I remember this one time I was on a work trip with colleagues, and we decided to go to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. According to Yelp, it was highly rated and only a short distance from our hotel. The short distance seemed quite long, since we walked rather than drove, which was not problematic until the return trip after dinner when it was raining. Despite the soggy march home, the restaurant – located in a nondescript strip mall – proved to be a wonderfully silly delight. We entered through the glass door, and my attention was caught by the sign board upon which the daily lunch specials were written. At the top of the sign were the words “Happy Holiday” festooned with hand drawn holly leaves, which was intriguing since it was March. I considered the possibility they were celebrating some Chinese holiday, but the holly was strongly suggestive of Christmas. I smiled at my colleagues, knowing the odds were good we would get a few laughs out of the experience.
The restaurant was a large square room with a high ceiling and white walls. We were seated at a booth with a white formica table and red vinyl seats. The walls were covered with posters advertising Chinese beer along with smaller works of art that were a cross between classic Chinese painting and Hello Kitty kitsch. Above each booth was a lighting fixture that strongly resembled a conical straw hat that would have been considered offensively stereotypical if the owners weren’t Chinese. We also noticed that Christmas may have been a theme, as there were strings of multi-colored icicle lights – the kind you might hang from your gutters during the holiday season – affixed to the walls. Classy.
After giggling about the decor, we turned our attention to the menu. I shifted gear from giggle to laughter when I got to the page featuring the lamb-based dishes. According to the slip of paper taped to that portion of the menu, the lamb dishes were “Out of Order,” which I’ve never before seen used in reference to food. Fortunately, I didn’t have my heart set on lamb. I did, however, need to use the bathroom. When I walked through a door to access the hallway where the bathrooms were located, I jerked to the right to avoid crashing into the floor-to-ceiling pile of boxes that ran the entire length of the hall. It appeared to be extra stock of dining room equipment – plates, silverware, napkins – as if they had bought out Costco’s entire supply of dry goods. When I entered the men’s room, I was surprised to discover the hallway did not provide sufficient storage for all the extra supplies. The entire back wall of the bathroom was covered with boxes, again stacked to the ceiling. Sherrie confirmed that the women’s room contained more inventory. I don’t know if the local health department is aware of the warehouse in the bathrooms, but the owners of this restaurant are clearly prepared to go on providing clean dishes to their clientele long after the zombie apocalypse begins. Oh, and the food was good, by the way.
I love “this one time” stories, those humorous little anecdotes drawn from our daily lives. As a memoirist, I tend to write them down, but we all have our own collection that we like to share. They are the stuff of small talk and chit chat. We gather and tell our own “this one time” stories, our experiences of the often silly and sometimes wonderful journey through life with friends and family. “This one time” stories are usually a great source of warm feelings and laughter, which can be helpful from time to time.
This week, two friends told me about the unexpected deaths of family members, and I was reminded how “this one time” stories can be great consolation during times of loss. We recall, reflect on, and share those stories about the time our loved one did something that made us laugh. Those anecdotes help us remember and get through the sadness. For example, another friend this week shared a story of missing her father and how he, when she was a young child living on the shores of the Atlantic, would arrange for her to find bottled messages floating in the water. The messages told tales of a castle in the sky, and her Dad would tell her stories about the king that lived there. Silly stories, wonderful stories, from a wonderful father.
We are grieving a loss in my house this week, too. My daughter’s guinea pig died. While not the same as losing a stepmother, a cousin, or a father, we loved Thistle, and we’re feeling sad. Last night, we shared “this one time” stories about Thistle and her sister, Cocoa, who died a couple years ago. Despite being sisters, Thistle didn’t like Cocoa much and bristled whenever she got near. We were forced to build a wall in their enclosure to separate them and avoid a Cain and Abel situation. Soon after, Cocoa had a stroke and became blind in one eye, causing her to look up at us with a delightful and charming tilt to her head. While the pigs spent most of their time in the large enclosure, the kids would occasionally let them explore the rec room. This one time, the kids couldn’t find Cocoa after playing with her on the floor strewn with blankets, pillows, and sleeping bags left out following a sleepover. In a panic, they scoured the room, throwing bedding around trying to locate her. Eventually, my daughter thought to look inside the sleeping bag she had thrown out of the way, which is where Cocoa, apparently unharmed, was found tucked into the bottom of the bag. Thistle was less adventurous, but she could wake the entire house with her smoke alarm-like whistle, which signaled it was feeding time. She was a silly, slightly neurotic, and wonderful pig. We will miss her, and we will remember her through the stories we have.
Hold on to those “this one time” stories. You never know when you’ll need a little laughter to get through the tears.