“It is known that seagulls,” the Dutch beautician said massaging some cream in my face, “Fly from Texel to Amsterdam for some fries.”
My grandmother Gert used to make me a tuna sandwich on white bread. “Do you want the crusts cut off honey?” She might ask, but not always. I was the one grandchild, out of many, who would stay for a while at her house during the summer. Sometimes my cousin V. came over for the day to keep me entertained. My grandmother would be extra vigilant then. I was known to be a bit of a wire on the intellectual aptitude side and would routinely perform figurative tricks with wool that were unbeneficial to my cousin. Otherwise I was easy and well-mannered, generally speaking.
Somedays I thought my grandmother was being extra nice. She was already very nice to me. I would worry about her question. Crusts posed no problem; I appreciated anything served on a plate on a table at noon. Was I supposed to be fussy about crusts? At age eight I worried, should I say yes just to “fit in with childhood” or would that earn me minus points? My grandmother Gert didn’t like fussiness.
As an adult, I sometimes make myself a tuna sandwich. It’s a comfort meal. It reminds me of those placid and fulfilling lunches with Grandma Gert along with iceberg lettuce. That was also a specialty of my grandmother Gert. I never saw iceberg lettuce back home. Nowadays I occasionally buy iceberg lettuce at the supermarket and still I feel either like a criminal or a nostalgic fool.
But I forgo the bread altogether. I was never big on bread with or without crusts and now I can choose the no bread option. I make myself a tuna salad on salad with a handful of potato chips on the side. Grandma Gert always gave me a snack sized serving of potato chips to go with my tuna sandwich. As a child I really looked forward to an individual serving of potato chips in the neat bag. That alone would make my day. Small bags of individually wrapped potato chips were decadent. That is I learned that they were decadent at home. At home, first off, potato chips were bad bad bad and not to be eaten openly in public. Then, the economics of small bags of potato chips versus the economy bag was underscored by pollution problems experienced by the planet. Litter. At Grandma Gert’s house I didn’t have to contemplate these problems while eating lunch openly in her company enjoying potato chips that came out of a small bag and tuna sandwiches with iceberg lettuce.
She’d sit at the head of the table and I would sit to one side to her. I was also allowed a soda drink at lunch. A few years ago stewardess on a domestic flight in America asked me what I would like to drink. “Ginger Ale.” I replied awash with nostalgia. She opened up a can of ginger ale and poured me a glass. “Would you like the can?” she inquired. My heart leapt as a seven year old. I thought I was at Grandma Gert’s house with a whole can of not a generic supermarket brand of soda bought without the benefit a drought or heat wave excuse in sight.
Grandma Gert didn’t say much at lunch. She’d eye me carefully as I sat enticed by a bag of potato chips and a can of ginger ale. She’d often make corn on the cob for lunch. That was the vegetable. She had corn on the cob dishes, small long shallow plates that would hold a single corn cob. Grandma Gert posed the corn on the cob plates on the upper left side of the plate with the tuna sandwich laying on a placemat. Placemats were also fairly exotic for me and existed only at grandmothers’ houses. Grandma Gert even had those plastic corn cob skewers so you wouldn’t burn your fingers and get butter all over your wrists. She’d never use both skewers at one time. She’d hold the corn cob up by one skewer and slice off her corn kernels with a knife.
She had once explained to me the problems of her dentures. After that I never mentioned her habit of cutting off the corn kernels. She’d raze the corn kernels cleanly from the cob and I would watch her in silence. Once she’d removed the kernels from the cob, I always felt relieved that the painful process was over; I wouldn’t have to think about her dentures and gums, and she could enjoy her lunch. I believe that when we weren’t eating lunch together we each ate our lunches in solitude.
“Maybe,” I thought slowly, “It’s for the company that the seagulls fly all the way from Texel to Amsterdam.”
The beautician continued, “I am convinced, quite convinced really, that there are fries in Den Helder.”