An airport isnt generally thought of as a place to have a nice dinner; certainly not something as fancy as a Sunday dinner, but then Marthas Vineyard has never been a typical sort of place.
For my Grandmother and Grandfather, the little diner at the airport was just perfect as far as they were concerned. The airport was a tiny place as just about everything on the Island was (is) and it had a cute little coffee shop that overlooked the runway. Yes, I said the as in, the one and only. If youve ever seen the TV show Wings, then you know how tiny an airport Im talking about! The airport had two gates Gate 1 and Gate 2 (real original, huh?) and I always thought it funny that they went out different doors to the same open area of tarmac. I was like, whats the point?
Anyway, every summer they came down to their little cottage, and every Sunday, rain or shine, they drove up to the airport to have dinner at noontime. Most times it was just them, but wed sometimes go with them, and they had their usual booth right under the center bay window. While it was Sunday dinner, as it was just the airport, they never truly dressed in their Sunday Best. Yet, Grandmother was insistent that they at least looked decent. After all, it was Sunday! So, shed be in a nice dress and one of her best hats, and Grandfather would wear one of his old suits. To be honest, it had kind of seen better days; he was now rather thin and scrawny, and the suit just sort of hung on him. Still, it was his suit, he loved it, and it was part of their special day.
Grandfather also loved good coffee, and he always said that the airport diner served the best on the Island. Every Sunday, without fail, he had several cups. My Dad and I were generally tea drinkers, but even so, I always had a Coke, when we went with them. Grandfather used to joke about me having a cup of coffee, but my Dad was against it; he said itd stunt my growth.
As Im now over six feet, maybe he was right!
Grandfather was also big on tipping; he liked to reward good effort, and I think the fact that hed been a regular working stiff a plumber gave him an appreciation for what it was like to as they say work for a living. So, he was always generous toward the waitresses that served them.
Over the years, little changed at the airport; same tower, same runway, same two gates and the same diner. Unfortunately, people tend to change and age. There finally came the time when my grandparents were too old to journey to the Island for the summer, and my Dad and I took over their cottage. Our first Sunday there, we decided to have dinner at the airport.
Stepping inside, the old waitress immediately recognized us, and asked if it would be four for dinner as usual. My Dad had to tell her no, his parents would not be joining us. She was sad to hear that as was the manager and they both asked that we give my grandparents their best wishes.
We thanked them, sat down, and had dinner. And yet, it didnt feel the same; it didnt feel quite right. There was something missing, and it didnt take a rocket scientist to know what it was!
That was our last Sunday dinner at the airport for a while.
A few years later, Grandmother and Grandfather left us. That summer, just like past ones, Dad and I arrived at the cottage; only this time, we had their ashes. It would be a few days before everyone was assembled for the ceremony, and so Dad and I had some time to, hmm, relax.
That first Sunday, long about noon, I said to him, You want to go to dinner?
I didnt have to say where I wanted to go eat.
Dad looked at me, his jaw muscle twitched; he blinked a few times, and then he cleared his throat.
Sounds like a good idea to me, he said simply.
Getting in the car, he drove off, and I didnt need to ask where he was heading. It only took a few minutes to get to the airport; it still hadnt changed much. We went inside, and the same dear, old waitress was there. She looked happy to see us as it had been some time since our last visit and she came up to us at the door. Yet, a questioning look came over her, her brow wrinkled, and she opened her mouth to speak. Dad may have been a stoic, old New Englander, but even he couldnt hide the depths of the grief he was feeling that summer.
His eyes locked with hers, and then she shifted her gaze to me. Something unspoken passed between us, and she closed her mouth.
Would you like your usual booth? she said, even as she blinked very fast.
Dad could only nod.
We sat down. She asked if we wanted to see a menu, but it wasnt necessary; we knew what we wanted. That day, I didnt have a Coke; do I really need to tell you what I had? Ill just say this Grandfather was right although I did use considerably more sugar than he ever did!
My Dad was generally a pretty big talker; always one with a story to tell. That dinner passed in silence. I could hear the staff whispering off in the kitchen, and our portions did seem a trifle larger than I remembered from previous meals. When we were done, the manager came over to say hello, and offer his condolences. Dad pulled out his wallet, and the manager shook his head and waved his hand in front of him.
Thats not necessary today.
Dad shook his head, even as he handed the waitress a rather generous tip. Yes, it is. From Mother and Pop, he said to the waitress (his names for Grandmother and Grandfather).
After that, Sunday dinner at the airport became a regular thing for Dad and I; they are yet another memory that burns bright in my memory. Unfortunately, there came a time when the airport got renovated; the old diner was removed, and a new one put in its place. While a fine place to eat, it just isnt quite the same.
Perhaps others will find it a suitable place for Sunday dinner. I can attest to one thing: it does serve good coffee.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
Click above to tell a friend about this article.