I am in my early 60’s and without the benefit of sodium pentothal, I willingly admit that I enjoyed Beavis & Butthead. My favorite episode was “Choke.” As per usual, the boys were seated on their weathered couch watching videos on MTV. Butthead begins choking on a chicken nugget and the plot progresses or retrogress based on your perspective.
Choke took on a whole new meaning for me on Mother’s Day this year. I raced back from church and picked up my fiancé, her mother, and a newly arrived relative Uncle Ted, a very special octogenarian. I am a kind and patient person but despite my pious works earlier in the day, my patience was wearing thin with Senor Ted. En route to brunch he asked multiple times, “Are we almost there?” Then we hit a major traffic jam. Warm Floridians were headed to the pristine beaches of New Smyrna Beach in droves. I took a circuitous route and we finally landed at our lovely establishment nestled on the Intracostal Waterway.
Our party was seated and we gazed at the bountiful buffet. It was impressive. Unfortunately, the full cast of Ben Hur was ahead of us on line. After reciting the menu for the fourth time to dear Uncle Ted, my lady and I grabbed our plates. She fended for herself, I plated for him.
The instant I slid the plate in front of Ted, the bonvivant voiced his displeasure with the roast beef. It was a tad too rare for his delicate palate. I returned to the buffet for my meal. As soon as I returned, Uncle Ted needed a bathroom break. Like the movie theater usher, I was in my youth, I cordially guided him to the water closet (sans my crimson usher’s blazer).
I returned to my seat and proceeded to wolf down my food like I was inhaling a Nedick’s hot dog, rushing for my LIRR train to Long Beach on Track 17. I enjoyed the cucumbers swimming in their delicious, delicate dressing. Then I speared a piece of the medium rare “baron of beef.” Two seconds later, my internal system flashed an ominous warning light, “DANGER.” I knew I was in big trouble. I gulped my ice water hoping to dislodge the beef log jam away. It didn’t work. The water spewed from my mouth like a fractured pipe. It was an unnerving feeling, but my survival instincts kicked in. I raced up the steps to the kitchen while replicating Marcel Marceau, performing my mime version of the Heimlich to the chefs. The kitchen crew were alarmed, but not helpful unfortunately. I was starting to feel lightheaded.
I quickly assessed my situation and realized it was pretty grim. Both kitchen’s doors swung open and my honey and a gentleman rushed in. Even though I was a tad immersed in my dilemma, I peripherally saw the fear and concern etched on her lovely face. Then this stranger, my guardian angel grabbed me from behind and lifted me into the air five times like a rag doll. The offending food didn’t shoot out like a cannonball from the Merrimack, but I could breathe once again. My honey stood on standby like Frank Reich ready to rally if Jim Kelly was injured. She learned the Heimlich at Roy Rogers while in college. I falsely assumed that my rescuer was a restaurant employee. In truth, he was just a caring human being enjoying a meal with his family. I was too shell shocked and didn’t have the presence of mind to thank him, I was glad my fiance’ did. I plopped down in my seat, rebooting, shaken but grateful. I was impressed because the gravity of my episode was not lost on Uncle Ted. He inquired, “Didn’t you say they offered a station where they prepare pasta with shrimp and scallops?”
As I stood on line at the valet booth, it gave me a moment to reflect on my tumultuous day. I thought about my friend Michael, who survived peril every day he was in Afghanistan as an Explosive Ordinance Disposal Marine. 45 minutes earlier I could have died while a band on the waterfront deck played Jimmy Buffet songs. The experience didn’t radically change me. It reinforced what I already knew. For me, every day of life is a gift from my gracious Lord. I am so grateful where I live and who I live with. Every time I see a sunrise or squadron of awesome pelicans (with their B 17- like wing spans), it reminds me how good life is. So thankful mine extended past Mother’s Day 2017!
W. Lee Richardson