A bond between granddad and granddaughter

Bailey Pennington sits on the lap of her granddad Doug Isaac circa 1999. 

It’s become a tradition. For the last few years, you can spot me at one of a few local eating establishments, nearly every week without fail, sitting across from a true man of Mebane. His name is Doug Isaac, but to me, he’s just granddad.

I’m not really sure how the routine got started. In my childhood I remember always going out for Sunday lunch at Huey’s with both of my grandparents after church. (I almost always indulged in chocolate pudding for dessert.)

I also remember home-cooked meals at my grandparents’ house for birthdays and holidays. Those slowly halted through middle and high school as all the grandkids grew up and my grandmother battled ALS. Soon, it was just granddad as we all went about our lives.

I went off to college at UNC-Chapel Hill. My granddad is the only other Tar Heel alum in the family. I’d visit when I could or I would bring him up to the Hill to enjoy a Reuben at Sutton’s Drug Store or a big BLT at Merritt’s. He always talked about his time living in Winston dorm, sharing a house with my grandma on Rosemary Street, or interning at Sutton’s when their pharmacy was still active years ago.

My granddad and I graduated from Carolina 60 years apart almost to the day. I made him wear my graduation cap in a few photos to commemorate the occasion, though he wasn’t too thrilled.

I then moved back home to begin my journalism career. I originally worked a second-shift job in Greensboro, which allowed me to be home during the morning and mid-day. Everyone else, it seemed, worked a standard nine-to-five, leaving me generally alone. But my retired granddad was almost always available.

I wanted to make up for lost time from when I was away at school and I certainly didn’t mind the company. I’d call his house and ask what he was doing – he would almost always say he was “just piddling around” – and we’d set up a time for a lunch date.

Then that lunch date became a weekly affair.

I changed jobs and returned back home, which only made our lunches easier to coordinate. Every week I call him up and ask if he’s free and we plan a time to meet at my office. My co-workers have come to recognize him when he walks in the door and he’s always quick to remark about what he saw in the paper already. (I think he reads the whole thing as soon as he gets it in the mail.)

He usually parks behind the old Warren’s Drug Store – the hometown pharmacy he used to help lead years ago – and walks up the street to my door. Sometimes we walk to another downtown establishment, other times we hop in my car and I chauffeur us to our destination.

We usually stick around Mebane, though we’ll occasionally make the trip to Graham. Anywhere between 11:30 and 12:30 on a Wednesday or Thursday you can generally find us in a booth deep in conversation.

I’ve had many people approach me about it, saying how sweet and thoughtful it is for my granddad and I to eat together. I’ve honestly never thought of it that way – it’s just something we genuinely love to do.

Last Christmas, half jokingly, I gave my granddad a “lunch date” present. I went around Mebane and collected menus from a lot of our favorite places. I then made a jar full of popsicle sticks that had each restaurant labeled – that way, he could choose our weekly meal based on the daily specials or by luck of the draw. However, we still usually don’t decide until we’re sitting in the front seat of my car.

Wherever we end up, there’s never a dull moment. We don’t usually ponder the small talk of weather and whatnot; instead, we dive into sports, history, my work and other happenings around town. He enjoys discussing the local sports teams – and, of course, our beloved Heels – especially when it comes to softball and baseball.

Our conversations also involve history discussions and occasional politics. He tells me of documentaries he’s seen recently and I share articles I’ve read. We both have a particular knack for WWII-era chatter.

As we visit local places or drive to and from, we talk of how Mebane has changed. He shares tales of working at Warren’s, where I spent many hours playing in the packing peanuts behind the counter, and people he met along the way. There are still residents, to this day, that approach him when we’re out and thank him for his pharmacy service years ago.

But my favorite conversations involve his advice. I vent to him about life and he usually just listens, but every now and then he shares a tidbit of 84-year-old wisdom. “Well, a kicked dog always squeals,” he’ll say, or “sometimes they just don’t know no better,” “not everybody was raised like we were.” I don’t even know if he realizes the huge impact of his few words.

His best advice, though, in my opinion: “a whole lot more could be solved if people just sat down and talked more.” So that’s what we do every single week. My granddad and I sit down to talk, with a good Mebane meal, and solve the world’s problems.

I’m not sure how much has actually been accomplished by our lunch dates – other than keeping some local restaurants in business – but I do know that our conversations have provided me the memories of a lifetime. I’ll never turn down lunches with granddad.