Five miles of country roads off the beaten path of I-35, in southern Oklahoma, there is a small restaurant overlooking the Red River. While McGehee's Catfish Restaurant (and Airport) is open all day on weekends, they are only open for a few hours each weekday evening, and we were lucky enough to make that window on our drive from Emporia, Kansas back to Austin.
We sat down at a table that had a view of the river valley, and the waitress approached our table.
"What can I get you to drink?"
"Iced tea, please," we both replied.
"...And catfish?" she asked.
J and I slowly looked at each other and said "Uhm...yes, please?"
We were offered no menus, didn't know if there were menus, didn't even know what this catfish would set us back or what it came with. We were at the mercy of McGehee's to be kind and generous with their seemingly singular expertise – we were ordering Oklahoma omakase.
We were given iced tea 30 seconds later. Not a minute passed after the drinks had arrived, when cole slaw, bread-and-butter-pickled green tomatoes and the most transcendent hush puppies I've ever eaten came to the table. Two minutes after that, a platter piled high with cornmeal-crusted catfish and fresh-cut french fries was placed in front of us.
It was the most glorious divinity that bottom-feeding fresh farm-raised fish could ever hope to attain.
We were born way too early. One of us made it, one of us didn't. I still don't know how to process that, but I'm working on it.
All I can say is, I wish you were around.
I remember my grandfather most as a farmer. His 160 acres in Wellington, Kansas was a modest endeavor, with a double-wide trailer and wheat fields as far as the eye could see. My childhood recollections are of exploring the requisite barn and grain silo, pulling my younger sister in a Radio Flyer wagon attached to the riding lawnmower, and that there was always bread and butter on the table with supper.
We would take sandwiches out to the fields when it was harvest season, for my grandfather and father to eat while driving the combine and grain truck. I can remember the smell of sweat and hot wheat dust when they were done for the day, the stubble of my father's unshaved face.
I am so very lucky to have memories of my grandparents, as most of my same-aged friends, peers and colleagues never really knew their parents' parents. And as I have grown older, I have realized that funerals for these grandparents is not as sad for me as a loss, but sad for me as a loss of knowledge of simpler times. They cannot tell me those stories any more, when things were grown and not just appropriated.
We do not endure the same way, we do not appreciate the same things, now. I miss the physical, but these are the emotional losses that I mourn.
These are the absences that I will miss most.
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