Around the Woodstove: Dreaming of a White Castle?
White Christmas does not always mean what you think. For most, it connotes all the beautiful Christmases from the past, nostalgically evoked by the famous Irving Berlin song of the same name. But our family actually thinks White Castle when we he...
White Christmas does not always mean what you think.
For most, it connotes all the beautiful Christmases from the past, nostalgically evoked by the famous Irving Berlin song of the same name.
But our family actually thinks White Castle when we hear White Christmas. Yes, as in White Castle restaurant, famous in Minnesota and in a dozen other states.
No, this is not a plug for the fast food drive-in. Rather, it's an odd consequence of a true life story.
I had just gotten home from work when something did not feel quite right. My wife's station wagon was missing from the driveway and the house's front door was ajar. I thought maybe she forgot to lock it when taking the kids shopping, except that Jackie was sitting in my chair as I walked into the living room.
"Mommy said meet her at the hospital."
I never could have imagined words from my 9-year-old could make my stomach flip-flop. But Mike, her older brother, my 12-year-old son, had been in an accident, she said, and was carried to the ER.
Mike was heading home from school when he and a friend tried to cross a busy street to purchase bubble-gum cards at a grocery store. His friend made it. Mike was struck by a car.
The scene at the hospital had all the cinematic horror one might expect except that it was my own son lying on a gurney with a tiny stainless steel cup under each ear to catch blood.
Mike was unconscious, and my wife Marianne, holding our younger daughter Janet, explained his skull was fractured and that a scan revealed a blood clot swelling his brain. A neurosurgeon was just now prepping for an emergency operation.
The rest of the day I recall as a hazy dream. Women and men in white coats, back and forth. My wife and I clinging to each other, tensing each time the double doors swung open.
The only thought I could keep in my head was that Mike had to come out of this OK. He loved swimming and fishing and bicycling to the drive-in for a burger and fries when he was rewarded for good grades. He could lie on the lawn for hours, reading a biography, his favorite kind of book, or intently watching an ant colony constructing a mound.
Each hour, Marianne and I would pull apart and visit the pay phone to update grandparents and to check with the neighbor watching our girls.
I've a vague recollection of my brother Kevin sitting with us. He must have come from work, the scent of factory oil on his clothes, a strangely comforting reminder of the real world outside our vigil.
Finally, the doctor emerged from surgery. He had excised the clot and repaired the fissure in Mike's skull. But his condition was critical, and the extent of damage would not be known until he came out of the coma.
I slept in the waiting room the first night. There was no change. Marianne stayed the second night, and I went home to be with the girls.
The following morning, I took a deep breath before walking up to the desk in the critical care unit. The nurse behind the desk handed me a note.
"Mike wants White Castles! Love, Marianne."
I ran to see for myself.
From behind the bandages, and under the tubes and hospital sheets, came a frail but brave, "Hi, Dad." They were the finest two words any man ever heard.
Marianne and I agreed his recovery would make Christmas the best we could ever imagine.
I flew downstairs to the parking lot and drove to the nearest White Castle. I ordered 50 and told the clerk and all the customers in line the reason why. And then I was embarrassed when I didn't have enough money with me to cover the total. When the manager said the rest were on her I could only manage to nod my thanks. I carried the paper sacks back to the hospital.
Though Mike could finish only one of the square, oniony burgers, I thought it miraculous enough, and there were plenty of hospital personnel happy to share in our feast.
Ten days later Mike went home. A week after that he was back to school.
Many customers have a cultish loyalty to the 24-hour "White Bags," making pilgrimages habitually and often late at night
But White Castle is not a shrine. Let's just say that for us it ranks with "trees that glisten" and "sleigh bells in the snow" as a reminder of the greatest Christmas we'll ever know!
David McGrath of Hayward is the author of "Siege at Ojibwa," available at booklocker.com. He can be contacted at profmcgrath2004@ yahoo.com. McGrath's son, Mike, is back in the hospital -- but as an orthopedic surgeon in New Jersey!