“I’m gonna make your hamburger.” Her and Grandpa had probably already eaten, but it was never too much trouble or too late for her to cook. More often than not, my dad would drop me off at my grandparent’s house; either my mom was in the hospital or else she might be having one of her spells of crying or screaming or both.
While the grease was coating the bottom of the skillet, Grandma grabbed a bag of Jay’s potato chips and put them on the table in front of me. I started to eat them, one at a time just as I saw people do on television, savoring each one with multiple chews until there was nothing in my mouth but air and the memory of the chip. She grabbed the handle of the refrigerator, pulled it down to open it up, her hand around a package of ground beef wrapped in white butcher paper. “I got the good kind today, the kind you like.” She said this with a wink in her voice.
I watched her scoop a handful of the red meat into her hands, pounding it back and forth into a thick patty. She threw it into the skillet, sharp hot sparks of grease popped all around her, and she shook her hand as the grease landed on it. Her face scowled for a second then she took the spatula and with all of her might, she smashed it down on top of the meat until that thick patty became a round red circle, the skillet getting mad again. She cover it with a sheet metal lid that was too big for the skillet, letting it cook while she dove back into the fridge to grab the Velveeta that was wrapped up with a piece of tin foil. With a large butcher knife, she cut off an inch thick piece of the shiny yellow cheese and let it sit on the chopping board.
Condiments were the most important ingredient as far as I could see, and I scooted off the chair to collect the ketchup, mustard, relish, and the most crucial of all, the mayonnaise. I carefully laid them out near my empty plate in the order in which they would soon be used.
“Grab yourself a napkin,” Grandma said, and I pulled a sheet from the roll of paper towels. “This is going to be a good one.” She always said that, and each time, she was right. She pulled the lid off the skillet with her bare fingers. It must have burned her because she shook her hand, shook away the burn. Grandma flipped over the burger sending the grease into a loud roar, and flattened the patty again with the spatula. What was once almost a round ball of meat was now as flat as a pancake, and the top of it was hard and burnt.
I sat on the chair, the plastic sticking to the back of my legs as they stuck out of my shorts, and I squirmed enough to feel my skin slowly pull away from the chair seat and find a new position. The kitchen was hot now; the smoke from the cooking meat creating a cloud that hovered over Grandma, wafting up to the ceiling. She pressed down on the patty one more time before carefully laying the cheese on top, and then the top went back on. This was my favorite part because I knew the cheese would melt down over the edges of the patty and into the grease.
“You need some tomato with that.” She looked over at my condiment soldiers in formation. Reaching up on top of the fridge, she took a large yellow tomato and put it on the chopping board. Taking the knife she used for the cheese out of the sink, she sliced three thick pieces from the tomato and put them on a small white plate. “There.”
By the time she took the lid off the skillet for the last time, I was starving. I couldn’t wait to have that hamburger in front of me, on my plate, ready to be dressed. I took a bun from the plastic bag and opened it into a waiting bed.
“Okay, bring me your plate.” I wiggled myself off the chair and held my plate in front of me. She dug the spatula underneath the burger, letting it hang over the skillet for a moment to drain off any extra grease, and gently placed the cheese-covered patty onto my bun. “Thanks, Grandma.”
“Oh. Let me get you some sweet pickles for that,” she said as I sat down. She brought out a jar and sliced a few of the pickles into slivers. She placed them on the plate along side the main course. My plate was starting to look professional, something that might be served in a fine restaurant.
I carefully shot out a dollop of ketchup onto the top of the melted cheese, letting the coolness of it start to bring down the temperature of my meal, making it almost immediately edible. Next, I carefully spread the mustard on the bun, then coated that with relish. Finally I took a spoon and scooped out a little bit of mayonnaise, just enough to toss on top of the burger to give accent to the ketchup. After placing the handful of potato chips just so on the plate, I looked down at what was most certainly the most stylish meal I’d ever seen.
Grandma sat across the table from me, watching my first bite. She wiggled her nose, sniffing off to the side just as a rabbit would. It was a habit she’d always had, something to keep her face busy. An involuntary smile spread out across my face, and she asked, “What’s wrong with it? Did I burn it?”
“No, Grandma, it’s great.”
“Are you sure?”
“It’s just how I like it.” She settled back in her chair, and just kept watch me over me, her nose giving one final twitch of satisfaction.