“Unlike Dalton’s approach, I do it this way,” my lovely wife, Grace, said, unfolding a napkin and holding a sugar packet. She and I were having dinner with friends, Billie and Jerry, at The Kingstide, a new restaurant on Daniel Island. But I’m getting ahead of the story.
Earlier that afternoon, I retrieved our copy of The Daniel Island News from the front sidewalk. Like a lot of August days recently, it was raining and the plastic bag containing the paper was wet. I brought it into the house and made my way quickly to the kitchen trash can, pulled out the paper, and pitched the wet wrapper in the trash.
Pretty good, huh? Au contraire, mon frère. Grace has a better way of doing it, which brings us back to the dinner demonstration.
Folding the napkin into thirds and crimping one end, Grace announced, “Now this napkin represents the plastic bag.” Continuing, she held up the sugar packet saying, “And this is the newspaper.” Grace dropped the sugar packet into the napkin cylinder she had formed and laid the napkin on the table.
“Now when it rains,” she stated, “the bag, represented by the napkin here, gets wet on the outside, but the inside and the paper are dry.”
“”You mean the sugar,” I cut in.
“The sugar packet is the paper in our little model,” Grace corrected, in her “teacher voice.” She used to teach science so I made a note not to interrupt again.
Holding the napkin cone vertical, Grace declared, “When the bag is wet, I first stop on the porch and do this.” Like a magician, she slowly folded down the sides of the napkin cone, revealing the sugar packet (which we all know represents the paper). She then plucked the packet from its napkin cocoon and dropped it, with a slight bit of flair, on the table.
“Because I turned the bag inside-out, the wet side is now safely on the inside,” Grace proclaimed. “It can now be safely deposited in the trash.”
Before the audience could respond, she concluded, “That way no water is dropped on the floor from the front door to the trash can, unlike the way Dalton does it.”
After a pause, Jerry remarked, “Well, I’ll be dogged. That is a better way!”
I avoided eye contact knowing he was grinning at me.
Billie added, “Makes all the sense in the world to me. Dalton, you need to listen to Grace more.”
“Yeah!” echoed Grace.
Knowing which way the tide had turned, I mumbled something to the effect that I would follow Grace’s new and improved method.
“And don’t tell people it was your idea,” Billie instructed, winking at Grace. Turning toward Jerry she added, “Men do that, you know. Take credit for things they learned from their wife.” Jerry looked down and missed me grinning at him.
“You’re right,” Grace responded. “We enjoy a particular barbecue sauce. The bottle has a picture of a man on it as if he concocted it. But the backstory is that his wife developed the recipe in their home kitchen. But is she on the label? No.”
“There you go,” replied Billie, as the two of them continued their analysis of the theme.
I wasn’t sure if Grace wanted an assent or comment from me. I gazed out the window as my mind began to wander — back to Bern. In Switzerland. Near the start of the last century. A young Albert Einstein sat at his kitchen table, running his fingers through his hair. Scraps of paper and nubs of pencils littered the tabletop.
“Would you like some more tea, dear?” his wife, Mileva, asked.
Not looking up, he shook his head from side to side.
“You’ve been at the table so long,” she observed. “Can I help you with whatever it is you are doing?’
“I doubt it,” he intoned, more matter-of-factly than derisively. “It’s just so complex. So elusive.” He shuffled and rearranged papers. He leaned back and sighed, “I just have a feeling the answer is in here somewhere.”
“Well, be sure to clean up this mess before you go to bed. Katrina is coming tomorrow morning.”
Still not looking up, Albert asked, “Is she a friend?”
“She’s my cousin!” Mileva shot back. “A relative of ours.” When Albert didn’t acknowledge either remark, she added, “You do know what a relative is, don’t you?”
“Relative?” Albert muttered, rubbing his chin, maintaining his attention on the pieces of paper on the table. Mileva peered over his shoulder. Each page had a single letter on it. Pages with the letters C, M, and E were arranged, left to right, in front of him.
“What do the letters mean?” she asked softly.
“Parts of a formula,” he answered, gazing at the letters and mussing his hair further.
After a pause, she mused, “Would it help if we placed the E first?”
Albert moved the page with the letter E and sat silently. Rubbing his forehead, he pondered, “Maybe E equals something?”
“CM?” Mileva offered, trying to be helpful, moving other papers away from the three in front of Albert.
When he didn’t respond, she leaned over his shoulder and slid the M page to the left of the C page. “Would that help?” she suggested.
“That’s the same as CM.” Albert retorted sharply.
Hoping to assuage his moodiness, Mileva then asked, “Well then, why don’t we take a break? How about a lemon square? Fresh out of the oven.”
“Lemon what?” Albert groused.
Now a tad perturbed by his demeanor, Mileva put her hands on her hips and stated loudly, “Square, Albert. Square!”
Suddenly, he slapped the table, leapt to his feet, and whooped, “That’s it. Square! Squared. E equals MC squared! I did it, I did it! I’ll be famous.”
Our server delivering the dinner tab brought me back to the present. Grace, Billie, and Jerry had been engaged in conversation without me.
“I put this on one bill,” the server announced, “but I can split it if you want.”
“That’s OK,” Grace replied, pushing the check in front of me. “Einstein here can figure it out.”