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.

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Dress De-Coding

We went to church. Then, we kept going to church. For the most part, I enjoyed it. I found similarities in prayers and biblical stories. When I skipped over the Jesus part, the sermon always had some good message. Once a month, I remembered I was an interloping fish out water. Communion stressed me out.

Staying seated in a small-ish church was an obvious choice. Despite the invisible but unmistakable arrow of non-belief over my head, greetings were sincerely cordial. “Just wait ‘til they find out,” I’d think to myself, running an uneducated scenario in my head. It was easy to envision stone-faced, blank-wall welcome-retraction.

I noticed while most members sported Sunday clothes, a few regularly did not. It seemed Jeff and I were over-dressed, based on the attire of other attendees in our age range. So, I asked him about the dress code. “I know,” Jeff said. “I just can’t wear jeans to church. It doesn’t seem right. I’d be uncomfortable. I think it’s kinda disrespectful.” Then, as usual, he gave me a choice in the matter by adding, “… but, you can, if you want to.”

I thought about and reached the same conclusion. I would never have worn jeans to a Friday night service. Without ever having done it, or been given the opportunity to, I instinctively felt I’d be uncomfortable, anyway. Dressing up with Jeff made the day feel more special. Sunday mornings became our version of date night. Over brunch we’d talk about the sermon and religion and the store, and whatever else came up. 

Pretty much unfailingly, following “Go in Peace,” Jeff would sort of hopefully ask, “Wanna go to coffee-hour?” At my request or rather my denial, coffee hour was a no-go. Because that would mean socializing, and that would mean questions. One day, Jeff told me he’d really like to go to coffee hour someday, just for a little bit. I explained I was dreading the day when someone would ask me why I don’t participate. “I mean,” I explained, with a double wrist wave  “I’m sure they’ve already figured it out, but…”

“Nah…” Jeff shrugged. “… they probably think you’re Catholic.”

Quote for the Week:

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