They call me Al

Christmas by Jerry O’Dovero

I’m not sure when my Christmas day tradition of eating pistachios on Christmas day started. I’m guessing it must have happened in my late teens. It’s a tradition that continued until my 30’s. It didn’t stop until friends started inviting me to spend Christmas with them probably baker’s dozen years ago. This is the first year in a long time I bought pistachios and the fixins for a Christmas dinner. Dinner later today will be lamb, my special baked beans I got the recipe from Mark my brother-in-law mother, pasta with an alfredo sauce and asparagus. For desert I have an apple pie and for an appetizer I have the largest peeled ready to eat shrimp the grocery store had to offer. It’s been a long long time since I spent Christmas alone. Most people would feel a little sad, but I don’t. I get to look back at my life and enjoy the memories.

It was around noon on my third Christmas out here in California and I was just about to start Christmas dinner when my doorbell rang. I answered the door to see my 80 year old neighbor Al standing there. Al was a little man. He stood maybe (at best) 5’5’’ tall with a slender build. Also Al didn’t have much grey hair left. I was shocked to see Al at my door. We had been going to the Elks lodge on Thursday night for their $8 prime rib dinners. Well Al always had the prime rib dinner which was usually cooked wrong in his mind. Me, I’d mix it up from time to time and my meal was always prepared pretty well. After dinner Al and I played several games of pool, which Al won most of the games. For me it was a fun night out.

Hi Al, I said looking at the little Italian man. Do you want to go for prime ribbed dinner, he asked. Before I could answer he says, I’ve called Coco’s (a restaurant a few blocks away) they have prime rib. Al loved his prime rib. I’ve got everything in the fridge for a wonderful home cooked meal, but I told him I need to comb my hair and put on some shoes, give me a second. Within two minutes I went from snaking on pistachios comfortably in my apartment on Christmas day to driving Al to a restaurant for Christmas dinner.

When I was putting on my shoes I had asked Al if his wife was going to join us. Al told me she had left him. I had knew she had divorced him a few years earlier because she was afraid Al’s medical condition would cause a lawsuit and get them sued. Al was in WWII and suffered a head injury. He had a metal plate in his head and was on meds. When he was on the proper mount, Al was normal. But if he took too much or too little he had no short term memory. He knocked on my door a few times asking me if I knew him. I’d get him to take his meds then I’d watch him for several hours waiting to see if he’d get better. While I waited I’d get him to tell stories of his time in WWII. While Al didn’t know anything from the past 5 years of his life, he could remember the past like it was yesterday. It was fun listening to Al’s stories and especially the military stories. The United States has the best military the world has ever known.

We arrived at Coco’s to find the parking lot full of cars. I was shocked. Inside the restaurant there were 25 people in the waiting area. All the tables were full of people enjoying Christmas dinner in a restaurant. I had never thought of going to a restaurant on Christmas day. While Al went to put us on the waiting list, I did what I do best. I started talking to a lovely lady and her 16 year old daughter. She was beautiful, friendly and a pleasure to talk with. I’m about to ask them if they wanted to join Al and I at our table when Al came back. We have to go. What? Why? Al said we have a 45 minute wait and he’s not waiting 45 minutes. I look at the lovely ladies, shrug my shoulders and tell them I have to go. After wishing them a Merry Christmas, I’m out the door with Al. the street we’re on is called Blossom Hill road. West a few blocks away was a Denny’s, but I’m not having Christmas dinner at Denny’s so I drive east. About a mile and half down Blossom Hill is a street named Snell Ave. I’ve past Marie Calendars and four or five other closed restaurants so I turn North on Snell Ave. A half a block up I spot Pete’s Family restaurant which has cars in the parking lot. I pull into the lot and tell Al to run in and see if they have prime rib. It doesn’t pay to have dinner there if they don’t have prime rib for Al.

A minute later Al returns. Yes they have prime rib. I park the van and go in to meet Pete. Pete was a tall man with the classic features of his Greek ancestry which included a Greek pride. His family had been in the restaurant business for at least two generations possibly more. For the next several years each week I’d have dinner at the Elks with Al and Dinner at PETE’S. Pete and I became friends. His bachelor party was the first bachelor party I’ve ever spent in Las Vegas. After the restaurant closed at night we often played cards which I was an often donor to other’s monthly bills.

It took a little time until I made close friends here in California. Moving here was the best thing I ever did. Over the next few weeks I’ll tell the story of why I moved from Marquette and how I ended up in San Jose. But now it’s time to quit eating pistachios and start my dinner.

Merry Christmas to all!!!!!!!!!!!!!