Sunday dinner. Family night. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers dining and bonding at their favorite restaurants.
On Sunday, we’re sitting at a deli in a northern Chicago suburb. Max and Benny’s. Walking towards the table across from us is a young man with his elderly grandmother. Gingerly moving together to their seats, he has his arm on her, guiding her, making sure she arrives safely. He places her on the chair, moves her walker out of the way and joins her at the table. Their eyes never leave each other. There’s years of love in those eyes.
Our food arrives, but every so often I take a peek across the aisle. I see their hands meeting at the middle of their table. Holding each other’s hearts. It’s a moving scene. It brings me back the Sunday night family dinners of my youth.
Our family didn’t do fancy, but a couple of times each year we did it up big time….at least it seemed like big time to me. Fanny’s was a restaurant in Evanston. They were known for their spaghetti and their sauce. We got dressed up to go there. Jackets, ties, slacks, dresses…showers and baths. It was a very big deal for a young child.
I remember walking up the stairs, opening the door and seeing everyone dressed to the nines. It made me feel grown up. I rarely get dressed up these days. I do everything possible to avoid doing it. Back then, it was different. It was exciting. I don’t remember much about the food. I think I liked it. I liked the event more.
Fanny’s isn’t the only restaurant I remember. We had dinner at Wesley’s, in Skokie, fairly regularly. They were known for their broasted chicken. Not fried. Not barbeque. Broasted…whatever that is. Everyone who lived in the area remembers and raves about the chicken. I liked it, too, but my main memory is of a cigarette machine. My mom would give me thirty-five cents…that’s right, THIRTY-FIVE CENTS… and tell me buy a pack of whatever brand she was addicted to that day. It was usually Kents or Virginia Slims. I’d slide a quarter into the slot and then a dime. I’d pull the lever. Out comes the cigarettes. I’d bring them to my mom like a big boy. Chicken and cigarettes…what a combination.
The family meal passes from generation to generation. Families create their own traditions. They create their own memories. My oldest daughter always liked to eat at Olive Garden on her birthday. Every year, in late September, I knew where we were going. Yeah, I know, but that’s what she liked. Bread sticks, dipping sauce and tiramisu. I don’t know if my youngest daughter had a favorite place, but I remember being with her at Baker’s Square and running into her kindergarten teacher. Whenever we would go there after that, I would always ask if they thought we’d see Mrs. D.? We never did. A one time deal that we’ve talked about for more than two decades. It’s not about the food.
Recently, one of the restaurants in our old neighborhood closed. I told my daughter about it and she seemed sad. When I asked why, she said, “That’s where we ate with Grandma Lynn.” Memories!
The years pass and a very little is the same. Fanny’s closed in 1986. It’s now a residential building. Wesley’s closed years before that. It became a record store and is now a bank. No more chicken. No more cigarettes. The more things change, the more things change.
I don’t know if Max and Benny’s will be in business forty years from now. It’s not likely. I know that the young man will remember the restaurant. He’ll remember the night he dined there with his beloved grandmother. He’ll remember the love they shared that night. Memories….it’s about the memories.
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