*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by my father, who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.
She refused to eat dinner at my grandparents' house ever again.
My parents have been married for a few months shy of six decades. It is my mother's first marriage, but my father's second marriage. My mother is easygoing, understanding, warm, and friendly; my father's first wife was the exact opposite.
While my father was married to his first wife, he brought her to his parents' house for dinner. From the start, she was not comfortable. She couldn't join in their conversation due to a language barrier; she couldn't eat the food because it was foreign and unappealing to her.
My grandparents were from southern Europe and spoke hardly any English. My grandmother prepared ethnic food that seemed strange and scary to my father's first wife to the point of being inedible.
To my family, that food was a delicacy. My grandparents had spent a good deal of money on the finest food to serve my father's first wife, hoping to please and impress her.
Their efforts to impress their new daughter-in-law failed spectacularly.
She sat there, eating a crust of bread, sipping homemade wine, and waiting for the meal to end so she could go home with my father and rustle up a grilled cheese sandwich before bed.
That's when my grandmother did something my father's first wife found inexcusable.
My grandmother used her hands to push all the breadcrumbs and scraps of food that had fallen off dishes onto the table onto the floor.
Her daughter-in-law felt disgusted and horrified. Seeing my grandmother push food onto the floor was the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back. She stood from the table and walked out of the house. Then she sat fuming in my father's car until he emerged from the house to drive them home.
Here's what she didn't understand.
My grandmother always brushed the crumbs off the table onto the floor after dinner because she always swept the floor after dinner. It was a habit she'd picked up as a little girl when she lived in a dirt-floored shack on a fishing island in the Atlantic Ocean.
Her mother had brushed the crumbs off the table onto the floor after dinner, and her grandmother had brushed the crumbs off the table onto the floor after dinner before her. There's a perfectly good chance that her great-grandmother had brushed the crumbs off the table onto the floor after dinner, too.
It wasn't a tradition; it was more like a learned habit, and it wasn't dirty like my father's first wife thought. My grandmother was careful to sweep the kitchen floor after every meal. It was just a part of the process.
Besides, it was cleaner than ignoring the crumbs that had fallen to the floor on their own and then cleaning only the table. To my grandmother, it was a matter of efficiency.
To my grandmother's short-lived daughter-in-law, it was disgusting. She never accepted another invitation to dinner, which didn't matter. In the end, she and my father divorced within the year.