“Have It Your Way” by Neil Connelly

Have It Your Way

A Depression-era mother, my Grandma Qualter brought me out to eat only on rare occasions. A stellar report card, a birthday, might merit a trip to Burger King. And always the same scene, her scanning the overhead menu, ordering in a Brooklyn accent that stood out in Pennsylvania: “I’ll have the French fried potatoes, a chicken sandwich, two Coca-Cola drinks, and a plain hamburger patty.”

Here, the hapless teenager looked up from the register. Clutching her purse with both hands, my grandmother would conclude, “And I’ll pay you fifteen cents for the patty.”

The worker might adjust their paper hat crown before offering, “A hamburger is twenty-five cents.”

Firmly she’d correct them. “I don’t want a hamburger sandwich. I want a hamburger patty.” Nodding at me, she’d explain, “The boy won’t each bread. So I won’t pay for it.”

The cashier might glance at the menu where the prices were listed, or scratch their neck, or stare blankly at the register. “We don’t even have a button for that.”

Prepared, Grandma upped the ante. “Bring me your manager.”

They tried logic, indignation, policy, fairness. All tactics fell before her. I suspect every defeated soul simply pitched in a dime to move the line along.

Later, in her kitchen, she’d unload her purse, pulling out handfuls of straws, packets of salt and sugar, a thick stack of napkins. All these were neatly stored in a drawer. If she saw me watching, she’d explain, “They’re included in the price of the service.”

Neil Connelly, author of eight books, teaches creative writing in his home state of Pennsylvania at Shippensburg University. See more at neilconnelly.com.