Dinner Talk

By the time Stan Ellis was finished mucking out the stalls, he was exhausted even though he’d been doing it for the past nine years. As an eight-year-old, when he first came to live with his grandparents, he hated the smell of the horses’ droppings, the texture of the straw, and working in the shadowy barn. Because he’d been born in the city, he knew nothing about ranch life and hadn’t planned on every living on one. But when his parents died, he’d had no choice.

His school day was followed by a hour and a half of band practice, something he’d recently added after Grandpa Ellis convinced him he needed an elective for college admissions. He’d picked up his grandpa’s old saxophone, and after watching a few YouTube videos, was soon playing elementary songs.

Band wasn’t too hard. It was marching and playing that exhausted him mentally and physically.

It was after four by the time he got home, then cleaning stalls for an hour before he could tackle homework. All of it added up to a lot of work.

Stan thoroughly washed his hands then made himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He pulled out his homework and began studying for a Physics test the next day. Just as he finished reviewing the assigned chapter his seventy-year old grandpa came in. He brought the outside in with him which Stan now found endearing.

“We’re having spaghetti tonight. Is that okay?” Grandpa asked as he pulled a pot and lid out of the cabinet.

“Sounds great. Can we have a salad too?”

“If you make it.”

Stan pulled lettuce, radishes, and cheese out of the refrigerator. He took a tomato off the counter and fetched bacon bits from the pantry. “So, are you going to give me the money or not?”

“Can you explain it to me again?”  Grandpa dumped a handful of noodles into a pan of boiling water and then wiped his hands on his jeans.

“The money’s due tomorrow or I can’t go to Disneyland.”

“Why’re you going there?”

“I’ve explained it several times.” Stan finished assembling the salad, set it on the table, and then flopped into a hand-hewn chair. “I’ve missed every deadline so far. I’m surprised my teacher’s still letting me go.”

Grandpa stirred the noodles with a wooden spoon. “Let’s see. What extra jobs have you done to earn money?”

Stan sighed and ran his hands over his lanky brown hair. “I dug the weeds out of the pony pens and I trimmed the bushes along the drive.”

“That’s part of your job,” Grandpa said.

“According to that line of reasoning, then anything I do around here is my job,” Stan said. “Look, Grandpa, I really want to go. I’ve got to pay the full amount tomorrow or I’m out.”

Grandpa slipped a loaf of French bread out of its wrapper and laid it on the cutting board. He picked up a knife and sliced off four hefty pieces. “Explain again the reason for the trip.”

“The band’s marching in the Main Street Parade and performing on the stage in Tomorrowland.” Stan leaned his chin on his hands and looked at his grandfather with sparkling eyes. “I want to go.”

After popping open a jar of sauce and pouring it into a pan, Grandpa sat at the table.  “How much are we talking about?”

“We’re flying, so that’s about $300. No hotel costs because we’re staying in a high school gym. They’re feeding us breakfast and dinner. Admission to the park is about $100. The only other cost is for my lunch.”

“So about $500?”

Stan shrugged. “Yeah.”

“I don’t have that kind of money.” Grandpa walked over to the stove, poured a little oil into the water with the noodles and then stirred the now simmering sauce.

“You sold a foal last week to Mr. Newton for a thousand dollars.”

“I paid bills with that money.  We owe Smith’s Hay and Feed over two thousand and Bill’s been asking for his money since he fixed the truck.”

“But everyone else is going.” Stan flopped his head down on his crossed arms.

“Set the table.  We’ll be eating in about five minutes.”

Stan shuffled to the cabinet, and with exaggerated effort got down two plates and glasses.  With an audible sigh, he set them on the canvas placemats that were always on the table.

Grandpa strained the water from the noodles and then dropped in a slice of butter.  He tossed the noodles, poured in the sauce, and carried the pan over to the table.  “Let’s talk.”

Stan scooped a mound of spaghetti onto his plate and sprinkled on a heavy layer of Parmesan cheese.  “It’s during Spring Break so I won’t miss any school. You filled out the permission form that had all the details. I even left a copy for you to keep  My plane ticket’s been bought.  I can’t back out now.”

“I can’t recall filling out any form.”

“Well, you did.”

“What was I doing when you handed it to me?”

“Washing dishes.  You told me to put the form on the table.  You filled it out and handed it to me.”

“I’d never have signed if I knew how much money was involved.  You can’t go.  I’m sorry.”

Leaving behind his dirty dishes, Stan took the stirs two steps at a time up to his room.  When he slammed the door he knew it would shake the whole house, a violation of the rules, but he didn’t care.

After using a napkin to wipe off his mouth, then refolding it and placing it next to his placement, Grandpa cleaned the kitchen. Like always, he then went into the front room to sit and smoke his pipe, but before lighting up, he unlocked the small safe embedded in the wall behind his desk and pulled out a rubber-banded wad of money.  He carefully counted out the bills.  He locked the safe and went upstairs.

“Can I come in?” he said after knocking on Stan’s door.

“Sure.”

Grandpa extended his right hand. “Here’s the money.”

“Really?”  Stan’s face glowed with surprise.

“Yeah.  I was hoping you’d changed your mind and didn’t want to go all the way to California.  You’ve never been that far from the ranch in all these years. But just in case, I put the money aside.  I’m selling this weekend Misty to Steve Carlson.  I’ll use that money to pay off bills.”

“Grandpa you’re the best!”  Stan, even though he was a little too old for hugs, jumped up off his bed and wrapped his arms around his grandfather.

“One thing, though,” Grandpa said as he stepped away.

“Anything. I’ll do whatever you want.” Stan’s eyes gleamed.

“Have fun. Play well. Be careful.”

Stan nodded. “I will. I’ll even find a way to call if you want.”

Grandpa smiled. “That’d be nice. It would make me feel better knowing that you were safe.”

Stan hugged Grandpa again. “There’s supposed to be a pay phone at the school. I’ll call when we get there the first night, call when we get back from Disneyland, then call right before we leave for the airport.”

“Come downstairs. I bought strawberries and shortcake.”

Stan enjoyed his dessert, even though he understood that his grandpa had intended to give him the money all along. All-in-all, it was an excellent dinner.