Friday evenings with Vanessa
Barney Madsen posted this story on Odd Bits a few days ago. My tale is not quite as good as that one, but I thought it worth sharing anyway.
Our daughter Vanessa is 11 years old, which puts her at that age when pretty much everything I do somehow manages to embarrass her. I don't take that personally, but it does sort of come with the territory when one has children around that age. Last night her friend Mikaila came for a sleepover, and we decided that I would take them over to Fazoli's for supper, then to Video Paradise to rent a movie (which, by the way, turned out to be a Hillary Duff flick). I like to listen to music on the car's CD player whenever I drive anywhere, and as we were preparing to leave, Vanessa spotted me moving toward the chest of drawers where I keep most of my compact disks. Knowing what this meant, she literally came running up to me, with her hands clasped in front of her in an attitude of supplication; and in a near-whisper, so that none might overhear the dark and terrible secret that underlay her fervent petition, she said, "Please, please, please don't bring your opera!" I wish I could have recorded the scene on video; it was priceless. I had planned on bringing my recording of Puccini arias sung by Angela Gheorghiu, and let me tell you, I was sure tempted to bring it along anyway, because Vanessa is so much fun to tease; but in the end, at her request, I chose a CD of Greek folk music, which Vanessa also happens to enjoy. As we ran our errands with that music playing in the car, the girls asked me if I could understand any of it; no, I replied, and for all I knew, the songs could all feature lyrics about what a nutcase I am.
Last Friday evening, the 22nd, I had an even better experience with her, one I should probably try to repeat from time to time. When I arrived home from work at the end of that day, Vanessa announced that she wanted to go out to dinner. I said we could perhaps manage McDonalds, and she recoiled at the idea, which of course made me want to talk about it even more. No, she said; she wanted to go to a real restaurant. Sheila wasn't feeling well, so the two of us set out alone, this time accompanied by Puccini, since there were no elementary-school-age third parties present for the occasion; and I kept talking about the "very special McDonald's" I was taking her to, where they specialized in a unique and particularly tasty variety of French fries. In fact, we ended up at Olive Garden, where we were attended by a lovely and very personable waitress named Hanna -- who, surprisingly enough, turned out to be Swedish, although she spoke the Queen's English perfectly, with no hint of an accent. (This after only having been in the United States for three years.)
I don't remember now what either of us ate, but we talked and talked for the next hour and a half, covering a variety of topics. She looked at the wine menu and asked questions about it, although being Mormons, we could do nothing more than just look at it, and perhaps drool a little. I told her that established and knowledgeable wine connoisseurs would drink particular varieties of wine with certain meals. To give her an idea of what I meant, I flagged down Hanna the next time she passed by, and asked her what kind of wine she would recommend with our meal if we were not in fact teetotalers. She stayed around and chatted with us for several minutes, and it was at this point that we learned she was Swedish; not only that, but that she would be returning to Sweden in a few days for a visit to her mother. This resulted in a sort of impromptu geography lesson when Vanessa asked where Sweden was, and Hanna lamented that most Americans were rather ignorant with regard to geography, and often confused Sweden with Switzerland.
We got into a rather lengthy conversation about the dress standards of the Church, and why they were important. We meandered around from one topic to another, which often happens during long conversations; and at one point she asked me what it would be like to attend school in Italy. Well, I said, for one thing, she'd probably have to take three years of Dante, and in addition, university exams would be difficult and challenging. Somehow we started talking about my experience in the Army, and she enjoyed my story about my senior drill sergeant at Ft. Leonard Wood, who still carried in his lung a bullet he took in Vietnam during a battle years earlier. I told her Drill Sgt. Wickett had a voice so loud and terrifying that when the Great Jehovah appears once again to announce the final doom of the wicked, he may want to delegate that particular task to his servant, who in this case could be none other than Drill Sgt. Wickett himself. I went on to tell her that on about the third night of basic training, I discovered that I could mimic Drill Sgt. Wickett almost perfectly; so I stepped out into the hallway of our barracks, bellowed something about what a disgrace the whole platoon was to the Army, and then watched with considerable amusement when dozens of terrified trainees peered, wide-eyed and trembling, into the hallway. Once they got over their fright, they actually enjoyed the prank, and soon everyone was asking me to do my impersonation of Drill Sgt. Wickett. They also learned quickly that if the booming voice was neither preceded by the aroma of pipe tobacco nor accompanied by profanity, it was only me, and they could simply laugh it off. (The senior drill sergeant, by the way, ended up being hugely popular with everyone, once we settled into the training regimen and he gradually let us see what was on the other side of that very gruff exterior.)
I can't remember much else that we discussed, but when the meal was over, we left a generous tip for Hanna and headed for home. My wife told me later that Vanessa had gone on and on to her about what a wonderful time she had had, and I knew this had been time and money well spent. She won't remember what she ate that night, and chances are she also won't remember my story about Drill Sgt. Wickett or the talk about wines and Sweden; but years from now, when she is grown up and out of the nest, with children of her own, I think she just might remember her dad spending time with her in an Italian restaurant on a Friday evening. So I think I might try to make this a regular occurrence.