My grandparents got divorced when my dad was really young, and Dad never had much of a relationship with his father. When I was born, though, my mom thought my grandfather and his wife deserved the pleasure of my company. So until I was about 7, my mom tried her best to make sure my brother and I had a relationship with our paternal grandfather.
But here’s the thing: I don’t remember spending much time with him at all.
I do remember spending time with his wife, Betty. I remember lying in the living room floor in front of her recliner, watching “Savannah Smiles” on their giant square television. I remember being fascinated by the gold lamp in the corner with its cage of lugubrious bars encasing a glamorous lady. I remember the drawers upon drawers filled with colored pencils and crayons in her craft room.
But most of all, I remember the Green Bean Incident.
Why is it that we remember our lowest, most embarrassing moments so clearly?
My other grandparents were either working or hundreds of miles away, I guess, so Grandma Betty was my designated grandparent that day for Grandparents Day at school. I proudly showed her around my first-grade classroom, and I introduced her to Ms. Opal, whose eyes behind her thick glasses were alarmingly large.
The Grandparents joined us in the cafeteria that afternoon, and I helped Grandma Betty find our trays and get in line. The food line at my elementary school stretched into the horizon for miles, and Grandma Betty and I slide along it obediently, saying “Yes Please” to the baked chicken and rice and “No Thank You” to the Salisbury steak. Or maybe it was the other way around. It’s tough to reach three decades back in search of my chosen cuisine of the day.
I do, however, remember that I did not eat the green beans.
After sliding our trays down the line for what seemed like hours, we reached the Sides.
“Green beans?” The lunch lady asked.
“Yes,” Grandma Betty said, and the next 30 seconds unfolded in excruciating slow motion.
The lunch lady scooped up a spoonful of those hateful grayish-green tubes and started them on a certain trajectory with my plate.
“Noooooooo,” I whined. “I don’t want greeeeeeen beeeeeaaaaaaans.”
And I pulled my tray away just in the knick of time.
The green beans hit the floor with a squelch, and my tray flew across the room, the chicken and rice or Salisbury steak and potatoes spraying the floor and the first-grade and the grandparents in a typhoon of school nutrition before the tray, the plate and all the silverware crashed to the floor.
Grandma Betty shrieked, and then a terrible silence fell over the cafeteria.
“Clean it up,” Grandma Betty broke the silence. “Pick up those beans!”
She was clearly furious. And I, being a very spoiled kid, had never been told quite so brusquely to address any sort of mess.
So naturally I wailed.
“You. Are. Embarrassing. Me,” Grandma Betty growled. “Pick. Up. The. Beans.”
Did I pick up the beans? Did scary, skinny Ms. Opal come to my rescue? Did I ever apologize?
I have no idea.
But I can still go right back to that vast cafeteria and feel Grandma Betty’s fury about those beans.
Obviously Grandma Betty and I were not at our best on that particular Grandparents Day. I don’t remember her raising her voice at me any other time, and that’s probably why that one stuck. I’ve never seen anyone get so angry about green beans before, either.
So the lessons I took from the Green Bean Incident are as follows: