My Mother Talks to Elvis

Nia Vardalos described the role of a mother best in the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding when she wrote, “the man is the head, but the woman is the neck and she can turn the head any way she wants”. My mother, born Donna Marie Farah before she married Salem, my father, was the epitome of “the neck”. She was the epicenter of our world; the nucleus of our nuclear unit. In fact, the hierarchy in our home went God, Mom, then Dad, but the poor guy had no clue. He found himself relying on her more than he even knew. In fact, the words, “I don’t know. Go ask your mother,” became his mantra. However, make no mistake about our very Arab American home. True to our culture, it was patriarchal, but like the wizard behind the curtain, Donna ran the show.
Having received numerous degrees, undergraduate and graduate, throughout her life and having my two siblings and I all by the age of 27, my mother was anything but bored. In fact, boredom would probably be welcomed on a good day. She was the quintessential superhero, never failing at her life. Although, to me, as the oldest of three, I saw one area she failed in everyday and I had no clue how to help. Very much a product of my birth order, I wanted to “fix” this problem for my mother, and I couldn’t. She didn’t even know it existed. You see, my mother, this epitome of perfection, this paragon of motherly devotion had done the unthinkable. She lost herself. Everyday, I watched my mother neglect herself just a little bit more than the day before. Raising children and a husband, maintaining a career, and running a diner left no room for private time throughout her life. She put her identity on the proverbial back burner by constantly putting her needs last or not taking care of them at all.

There are only three men that my mother has ever truly loved in the following order: Jesus, Elvis Presley, and my father. Since Jesus and Elvis weren’t options for her, she settled for Salem.   Make no mistake about it.  Elvis was very prominent in my childhood.  Do you know any 2 year olds who could quote Elvis movies?  However, her “Elvis is Life” mentality started with her first trip to Graceland, Elvis’ home in good ‘ol Memphis, Tennessee.  She came back from that trip truly transformed.  From that point on, she immersed herself in The King.  Elvis was on the television, on the radio, in her car, in her room, all over the house, etc.  She read Elvis, watched Elvis, and decorated with Elvis.  In the beginning, it almost seemed as if she was a woman obsessed, but it made her happy, and that was the point wasn’t it?  For her to find some sort of relief outside of her responsibilities?  For her to discover something that was just hers alone?

Over the years, her love of and for Elvis has grown and matured, much like a school girl crush develops into an appreciation for not only the novelty, but the human being behind the novelty.  One time, I heard her say that is was through Elvis that she kept her connection to her father, even though he was no longer living.  When she was growing up, she would watch Elvis movies with my grandfather.  It was something that they shared, and it was through her renewed love for The King that she was and is able to tether herself to my grandfather’s memory.  I get that.  I get needing to keep something you’ve lost so close to you that is can never escape again, such as memories.  Sometimes, they are all we have to cling to, and so it is through Elvis’ hip thrusting, jailhouse rocking, blue suede shoe wearing self that my mother is able to do just that.  So, I let her have it.  All of it.  The trips to Graceland, conventions, showings, collector’s items…all of it.  Because she deserves it.


The Guitarist Made My Cheeseburger

In Loving Memory of the Great Chris Cornell

It’s been mentioned before that there is a particular breed of diner employee that has the potential to be hazardous to one’s health, The Cook.  However, it was not always so. Growing up watching the revolving door of a locally owned business, especially one as transient as  the restaurant business, I observed my fair share of employees making their way in and out of our front doors, but none was so interesting to my questioning mind as the cook.  They always came with a story. As I contemplated the progression of this particular character that is always present when one lives the diner life, I found that they  grew more dangerous the older I became.  However, at this point, the danger zone is still safely out of reach.

My earliest memory was of Tom, who became less like employee and more like a friend.  Tom was very young, eventually joined the U.S. Navy and moved on.  He kept in touch over the years, and lives in Australia now.  Tom was a fond memory of when I was very young.  He still visits from time to time.

Then, there was Dave.  He was one of my favorites.  I was about 8, maybe 9, years of age when Dave came to work at Deerwood Deli, my father’s first voyage into the restaurant business, and my home away from home.  He was unlike any other person I had come across in my young existence.  Dave was tall and very thin with a fair almost luminescent complexion.  His very long, straight hair was of a dark, chestnut-brown that stood in stark contrast to the paleness of his skin.  His eyes were dark, his cheekbones high, and his fingers were long and graceful.  He wore big, black combat boots, cut-off grunge shorts, and t-shirts with skulls on them.  He would tie is hair up in a bun for work, showing off the shaved part underneath.  Sometimes, he would add in a hat for good measure.  The skull t-shirts used to make my very Arab, very spiritual mother cringe.  She thought it was bad for business.  So, she had my father start making Dave turn his t-shirts inside out for work. Many of my “attributes” are very much a casualty of creativity.  Even as a child, I was unusually observant.  I would watch Dave as he worked, mostly because he was fascinating.  I would sit in the kitchen after school, as was my custom, and watch the cook, well, cook.   In all honesty, it usually depended on who the cook was at the time.  If I wasn’t interested, I found more interesting things to occupy myself, which usually included my homework.

One day, because my young inquiring mind couldn’t handle not knowing anymore, I asked Dave, “Why do you have long hair?”  He looked down at me, gave a kind of slight smirk without showing his teeth and said, “Because I’m in a band.” Many a young heart has been stolen with those very words. For me, it meant a couple of things.  It answered a number of questions about his wardrobe, and yes, I might have just fallen a little “in like” with Dave The Cook, sometimes musician.  It was one of the best times of the late 20th century.  We were in the heyday of grunge rock, when flannel, long, greasy hair, and combat boots ran rampant, but most importantly rock n roll was transitioning from the loud shriek of the electric guitar of the 80s into the low soulful base guitar of the 90s.  Dave was in a metal band, and he played the guitar.  I know because I asked. My younger self had no shame.  From then on, my fascination with him grew just a little bit everyday.  Make no mistake, it wasn’t just the fact that I was a young girl who went to private school, and was sheltered from such things, but it was the music and the fact that he was involved with it.  I can thank my parents for my eclectic tastes in music, film and the arts, but especially music.  My mother gave me folk, oldies, country, and Elvis.  Yes, I said Elvis.  That’s a story for another day.  My father gave me soul and rock and roll.  Growing up, music was always a big part of our lives.  It always spoke to me, and still does.  So, Dave, who was different, had really pretty hair, and yes, just a little bit cute, could touch it.  It blew my little mind.  Needless to say, Dave made a lasting impression.

Dave came with a girlfriend.  Her name was Toni.  She used to come in close to closing time and wait for him to get off work.  I had a small fascination for her, too.  Toni was everything I wasn’t, not yet, anyway.  She matched Dave in an uncanny way.  Toni had crème colored skin and long, straight, brown hair that contrasted her complexion much like Dave’s.  Although, her hair was not as dark as his so the contrast was not as dramatic.  She was thin, not too tall, with a small elegant bone structure.  I remembered thinking that her fashion choices weren’t too stellar, but she came in one day wearing a pair of black stiletto tie-up ankle boots that were common for the early 90s.  I wanted them more than I wanted a pair of jelly shoes.  They were pointy and high, and they made the perfect sound on the concrete when she walked.  I still want them.  In a small way, I was a little envious of Toni.  She was pretty, grown-up, dating Dave, and she could wear high heels.  Looking back on the memories through the eyes of an adult, I can only smile at the carefree and slightly silly musings of a child.  I do owe Toni a small debt of gratitude.  Most of the time I was doing my homework while she was waiting for Dave to get off work.  One particular day, I was having more of a struggle than usual.  Obsessive Compulsive Disorder reared its ugly, two-headed face when I was  around 7 years old, and on this particular day, Toni played my savior.  I was anxiously rewriting my homework answers over and over.  I couldn’t get them just right.  Even as I type, I can feel the anxiety I was experiencing come back hitting me in the chest.  I was erasing so much that I was near to putting holes in my paper.  I started to panic.  Toni came over and stopped me.  She asked me if I needed help, and she essentially guided me through writing my answers.  It wasn’t the only time she did this.  It didn’t happen too often, but it occurred more than once.  The memory always stuck with me, hovering like a shadow.  Toni the angel in high-heeled boots, the girlfriend of Dave the metal head cook, saved my young little life, so to speak.  From then on, I tried to follow what I learned from her.  It didn’t always work, but it was something to guide me.  Yeah, Dave was one of my favorites.  I still can’t help but smile, and yes, I still have an odd fascination with musicians.  My parents were never thrilled with that fact.