in my town, there’s a former suburb, long since absorbed into the city limits, rich with ’50s bungalows, called Sherwood. in a nod to somebody’s idea of clever literary allusion, most of its street names follow a woodsy theme – Pine, Maple, Oak, Ferndale, Heather – so that taken as a whole, you got yourself a Sherwood Forest.

before amalgamation, the village sign even featured Robin Hood.  and until last night, the most popular diner in the area – arguably in the entire city, such as it is – was called Maid Marian’s.

Maid Marian’s burnt to the ground last night.

my grandfather, who lives up the hill from the burnt out hulk that housed the best lemon pie in town, has eaten breakfast and most of his suppers at Maid Marian’s every day for the past 21 years, literally. the servers used to call his house by 7:15 am if he hadn’t shown up yet.

i am wondering if i will need to drive to Sherwood every morning with hot buttered toast until they rebuild the damn place.

my grandfather will be ninety this fall. he still drives. he still works at the autoelectric shop his former students & colleagues opened up years ago when the place he’d put his life into since the war shut down without pensions. he can’t do nearly what he’d like to, anymore, but he goes in every morning and stays ’til his back gives out. they keep him on.  i do not ask.

the kitchen of the house he shared with my grandmother has literally not been touched, except for a glass here and there for water or rum & coke, and an occasional plate for toast & Cheez Whiz, since the day she died. my grandfather does not cook. even the hulking microwave, now thirty years old, sits utterly unused on the counter looking more and more like a Star Trek relic every year.

my grandfather will need a new restaurant. not because he will starve – he’s mastered toast, and cereal, and has family & friends who invite him out for suppers and weekend brunches.  but in his own shy, slightly curmudgeonly way, he needs a place to belong to.  Maid Marian’s has been his wife  since my grandmother died.  it’s fed him, and not just bodily.  there was hot coffee waiting for him, the staff knew him by name, knew his business, asked after him. there are waitresses there he’s been telling to “stay pure” for 21 years, bless their tolerant, non-sexual-harrassment-suing hearts.

and now they’re out of a job. but he’s out of a home, in a way.  he was a fixture at the place, so much so that the local radio station called him this morning for the “human interest” angle on the fire.

i don’t know whether to buy him a cookbook or a condolence card.

if my grandmother knew that her husband had been eating out twice a day since she died, her frugal bones would roll in their grave. if she knew he’d been on the radio announcing this shameless, mortifying, spendthrift fact, i suspect the bones would find a way to reconfigure themselves so they could at the very least wag a finger at him from the afterlife.

yet in the year before cancer took her, i doubt they ever once talked about how he would eat, after 45 years of her cooking every single meal and packing his lunches for work.  that was part of their generation.

but just the other day, a good friend whose dad just had heart surgery mentioned that she doesn’t think her mother’s ever used a bank card.  her mother is not quite seventy.

another friend had her parents split up this past summer, after 39 years of marriage. her mother – a professional, independent-spirited sixty year old – had no clue where to even begin to get her taxes filed for the year.

those of us lucky enough to have longterm partners almost inevitably fall into divisions of labour, around housework or yardwork or money or laundry or who buys birthday presents for the relatives or swats Junebugs. often these divisions are gendered, though not always…sometimes, to those of us who grew up in a post-feminist world, they’re far more surprisingly gendered than we’d ever imagined for ourselves, and we blush when the nice electrician asks about the fuse box and we find ourself pointing vaguely towards the damp clay cellar that we realize we’ve only been in twice. ahem.

all partnerships have their secret agreements – i will take this, you take that.  it is nice to have someone to do a little of the dirty work that you don’t fancy.

but is it incumbent on us to stay mildly abreast of the dirty work that keeps our lives functional? it gets harder as time goes by and habits settle, and i suppose as technology changes. i wonder if the idea that we’re supposed to know how to do it all for ourselves is a peculiarity of my own generation?  these fine, skilled mothers of my friends were part of a generation who moved from parents’ home to marriage bed, for the most part.

now their adult daughters, pushing forty, are the ones who teach them the literacies that the daughters learned on their own, for the most part.

what do you think your adult children will find themselves needing to teach you? if you find yourself alone after a long partnership, what do you think will come hardest…or do you avoid thinking of things like that, at all?  do you see a generational difference between the way you and your parents dealt with these questions?

and does anybody know a nice diner where my grandfather can get some coffee? and a cute waitress to ogle? ’cause i’m willing to cook him a steak, but…boundaries, people. i have boundaries.