An Anniversary, An Eggplant Plan

After the phone calls, after dinner, we settled into our comfortable spots.

During a commercial, we started talking about where we’d go for our 5th anniversary dinner. There was no contest, really. Sal’s Italian Restaurant in Tecumseh. Close to our almost-in-town townhouse, it had been a great favorite Friday night, take-away spot for us.

It was the first place outside of New York, I’d ever had a good Italian Wedding soup. The garlic bread was perfectly garlick-y, beautifully buttery and sublimely sprinkled with parm. The red sauce was perfectly saucy, from an East Coast perspective.

Sal’s eggplant parmesan was wonderfully and deliciously authentic, too.

Not so long before Jeff brought me to Sal’s, I made this dish for him. We’d been dating about a month, and it was supposed to be our first stay-in, dinner-in, at my Okemos apartment.

It was awful. Bitter and mushy; with raised forks, we watched each other watching gooey, grayish globs weeping through the tines.

He asked me how long I’d salted it before cooking. I accompanied my dumbfounded look with the teary explanation that I had just winged it. “Gotta salt it,” Jeff sagely advised. “Even then, it’s not so great, sometimes.” We went out for Mexican.

I was so enthralled by Sal’s version, that Jeff happily tried a bite. Even though he’d been down that road before. Even though he wasn’t fond of that particular nightshade. Even if it had been salted, fried and layered with cheese, his aversion to eggplant rivalled my aversion to cauliflower, even if it had been salted, fried and smothered in cheese.

Sitting in Sal’s, I watched Jeff contemplatively chew for a bit, and laughed when he decisively summarized, “I’d rather have the chicken.”

Jeff mentioned Evans Street Station as an alternative. Because we’d already be dressed up for our church photo, I considered that. It was so sweet of him to mention the fanciest restaurant in town. A few years after opening, it was still on our to-do list. We just hadn’t made it there, yet.

“Maybe, some other time,” I smiled. “I’m really missing Sal’s. It’s the first place we ever went to dinner in town. So, that kind of makes it ‘our place’, too.”

“You won’t get any arguments from me!” Jeff grinned.

Quote for the Week: 2019 07 16 The best celebrations aren’t always the most expensive jakorte

 

Not, yet, we haven’t!

Before I made it back to the kitchen, the phone rang, again.

Jeff grabbed that call, too. Another one-sided conversation commenced.

“Oh, hi! How are you?” he greeted, warmly.

“When’s that?”

“Oh, on the 6th? Well, that’s our anniversary. Let me check…”

“Hey, they’re takin’ pictures for the church directory,” Jeff shouted out to me. “They wanna know if we can get our photo done next Friday. We don’t have anything planned, do we?”

“Not, yet, we haven’t.” I answered. “What time is the latest appointment? Probably can’t get there before 6.”

“Didja hear that?” Jeff asked the caller. “Ok. 6 o’clock, it is. What’s that?”

His voice swelled with happiness and pride; his answer booming out of a mile-wide smile. “We’ve been married 5 years!”

“Not, yet, we haven’t!” I shouted back.

“Didja hear that?” Jeff guffawed. “She said, not yet, we haven’t.”

I wonder what the other person’s impression was of my retort. To Jeff and I, it was a silly, humorous complaint and retort. A full-swing, fast-paced verbal dance, we often threw at each other. It stemmed first from frustration, and later, my fear.

Years before, Jeff had either done something I had asked him not to, or hadn’t done something I had asked him to do. Whichever it was, my ending escalated to, “You keep that up and we’re not gonna make it to our 5th anniversary!”

I continued to use it, after that. Sometimes, joking. Sometimes, not.

I used it when he’d come back from the kitchen with a bowl of ice cream, never having asked me if I wanted some. I used it when Jeff accidentally said something that could be hilariously misconstrued as a complaint, but very much wasn’t.

I used it after philosophical discussions, when we could not find a common ground. I used it when things didn’t quite go the way I wanted. I used it when he’d joke with a waitress that I needed a whole ‘nother day to look at the menu. I used it to emphasize the damaging stupidity of chewing tobacco. I used it, creatively, in countless ways.

No matter which way it went, though, Jeff’s reply followed formula, too. It always started with, “You wouldn’t be so lucky!”

It always ended with a variation of a good-natured, extended promise. “I’m gonna live ‘til I’m 80! You’ll see.” “I’m gonna live so long, you’d wish you’d gotten rid of me.” “I’m gonna be botherin’ you for a long, long time, Wort.”

I don’t doubt the person on the other side of the phone knew we were kidding. I just wonder if  our conversation ever crossed their mind, again.

Quote for the Week: 2019 07 02 Some inside jokes are easy to explain jakorte

A Good Spot

When Jeff first told me that he believed, I thought, “Ok, that’s good.” I believed in God, too, sort of, not always, but sometimes, on and off, wavering as circumstances changed.

Jeff did not bring his belief into his life. It simply was his life, expressed as peace and contentedness. I had a hard time grasping all that, but his overall great, upbeat attitude was contagiously inspiring. I’d never met anyone like Jeff. Always willing to see the best, always believing everything was for the best.

As I’ve mentioned, before we were married, neither one of us believed a house of worship was necessary. The more we went to church, the more interesting I found it. Many prayers are the same as those in Judaism, and, obviously, the old testament is identical.

As far as I was concerned and I as far as I could tell, we believed in the same overall God. Recognizing similarities, (real or imagined) made me more comfortable. The more we went to church, the more church Jeff wanted. We went to coffee hour; we participated in a few functions. The more people we met, the happier Jeff became.

I’d gotten used to the trio of older ladies who regularly sat in the pew behind the pew Jeff and I regularly sat in. Our spot was on the left on an aisle in a row just about center of the back half of the chapel. Not too close to draw attention to ourselves, close enough to hear and see, with not too many people behind us, close enough to the rear bathroom that Jeff felt he wouldn’t have “walk the gauntlet” to get there. It was a good spot.

Truly, it wasn’t all that strategically chosen. It was, however, a good spot, because sometimes, when Jeff bowed his head in prayer, it stayed bowed a lot longer than other people’s. Especially, if it was later in the service. Or if he hadn’t eaten breakfast. Or if it was too warm. Mostly, nobody noticed. Jeff’s bowed head could easily be mistaken for lengthy prayer.

Unless he snored. Then, I’d have to elbow him. Occasionally, one of the trio would ask if he was ok. Jeff would smile and declare that he’d just been “praying hard.” Followed by a teasing wink.

Quote for the Week.

2018 04 03 Choosing a good seat jakorte

Memorable

The first time we went to church, Jeff was reluctant to ask if anyone knew our caller. I’m not sure why. When I asked about it, he just said, “Next time.” I didn’t push it, because, well, I wasn’t the reason we were there.

The second time we went, I encouraged him to ask. Jeff said, “Ok.” He slid down the pew to ask a woman he sort-of knew. He remembered her name from years ago, as a friend of Nannee. Surprisingly, she remembered Jeff quite well, and enveloped him in a back-slapping hug.

It was surprising, to me, at the time. You’d think after about the 100th time someone he hadn’t seen in 30-40 years recognized him, remembered him and was happy to see him – that I wouldn’t be astonished.

I never got used to it, certainly never expected it. It happened a lot. Like the time Jeff and I were standing in line to pay at the food auction. When we were just a few people back from cashing out, Jeff left me to pay while he went to get the car. The woman behind me tapped me on the should and asked, “Is that Jeff?” I confirmed and she lit up with a huge smile. “I was his teacher!” As she told me he was such a nice young man, I was picturing a junior high connection.

When Jeff came back in to load up our purchases, he was greeted with a hug. He explained that she was one of his early grade-school teachers.  (3rd grade, maybe?) That surprised me because I’m sure he was a little shorter and had a lesser amount of facial hair at that age. I’d never seen him sans mustache ad beard, and momentarily wondered if I’d recognize him at first glance without them. 

The final recognition surprise came a few days after Jeff passed. I received a phone call from the coroner’s office. It was the medical examiner offering personal condolences with the explanation that he had been Jeff’s pediatrician when Jeff was very young. He wanted me to know that he remembered Jeff very well and fondly, too.

Thinking about it now, so many people saw something in Jeff that could easily be dismissed as recognition; but I think what they were really remembering was his never-changing soul.

(And the fact that his laugh was so distinct, someone an aisle over in the grocery store would rush around the corner and exclaim, “I knew it HAD to be YOU!” Happened. More than once.)

Quote for the Week:

2018 02 06 faces are easily recognizable jakorte

Bonus School Photo Collage (a gift, compiled by my niece):

Jeff school photo collage 20180206_190706~2

 

The Second and Third

The second call came, which kinda surprised me. The etiquette of my polite confusion and unacknowledged lack of proper knowledge couldn’t have been that encouraging.

But, Jeff took the second call while I was on my way home from work. He said he’d had a nice chat, which I took to mean, he’d  been able to talk to the church member just as easily as he could talk anybody, else.

He mentioned United Methodist was the church he had sort of grown-up in and been definitely been confirmed in. I wasn’t aware that Jeff had been through confirmation. I nodded, unaware of my limited understanding – my assumption: Jeff’s religious upbringing had been culturally similar to mine. Parents led you to do what you what they felt you were supposed to do when you were young, and then let the back-up years slide by the wayside.

After the third call (his second), Jeff said we’d been invited, again, and he’d like to go to church. “Ok,” I replied.  “When did you want to go?”

“Sunday,” he answered. “I know ‘Sunday'” I replied a little sarcastically, “…but which Sunday?”

“Next Sunday.” “You mean, like, in two days ‘Sunday’?” I questioned, mostly because I’d expected him to say something vaguer, like, “Oh, sometime soon.”

Jeff misinterpreted my surprise as reluctance.

Ever accommodating, he hesitated after saying, “Well, you don’t have to go with me…” Then, breathed out earnestly, “But… I’d like you, too.”

“Of course, I’ll go with you,” I rushed. Because, in that instant, my love for him realized two things. Jeff rarely longed for anything, and I never wanted him to have to be or to feel alone, in anything. 

Quote for the Week:

2018 01 30 not everyone takes a sharp river turn jakorte

 

 

Called

I answered the call because Jeff was busy cooking, and said, “Hey, could you get it? Please?”

He also added that he didn’t want dinner to burn, which added a little extra unspoken urgency as to why I should. I don’t like answering the phone. Never have. Teenage girls on phones for hours? Not me. Music for hours was my choice.

I don’t like talking on the phone. My timing is always off. I adore text even though it sometimes takes me a good ten minutes to write out what could have been said in three. Phone calls also require you and the person you are planning to talk to be available at the exact same moment.

Anyway, the point is – I didn’t often answer our phone. The guy with the gift of gab usually handled that.

But, that night, I acquiesced. Because, dinner.

Everything that followed “Hello” was a bit awkward and odd. I was told upfront that I was talking to a complete stranger who was offering kindness and support. I wasn’t clear why and I had no idea what to do with this situation, but Jeff was unavailable and so I listened.

She introduced herself as some sort of committee member of Tecumseh United Methodist Church. She was just checking on us after our most recent loss; said she was just seeing if we needed anything, offering her support, extending an invitation to visit the church.

We talked for a few minutes, or rather she talked. I said, “Oh,” “Ok’” and “Thank you” a lot. Then she asked if she could call us back in a few weeks, just to see how we were doing. I thought it’d seem kind of rude to say no, so I said, “Sure.”

When I hung up, Jeff asked me who it was. “I don’t know her name, but…” I started. (although I 100% believe she must have told me when she introduced herself, I’d found the whole thing befuddling)  “… she’s from… the church,” I finished, referring to the church where Sally’s funeral had been.

“Well, what’d she want?”

“Um,” I said. “Something about a committee that checks on people after someone dies and wanted to know if we were doing ok.”

Jeff listened intently to my sketchy, scattered bits of recall, nodding his head like everything I was saying made perfect sense to him.

“Hmm,” he said, with an accepting nod. “Supper’s done.”

Quote for the Week:

2018 01 23 There seem to have been more leaps of faith jakorte

Enjoy this Week’s Discovery Links:

Phone: Pro

Phone: Con

Phone: 1990 Argument that caller ID invades privacy