No Room for an Empty Chair

Dearest Rachel –

Once again, it was a near run thing. After dealing with this cold for the better (worse?) part of yesterday – and having the folks come over to deliver the food they were going to serve Daniel and me, as we were supposed to come over last night for dinner – I determined that I was going to get up, do everything to pull myself together so that I could get Daniel and myself off to church, and then to… wherever it was Will had picked as an alternate venue for his birthday luncheon.

Yes, I said alternate. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Jenn’s son Will is a curious eater, eschewing things as ubiquitous as cheese and eggs and sauces of virtually any sort in favor of a straight-up meat and potatoes diet. One of his favorite places (and the site of several birthday celebrations in the past) is Benihana, the Japanese steakhouse chain.

However, it turns out that, being in Cook County, they can only serve parties of six – and we would be seven. Yes, we were going to be getting together and going out after the Sunday service like old times, times that we hadn’t seen since Dad fell ill two years ago. Except his sister Joanna is away at college (and given the Covid situation, the students are basically confined to the campus bubble for now, lest they bring something back from any ventures abroad), and of course, you’re gone.

So… not exactly like old times.

And ironically, as I was fighting this cold, the whole search for an alternate venue might have been a moot point, if I were to act out of (another one of those hated phrases from this past year) “an abundance of caution.” Were I to assume that what I’m thinking is a cold was actually Covid, I should stay home, lock myself in the bedroom, and hopefully let Daniel go on his own to church and to the steakhouse (not that he’s keen on steak or anything cow-related, come to that – but I’m sure he could find something on the menu to his liking). But I’ll be honest; if I’m getting up anyway to tend to the dog and deal with all the responsibilities of life that I’m dealing with, I’m going to insist on enjoying the perquisites that come with being up and about as well. I can accept that enjoyable things of all sorts come with responsibility (and not just power, as Uncle Ben always spoke of); but it seems grossly unfair to only have the responsibilities to deal with and none of the fun.

Still, it seems these sorts of things always happen around the holidays. I’m in perfect (well, okay, reasonable) health throughout the year, and then something comes up that forces me – and by extension, the rest of our insular little family – to not be allowed to be with the rest of the family as part of one celebrations or another.

Last year, it was Thanksgiving, and the positive test that we’re all pretty sure wasn’t real. Of course, we thought that there would be other Thanksgivings to come. How little we knew.

Then again, we have our masks, and social distancing. Shouldn’t that be sufficient to mitigate against a cold just as easily as Covid?

So I went, both to church, and to the steakhouse. Apparently, this is a family-run place, and their beef comes primarily from their own farm, also located in Lake County. Impressive vertical integration they have here.

And everything was, in fact, quite tasty. Daniel, in particular, not only found a chicken-based dish he liked, he even enjoyed the french fries, which is quite an accomplishment. It’s quite possible we’ll be back here at some point (especially if these party limits keep up like this – gonna have to get out of the county on the regular in order to meet like a whole family)

The one interesting thing was that, the table we were seated at seemed to be of the size that would ordinarily seat six around it. We managed to get all seven of us with little difficulty, but we were pretty close to each other for the current circumstances. I kept my mask on for much more time that I ordinarily would – I’m still convinced it’s not Covid, but I don’t want to pass a cold on either. I mean, we were literally the only diners in the room, but they really didn’t have any means to accommodate nine diners at a single table, had we been our full complement.

So at least, my (our? Would Daniel count in this situation?) weren’t conspicuous downers by dint of your absence. There was no real place for an empty chair.

And I guess it’s probably just as well; I didn’t find myself concluding “oh, Rachel would have loved this place,” like I might have in another circumstance.

On the other hand, I think you would just liked to have been there with us.

At least I hope so.

Still, I’m sure you’re eating well up there these days, and no fear of calories or what have you. So raise a glass of ambrosia on our behalf, darling, and save us our seats for when we get there. We’re looking forward to seeing you then.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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