By Emily Riggen
I am a Law and Order superfan. Whether it is SVU, Criminal Intent, or the original series—I have seen them all. When I heard the news that Christopher Meloni was coming back to SVU as Detective Elliot Stabler and starring in Law and Order: Organized Crime, I was ecstatic. Since hearing the news, I have checked SVU’s Facebook page every night for updates, short clips, and trailers, anxious for any clues as to what is going to happen in the new show. One trailer is a montage of Stabler through the years as he gives a monologue about his return. Stabler talks about how “days turn into months, which turn into years; before you know it, so much time has gone by and you do not even realize it until it is too late.” His harsh, raspy, voice sends a chill down my spine causing goosebumps to run along my arms because it has been over a decade since I have heard his distinct voice in a new episode. I scroll through the never-ending Facebook feed to find out more information about his return, but that is interrupted by text message notifications from my friends sending me conspiracy theories about Stabler’s absence and return. I share my opinion-based theories with anyone who will listen to me. But I could share my excitement with one hundred people and still not feel satisfied because none of them are my grandmother.
Grandma’s house was synonymous for Thursday night daycare to five-year-old me. My parents worked full-time jobs and my brother was a snobby adolescent who refused to watch his baby sister unless he was paid. Grandma did not mind spending time with her youngest grandchild. My mother laments on the fact that I often called Grandma “Ma-May” when I was a toddler. Grandma was your stereotypical grandmother. She was always dressed in a vintage sweater with abstract designs and patterns; my favorite had multi-colored polka dots. One of her pockets were littered with crumpled up tissues and the other hard candy. She did not believe in dining out or ordering delivery; there was no such thing as leaving Grandma’s house without a distended belly full of homemade dinners and baked goods. Grandma’s meals were not elegant five course dinners like filet mignon, nor did she bake souffles. But my five-year-old taste buds never tasted anything better than a pork roast seasoned with Season-All straight out of the oven with a heaping scoop of creamy mashed potatoes with a pat of butter melting down the sides; all served in her vintage Corningware and with a glass of Diet Coke.
Every Thursday night, Grandma, clutching a tissue in her hand like it was her last, asked the same rhetorical question: “What do you want for dinner, Emily?” The answer was always her famous pork roast and mashed potatoes. She never questioned my choice, and always seemed to have the ingredients for the meal ready; she knew what my answer was going to be but asked out of tradition. My plate always looked vastly different from hers. Her white dinner plate always had an even distribution of vegetables, protein, and starch. When she served me my plate, it looked similar, but I enjoyed mixing all of my food together. With every stir, the once creamy, white mashed potatoes slowly became a dark brown, lumpy mess with little glimpses of yellow corn. Though she had a dining room table equipped with six chairs, we sat on her brown, worn couch. Grandma told me it was because if gravy were to drip off my plate, the stain would not be visible against the various shades of brown, but I knew she just wanted to watch television while we were eating.
Because I was the youngest grandchild and so closely resembled my mother, Grandma’s house became my castle and I was the queen. We were never allowed to eat in front of the television at my house, nor was I the decision maker when it came to dinner. Though I had these luxuries that were not offered at home, there was one caveat: I could not pick what show we watched. Though Grandma could predict my choices for dinner, Grandma was more predictable; Thursday nights were Law and Order night. Now I know what you’re thinking, a show dedicated to solving murders and catching rapists is definitely not a show for children. Five-year-old Emily did not have the attention span nor the ability to comprehend what was occurring. Other than the first five minutes that showed the “dead part”—as I called it—and the notorious sound of the gavel striking the block creating the famous “dun dun,” I never paid attention. I was the gavel’s echo. With every “dun dun,” I repeated the noise. Grandma attempted to mask her frustration through telling me to play my Scooby-Doo matching game on the floor, but subconsciously I knew I was getting on her nerves when I spoke during her shows.
The Thursday night tradition concluded with my impatience over waiting for my mother to come pick me up. Grandma’s bedroom was down a short hallway to the right, and her window had a perfect view of the street. By the time my mother got off work, the sun had already set. It was always too dark to tell which oncoming car was hers, so I tried to distinguish her car by the poorly lit, oval headlights. Every time I thought I saw headlights that resembled my mother’s beat up Toyota, I sprinted down the hall to the front door, staring at the transom window to see if the storm door opened. I waited for a few minutes for her to walk in the front door, but when she did not, I ran back to the bedroom window and repeated the process until I was right. The tradition was simple, but we always followed this strict routine. The Thursday night tradition lasted until Grandma sold the house. She succumbed to cancer and dementia and passed away a few years after selling her house.
Though Grandma’s house, memories, and life slipped away, the tradition did not. Thursday nights are still a late workday, but I am now the one working late. Pork roast is still flavored with SeasonAll and the mashed potatoes are still homemade, but made by my mother and I on Sundays, served at the dinner table, and go unmixed. Thursday nights are still Law and Order night, but I now pay attention to the entire episode rather than the “dead part” or the “dun dun.”
Though Stabler took a hiatus from SVU, he is returning for a new Law and Order spinoff series where he works alongside Olivia Benson once again. Everything has changed yet remained the same. Stabler was right: days turn into months, which turn into years and you do not realize how much time has truly gone by until it is too late.