One of the nice things about being a baby boomer is that many of us are old enough to be grandparents and sometimes we can see reflections of our own innocent childhoods in our grandkids. That’s what Baltimore boomer Linda DeMers Hummel is thinking of when she writes about Lessons in a Chocolate Pancake.
Our friendship with Miss Susannah began five years ago, early on a Sunday morning, when she leaned over our booth and said what she says to everyone in her section: “What can I get you folks?”
I was new to the game of taking grandsons to restaurants. Austin was three and Brendan one, and I figured we couldn’t do much damage at our local pancake house, IHOP. I was relieved when Susannah said she was a grandmother too. I figured if some sugar packets got mysteriously opened or if we left the syrup bottles drippy from overuse, she’d understand.
I used to think the appeal for the boys was the restaurant’s go-to item for kids ─ a chocolate pancake made into a smiley face by chocolate chips, whipped cream, and maraschino cherries. But halfway through, they usually push their plates away and sigh, “Ugh … I’m full.”
Even if I give them some alternative breakfast restaurant ideas ─ lots of places have fancy pancakes ─ they won’t hear of it. They only like IHOP.
On the drive over, the boys usually wonder aloud if she’ll be there (and the answer is, she is always there).
Susannah might be in the middle of yelling at the cook or rushing to get someone’s coffee to the table, but everything stops when the boys walk in.
“Miss Susannah!” they say in unison, every time.
She hugs them. We never have to ask to be seated in her section. It’s the only place in my life where I’ve ever been a regular. Like Cheers, I’m the Norm of IHOP.
“So, how is school going?” she’ll ask. “Are you going to take swim lessons this summer?” They do their best to keep her up-to-date, sensing that somehow it’s important to her.
They’re too young to notice her age, probably 70ish, or that her work day started before sunrise. They just know that the second she sees them, everything stops. She beams. They beam back. And for five years they’ve come here. For her, not for the pancakes.
I try not to get ahead of myself about what this all means. When you’re a grandmother, it’s easier to live in the moment. But as I watch them eat their chocolate pancakes and scan the room for their favorite waitress, there’s no need to tell myself what fine men they’ll turn out to be.
They are kind children. That’s enough for today.
As we pull out of the parking lot, it’s quiet in the car.
“She was really smiley today,” Austin says.
Then they lean back, and for a while we ride in a delicious, sweet silence.
Click here for Linda’s website.