twenty years old.
My parents did not take us out to eat nearly as much as I do my own children now. Still, this was a restaurant I remember well because it was one my father seemed to genuinely enjoy. He always ordered Egg Foo Young – an item loaded with cooked onions and egg (and therefore nauseating to me), but one I nevertheless thought beautiful, a kind of archetectural wonder shimmering in an unnatural, smooth gravy. My family also favored “pork and seeds” – and again, it took me only until recently to realize this dish is more commonly referred to (as in, by everyone else) as “barbecue pork”.
We order the food. I have an almost crazy-like craving for sweet and sour chicken but I haven’t been able to eat chicken much lately. So the kids and I order spicy bean curd with sub gum veggies, steamed rice, barbecue pork, and two kinds of soup: egg flower and chicken with noodles and mushrooms. The kids mow through their pork appetizer and start stealing mine. The restaurant begins to fill in with others: single men, and four-tops of older ladies. Looking around I realize these women aren’t “older” (like my own mother) – they are old. We’re talking mustaches, wattles, tiny perm curls, stooped gait and a rounded back. I don’t find our elderly ugly or unappealing in any way. In fact I think with wonderment on the lives these ladies must have had, the things they’ve seen and lived through. I feel a kind of awe that someday – if I’m lucky – I too will be aged similarly, my girlhood self changed, my body slowly withering. I look at these women and search for the girls they were, maybe young(ish) mothers like myself sitting with two kids in a diner.
After our lunch the extra bean curd, rice, and soup is packed up. We pay our bill (big tip) and step out into the blustery wind to secure leftovers in the bike panniers. We walk the bikes two doors down to the formal gown shop – the silk dress I made Sophie needs a reinforced seam. The proprietress of the shop, a seamstress of decades, never seems too interested in me; but I am fascinated with her and her equipment: stealing my eyes over the industrial machines at the table, covered in transulcent vinyl. I would love to work in clothing manufacture or construction as a respected trade. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to.
Home just in time before it begins to rain in earnest. I put the bikes away while the kids head into the greenhouse to water the tomatoes. I pull out the chicken tractor to a new expanse of backyard; when the rain slows, I’ll put the two girls out their to de-slug and de-bug, making their contented chicken noises.