Our booth at Dappers is all set with napkins and silverware, catsup and hot sauce, and miniature capsules of flavored creams that my husband Tommy likes for his morning coffee. Linda, our favorite waitress, has taken care of this.
As we approach the setting, Tommy gives my shoulder a squeeze. It is a love tap, I know. We remove our jackets and caps and toss them in a corner of our benches. I extract Tommy’s reading glasses from my tote bag while he parcels out the Sunday paper. Once settled, Linda approaches with her order pad and pencil.
Every Sunday morning, since we first met in 1996, Tommy and I have eaten breakfasts out. We are creatures of habit. We like predictability. We are not the sort who seek out the latest place. Routine makes us comfortable, like a pair of favored slippers.
The Lakeview Restaurant on Ashland Ave. in Chicago, was the first diner we went to as a couple. Tommy, who had lived in the neighborhood for at least 20 years, was a regular. Before I entered the picture, he would sit alone at the counter reading a paperback until one of his cronies would take the stool next to him.
When Tommy first brought me to the Lakeview, he held my hand as he introduced me to his waitress. “This is Elaine,” he said, loud enough for the other customers to hear. He tightened his grip on my hand, as if he feared I would get away.
Two years later, he held both our hands aloft to show our wedding rings. “My wife,” he said. The other diners turned their heads to learn the source of the jubilant voice.
I can’t remember the name of our Lakeview waitress, but Tommy likely could. Although he was diagnosed with Primary Progressive Aphasia in 2009, a dementia that robs the victim of speech, the disease left his memory intact.
Soon after we married, something stirred me to shake predictability and prove I could surprise. After living in the city all my life, I convinced Tommy we should move to a small town. Although my husband was content where we lived in Chicago, he wanted to keep his dopey-dreaming wife happy. So, he helped pack.
We found the Geneva Diner in the small town 40 miles west of Chicago. Every Sunday morning, we’d settle into our regular booth, and chat up the college student who was our waitress. But the regularity of Sunday breakfast in this bucolic spot -- where there were only a handful of Jews (like me) and even fewer Democrats (like both of us) -- couldn’t make up for my feeling I had made a giant mistake.Exactly one year later, I dragged Tommy back to Chicago.
Once again, my husband, who had planted a vegetable garden and said he could have remained in Geneva, went along with the move. Perhaps he believed that the vow we took in 1998, “Till death do us part,” meant following his wife’s foolish whims.
We settled in the Independence Park neighborhood on the city’s northwest side. I felt free of the itch for change of scenery. I was finished with surprises. All I wanted was the familiar, the lovely predictability of everyday life.
“Do you want to see a menu, or do you know what you want?” Linda at Dapper asks. She knows we don’t want to see a menu, but never fails to give us the option. She looks to Tommy, pencil poised. She has been a witness to my husband’s steady loss of language over the past three years, but has never given a clue there is a problem.
She waits as Tommy voices something that resembles the first syllable of a breakfast dish. Dear Linda catches his choice. She doesn’t turn to me -- as some people do to decipher what Tommy is trying to say, and I’ll tell you, I don’t like it when they do that -- she just says “got it.”
When Linda leaves the table, Tommy passes to me my favorite newspaper sections. He taps my hand. I take this to mean he is happy to be engaged in this predictable, ordinary Sunday ritual. Then, we begin flipping pages and reading. With our lack of conversation, we appear to be an old married couple who disdains chat in favor of the print before us.