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Copyright Â© 2010 by Robin Epstein
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Epstein, Robin, date.
God is in the pancakes / by Robin Epstein.
Summary: Fifteen-year-old Grace, having turned her back on religion when her father left, now finds herself praying for help with her home and love life, and especially with whether she should help a beloved elderly friend die with dignity.
eISBN : 978-1-101-42743-9
[1. Assisted suicideâFiction. 2. Old ageâFiction. 3. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosisâFiction. 4. Dating (Social customs)âFiction. 5. SistersâFiction. 6. FaithâFiction. 7. Family lifeâPennsylvaniaâFiction. 8. Philadelphia (Pa.)âFiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.E72518God 2010 [Fic]âdc22 2009033857
For my dad,
Dr. Paul E. Epstein, who is with me always
ere's what I've come to realize about perfect happiness: It's as fragile as the bubbles that form on the top of a pancake. I know a fair amount about the subject of pancakes because I used to eat them all the timeânot just for breakfast. When my dad was in charge of meals, pancakes could and would be served for breakfast, lunch, snack, and “special pancake dinner” too. Whether we stayed at home and made them ourselves, went out for brunch at the local flapjack shack, or dined at that more famous “international” house of pancakes, I can say with confidence that I was quite the student of the pancake-making process.
But back to the bubbles.
When you make pancakes, you mix together all the ingredients and ladle the batter onto the hot griddle or in the frying pan. Then, the next thing you're supposed to do is to look for the bubbles to appear, because when the time is right, they'll float to the top and sides of the pancake. The reason these bubbles are important is because when you see them, that's how you know you're close; the time is near. It's also your cue to give those pancakes a flip, because if you don't they burn, and your cakes are toast. So those tiny bubbles signal everything's about to get turned on its head.
That's why the perfect pancake bubble can only exist for a small moment in time. After it serves its purpose, making your mouth water in anticipation of what's to come and letting you know it's time for its world to turn upside down, it pops and fades away. What comes nextâhow the thing actually turns outâdepends on your variables: what you've added to the mix, how much you've stirred the pot, your ability to blend, its general shape, fat content, toppings, timing, and luck.
The comparison to high school is not lost on me either.
“You have a bad attitude, Grace Manning,” Mr. Sands says, his hazel eyes narrowing slightly as he gives me the once-over. “I like it.”
“And you have a lot of hair for an old man,” I reply, kicking the footrest of his wheelchair. “I think we should give you a Mohawk.”
“A Mohawk?” Mr. Sands tilts his head back and curls the corners of his mouth into a smile. “Sounds painful.”
Bok . . . bok-bok
“Are you clucking at me? Did you just cluck at me, young lady?” he asks, trying to straighten up in his chair.
“Implying I'm a chicken?”
“If the wing fits, Sand Man.”
“Miss Manning,” Mr. Sands says formally, in a tone I imagine he would have used in business meetings. “You are looking at a man who served in the First Marine Division in the Korean War, where I was stationed in the mountains by the Chosin Reservoirâthe âFrozen Chosin,' as it was known. The men of the First were officially called combat-ready soldiers, which meant we were the first on the ground fighting. Unofficially we were called âbullet catchers,' because we gave the enemy something to shoot at. Over the course of my life I've been called a good-for-nothing jerk, a son of a bitch, and a whole lot of other things that would make both you and me blush if I repeated them. But in all my years no one but no one has ever called me a chicken. So go 'head, scalp me if you dare.”
want me to give you a Mohawk?” I ask. “Are you serious?”
“I'd say âserious as a heart attack,' but they don't like people to joke about that around here.”
Mr. Sands, a resident in the Hanover House Retirement Community, is one of the only people in this place who
make a joke like that, which is part of the reason he's my favorite resident. More accurately, he's my favorite resident
by a mile
and I'm not just saying that because he's also the guy who taught me how to cheat at Texas hold'em.
I've been working as a candy striper at Hanover House (“One of the premiere facilities for seniors in beautiful suburban Philadelphia!”) since school started, the beginning of my sophomore year. That was when my mother informed me it was time to get a job because, “It'll help motivate you, Grace.” Before this time I'd never realized Mom thought my level of motivation presented a problem. I never knew she'd given the subject any thought at all, for that matter. But even though I'd never admit it to her, I actually wanted to get a job. Having a built-in reason to escape the house a few days a week seemed like a pretty good deal to me.
Finding someplace to hire me turned out to be harder than I expected. I couldn't get work as a waitress because no restaurant wanted to hire someone who'd never waitressed before. And retail was another “no fly” zone for two reasons: 1. I don't care about clothes and 2. The girls who work in those stores freak me out. I always feel like they size you up according to your size.
That's why I applied for the job at Hanover House when I saw the ad on Craigslist. Being a candy striper seemed pretty low key, and amazingly, this place even paid a weekly stipend. Plus, I figured the old folks wouldn't care that my idea of dressing up is zipping my hoodie. The surprise was that I actually wound up liking the job. But that had a lot to do with Mr. Sands. I met him on the first official day of fall when I entered his room to water the plants. A troupe of local musicians who came to play in the residents' room walked in behind me. But they only got to the first chorus in “The Circle of Life” before Mr. Sands stopped them.
“I'm sorry, but my granddaughter,” he said, tilting his head in my direction, “had a very traumatic experience at a performance of
The Lion King
when she was younger, didn't you, honeybunch?”
His eyes gleamed as they connected with mine and I took the cue. “It was terrible.” I nodded, holding his gaze. “One of the giraffes lost his balance, fell forward, and took the whole chain of animals down with him.”
“My poor girl learned the true meaning of survival of the fittest that day,” Mr. Sands continued. “Now, I'm sure you don't want to bring up any unpleasant memories here, do you?” The musicians, who were usually greeted with big smiles from grateful residents, looked at one another, bewildered. “I didn't think so,” he said, dismissing them. “Good-bye.” Once the troupe was a safe distance out the door, Mr. Sands winked at me, then started laughing.
“Well, aren't you the good little liar,” he said.
“Guess it runs in our genes, huh
?” I replied, cocking an eyebrow at him.
“What's your name?”
“Frank Sands,” he said. “How old are you, Grace?”
“That's a terrible age.”
I nodded. “Tell me something I don't know.”
“It's better than being eighty-four.”
“You were thinking I didn't look a day over eighty-three, right?” Mr. Sands grinned. “Hey, you play cards?”
“That's a character flaw, Grace. But don't worry, I'll teach you.”
“I appreciate that,” I said. And I meant it.
“You know, if this were a movie, this is when you'd roll me out of here and you and I would hit the road, conning people from coast to coast.”
“If this were a movie,” I replied, “I'd have better skin, a better wardrobe, and a cool getaway car . . . or at the very least, a driver's license.”
“Details, honeybunch,” he responded with a chuckle. “Details.”
But that feeling, like we were characters in our own screwball comedy, remained. And from that day forward, whether we were playing cards or chatting, the conversation was always fast and fun between Mr. Sands and me. It just felt like I was a sharper version of myself around him.
I put my hands on my hips and look at Mr. Sands. “Okay, Colonel Sandsers,” I say, “if you're seriously serious about this new hairdo, I've got some supplies in my bag. I'll just go get it from the volunteers' office.”