Two years before Mama died and awhile before Tink, she and I were having breakfast for supper one night at a Waffle House.
In our family, it’s a glorious treat to have breakfast for supper or dinner after church on Sunday. This is probably because we descend from the tradition of serious breakfasts, the meal expected to sustain farmers through an exhausting morning of work.
Mama made a delicious breakfast, and she made it every morning of her life while Daddy was alive: eggs, grits, sausage or bacon, gravy and a pan of steaming biscuits. In her later years, Mama would sometimes call all of us and say, “I’m cookin’ breakfast for supper. Y’all come on, now. Hear?”
And we’d scramble from all corners of “thereabouts” and enjoy the hot, piping food.
We were on our way home from a speaking engagement so we stopped at Waffle House. Mama, who loved waffles and made them on special occasions when I was growing up (yes, sometimes for supper), had covered hers with thick syrup. We were in a little booth, next to the cash register. Mama was facing the register so my back was to whoever was paying.
Mama chewed slowly on her waffle and watched keenly what was going on behind me. I could tell that her mind was “studying on something.” I heard the cash register drawer open and the waitress start to count out change.
Mama tilted her head and, in a bit, asked, “When you go out on a date, do you ever pay?”
My eyes blinked in surprise. I turned to the register to see a young woman taking the change from the waitress while the young guy with her, waited, jittering around, his hands thrust deep into his pockets.
I turned back to Mama. “No.” I replied firmly. “And if one ever expected me to pay, that would be the last date.”
Mama nodded. “That’s what I thought. Girls shouldn’t date boys that make them pay. You know what I say – always play hard to get.”
In the household in which I grew up, there were three strict rules about dating: never, under any circumstances, call the boy; if you go out with him, he pays; the boy comes to the front door to get you. This was a “no holds barred” rule of Daddy’s – “If he honks the horn for you, not only will you not go out that door, but you’ll be grounded for not havin’ no better sense than to make a date with such a lowlife.”
Today, I try to tell girls who ask my advice: don’t text, don’t call, don’t email. Few listen.
One night, not too long ago, Tink and I were at a middle school basketball game. I was sitting next to my niece who spotted activity at the front door. One of her sons was at the ticket stand with a girl.
“Does he have money for tickets?” she asked.
My niece’s husband, Jay, shrugged and pulled out his billfold. He only had a couple of dollars. Nicole watched, then shook her head in mock despair. “He’s paying for his and he’s letting her pay for hers!” she laughed.
“Oh no, no, no,” I said, not joking. “In this family, girls don’t pay.”
I rarely pick a battle on this stuff, but I picked this one. Nicole’s son is such a high-quality, fine young man that I didn’t want him to downgrade. When the kids settled in among us, Nicole said to his date, “Girls don’t pay. Make him pay you back.”
“I didn’t have the money,” he protested.
“Then you shouldn’t have made the date,” I replied, digging into my purse. When I handed the money to her, he was deeply embarrassed.
It could have been more embarrassing, though. Imagine how I’d acted if he had honked the horn for her.