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Lunch at the Dietert Center

The Dietert Center ( http://www.dietertseniorcenter.org/ ) is the local senior center, where there are activities and hot lunches provided for local seniors Monday through Friday. When Mother had only been here a couple of weeks, my niece, Vickie, took Mother to lunch there. Mother was underwhelmed and didn’t think she would be interested in going back. The lunches are free for seniors, but those under 65 are asked to contribute at least $5 for lunch, and Mother thought this was burdensome to whomever would be taking her there.

Now that Mom has been here long enough for the shock of the move to wear off, and the accumulated boredom of sitting home all day, every day, with the only break being when I come home for 1/2 hour or so to have a sandwich with her, she seemed more amenable to trying it again. Especially after I pointed out that $5 is not really that much for lunch, as we would pay that much apiece were we to go to Jack In The Box.

So, we decided that Friday would be the day. My friend, Dawn, who works at the Dietert Center, said baked chicken day was always popular, so we should plan on arriving around 11:30 so as to secure a table. Plus, soup, bread, and salad is put out at 11:30, so we could start with that while waiting for the main meal to be served at noon.

As it was my payday, and I needed to go by the bank before we went to lunch, I left work at 11 a.m. to pick Mother up. We parked at the bank, went in, and I suggested Mother have a seat in one of the comfy chairs in the middle of the lobby while I waited at the counter.

“Where are the tables?”

“Do you need a table, Mom?”

“Well, where are we going to eat?”

“This is the bank, Mom.”

“Oh, that’s right. I’ll just sit right here, then.”

I go to the counter, request that my check be cashed so that I might have some cash in my pocket, with the balance to be entered into the account as a cash deposit so the funds will be immediately available, which I do every pay period. The woman who waits on me half the time, and who was the one to initially suggest this strategy, seems puzzled by my request, but goes ahead. I like having my money immediately available to me, not at some later time the bank determines it proper. Anyway.

I lament to the teller the lack of the place to purchase dress shoes in town and mention that we’re going to the nearest REAL mall, which is just inside the San Antonio city limits. The helpful teller points out to me how a woman who works at the bank with her was robbed at gunpoint in the parking lot of that particular mall a few weeks ago. Thanks for the info.

I finish my transactions and conversation and Mother and I head back out to the car. We drive on across town to the Dietert Center, arriving just before 11:30. I pull in beside an older luxury car with really big doors. I notice all the dings all along the really long door on my side. I realize why most of the cards are parked a space apart. I pull out of the parking space and park one space over, leaving an empty space on one side and a grassy break in the parking lot on the other.

Mother and I walk into the center, which is a brand new facility, opened this past April, nice red brick and overlooking the Guadalupe River. We walk up to the counter, and I tell the woman we are here for lunch, and to meet with Dawn. She asks if Dawn is expecting us and asks for my name. I’m glad she didn’t also ask for the secret code word. She directs us to the elevator, and tells us the administrative offices are to the right once we exit onto the 2nd floor.

“Did you pay for our lunches?”

“No, Mom, we’re going to Dawn’s office first.”

“Why are we doing that?”

“Dawn is eating lunch with us. We’re going to get her and then the three of us will go to the dining room.”

“Oh. Okay.”

We find the administrative offices, and yes, Dawn is there, along with her boss, who is a good friend of my boss. We exchange introductions all around as they finish up what they are doing and Dawn, Mother, and I go out into the hallway to make our way back downstairs and to the dining room. Directly across the hall from Dawn’s office is the very nice conference room with a glass window wall overlooking the river. Dawn asks if we would like to see the view.

“Are they going to bring our food to us in here?”

“No, Mom. This is the conference room. We’re just enjoying the view for a moment.”

We head down the hall, down the elevator, past the doors where we first came in, and finally make our way to the dining hall. There are quite a few people already there, and three or four ahead of us in line. The couple in front of us smells faintly medicinal, and I try to keep a little distance between us, but Mother is crowding me from behind. I step aside to let her go ahead. Dawn chats with the people behind us, who are pleasantly surprised that she is joining the group for lunch. When we get to the sign-in registry, Mother signs in, and the greeter asks about her paperwork. Dawn assures the volunteer that Mother’s paperwork has already been done, as she had lunch there several weeks ago. Dawn and I put our money into the donations box, and we are directed to Table #23.

We put our purses down, and make our way to the soup table for “Autumn Soup”. Dawn tells us there is soup every day, and it is generally quite good. There are also packages of saltines and slices of white and wheat bread. Mother takes saltines. I take wheat bread. Dawn gets our drinks for us. We wend our way back to #23, balancing soup, bread/crackers, and glasses of water. Mother asks if I will get salad for her when I get mine. I am happy to bring her a bowl which is, like my own, filled on one side with a cucumber/yogurt salad, and on the other with a black-eyed-pea/tomato salad.

On the way to the salad bar, I see Forrest, a man I know from the Unity church, there with his father. I greet him, telling him that I’m there with my mother, and he tells me that he had noticed us earlier, but we were across the room. I guess “halloooooing” across the dining room , a la Tigger, is not good form at the Dietert Center. I will remember this for future reference. In any case, it is nice that I am beginning to see people I know – it is nice that I’m beginning to know people! – and getting a hug on the way to a salad bar is always a welcome addition to one’s day.

Back at Table #23, we enjoy our soup and salads, waiting for the main serving line to open. I wonder about the advisability of a number of elderly people rushing to the serving line, but Dawn assures me that this is not the case, as we are called to the line by table number. We then start to pay more attention to the woman droning into the microphone so that we may be sure and hear our table number called.

Finally, we hear “Table #23”, and make our way around the tables to the serving line on the opposite side of the room. A portable steam table is there, with three or four people serving up a nice lunch of two pieces of chicken, a scoop of dressing, and peas-and-carrots. Gravy is ladled over each piece of chicken, but not the dressing. As we leave the serving line, I notice this, and since it seems to me that gravy should be on dressing, not necessarily on baked chicken, I go back and request gravy on my dressing as well. I am the last one back to table #23.

“You got two pieces of chicken!”

“So did you, Mom.”

“Oh. I guess I did.”

“I just asked for gravy to be put on my dressing, too.”

It is a tasty lunch, although I wonder about serving seniors bone-in chicken thighs with gravy on them, which almost necessitates using knife and fork. I have full mobility and it is a bit of a challenge for me. As we are finishing up, Dawn tells us that while table numbers are called for the serving line, dessert is first-come, first-served, once it is available. Shortly thereafter, we see that dessert has already been put on the serving line, and we are a little nervous about missing out, but there is plenty. Dawn accompanies me to the line, where she gets her dessert bowl with pound cake, custard and multi-colored sprinkles. I get two, one for myself and one for Mother. Dawn teases me about looking greedy, but we figure it will be alright once I get back to the table and hand one of them off to Mom.

One of the volunteers stops by our table and greets Mother, welcoming her and encouraging her to come again. Mother seems pleased with the attention, as am I. We finish our dessert and then it is time to go, as I have to return to work after I take Mother back home. We get to the hallway, and Mother asks Dawn where the ladies room is. Dawn points her down the hall.

“I’m going to the restroom. Don’t run off and leave me.”

I am beginning to wonder if this is merely a quirk of speech due to childhood abandonment issues or if Mother truly believes I’m going to take her somewhere and leave her. I make an impatient gesture as she walks away, and Dawn make soothing noises reminding me that this is a new situation for Mother and patience is a virtue. (Dawn – if you’re reading this, I bet you didn’t realize you conveyed all that with “now, now”.)

When Mother returns, Dawn walks us to the lobby, we thank Dawn for having lunch with us, and she very graciously thanks us for inviting her. Mother and I make our way out to the car, and then back to the house to drop her off before I head back to work.

We have plans to go for lunch again on Tuesday, when the main entree will be sausage and red cabbage, and Ellen has promised to join us. Perhaps Dawn can join us again. And Ellen has suggested that she might take Mother for lunch there week after next, when I will be out of town for several days. The plan is for Mother to have lunch there at least once a week, to get to know some of the other seniors, and eventually become interested in some of the activities that are offered during the week. That’s the plan.

Thank you, Dawn and Ellen.
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