“I was in my second year of law school, a relatively newlywed, having married my wife three weeks before first year started. She was working at minimum wage jobs to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads while I pursued my education. That summer, after second year, we would celebrate our second anniversary. And we decided to do it in style.
We saved and saved and saved. We were living in Windsor, Ontario, a suburb of Detroit. There was a well-known restaurant right at the tunnel to Detroit known as ‘Tunnel BBQ’ – TBQ’s. It was exceptionally popular on both sides of the border. But there was a second restaurant, outside the downtown area, known as TBQ’s Other Place. It was ‘fine dining’, or about as close to that as one could get in Windsor. Our goal was an anniversary dinner at the Other Place.
We made our reservations, and on our anniversary, arrived for our big meal. Now, to put this in context, we were not exactly sophisticated. Our order reflected our somewhat juvenile taste of the day, but also what passed for fine dining in places like that, in times like that.
We both decided to start with French onion soup. When it arrived, it was not exactly what I expected. Instead of melted cheese to top the broth, the bowl appeared to be filled with a granular substance. I shrugged it off, assuming that it was just the way they did things. I took a mouthful of the cheese. It was like pouring a spoonful of salt into my mouth. I almost gagged, And looked around for the server. She came over and I asked her to explain what was done to the soup. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘we ran out of mozzarella, so we had to use Kraft grated Parmesan.’ That’s certainly explained things, but did not make the food any more edible. We sent the soup back.
We also both decided to have a steak, something we certainly could not afford except for the most special occasion. We both ordered our meat rare. When it arrived, it was well done. And then some. Again, I looked around for the server. This time she was not to be seen. We sat there, our plates untouched, for a good 10 minutes, before I finally suggested that it was clear we would get no opportunity to comment on the food, so we might as well eat it. I had taken two bites when our server appeared. ‘And how is your food’ she smiled. I explained to her that we had both ordered our meat rare, and that this was well done. She immediately apologized and scooped up our plates and headed into the kitchen. We sat back, waiting for the new steaks to arrive, trusting this time the order would be correct. We waited. And waited. Finally, again, our server came to the table. ‘And would you like any dessert?’ She asked. I stared at her. ‘We haven’t had any food yet’ I noted.’We are still waiting for our steaks.’ To that, she responded that we had our steaks, but we had not eaten them. Since we didn’t like them, she had taken them back. And no, we were not getting properly cooked replacements. In that case, I suggested could we at least have our food back so that we could have dinner. Well, no that wasn’t possible, because since we didn’t like the food, she had thrown it out. And did we want dessert?
When we declined dessert, we were presented with our bill – two French onion soups, two steaks.
To say I made a scene is a bit of an understatement. No foul language, no personal attacks, but getting as close as I could to the long line-up of people waiting for tables, I loudly explained first to our server, and then to the manager, and then to two police officers who were called, exactly why I felt we should not have to pay for a meal we didn’t get.
That was how we celebrated two years of wedded bliss.
I would be remiss, however, if I did not add one further tale. When I started law school, we were on a tight budget. In fact, we decided that we could each afford no more than $15 a week spending money. And that was it. I smoked at the time, which ate up most of my allowance. The remainder went to after-school drinks with my law school friends.
Anyway, Thanksgiving rolled around. And my lovely bride presented me with a full roast beef dinner. Now it was the smallest roast I have ever seen in my life, but it was still a roast. And how had she managed this? While I was spending my allowance on drinking, she had carefully been putting away three dollars from her allowance every week so that she would be able to afford a Thanksgiving dinner for us.
How she has put up with me for 39 years is utterly beyond my understanding, but every time I think back to that first Thanksgiving dinner, it makes me try just that much harder.