Table For One?

When Ken has bad days with  his MS, I have a lot of conflicting emotions. How long will we be together? How long will we be able to enjoy each other’s company over a nice meal at home or at a restaurant? The thought of eating alone again is not pleasant.

When I got divorced over twenty years ago, eating diner alone was one of the hardest things I had to accept. Up until that time, the evening meal was the only time when everyone was present. We discussed the day’s events and talked about what would happen the next day. Contributing to the conversation was necessary. When I was quiet as a child, my parents assumed something was wrong in my world. Now a court decreed dining with my family was over. I hated it. In fact, I never really adjusted willingly.

Have you ever wondered why humans prefer eating together? Coming from an extended family of gregarious Italians sharing a big meal with a crowd is part of my DNA.

If I go back to my communication theory I learned in college, I can explain it this way:  We are born into a culture which teaches us its underlying truths and traditions. When we get old enough, we reinforce those traditions and beliefs and pass them on to our own children. Simple? I don’t think so. From our first meal to our last, we prefer to share the experience with another. Is it our social conditioning which makes it so? Or is it that we’ve never been taught to eat alone? All we’re doing is refueling, right?

There are probably more single people in our culture than ever before. I assume most of them eat alone most nights. I wander if they miss family meals or have willingly adjusted to their status. Have they adjusted to dining alone or do they  “text” friends while they devour calories? Do they sit in front of the television just to have other voices present as they nibble? Or do they have a pet standing by to talk to and share their meal? Do they go to restaurants and bring a book signally to other patrons they are intellectual not pathetic?

From what I’ve read on the subject, people in big cities like New York find it easier to eat alone in restaurants. Isn’t that curious? Why is  it when more people are packed together in a concentrated area like Manhattan they can shut out other people at meal time? Sound backwards to me. But then again, people living in big cities are more guarded for survival sake, so on some level it makes sense.

 

Perhaps I find eating alone so tough because I’ve been taught to do otherwise says I’m lacking something socially. My Italian American lineage has ingrained to believe meals are communal activities. Let’s face it. Solitary meals leave us exposed.  People perceive you as a poor soul who has no friends, while you’re trying to show you are confident and quite comfortable in your own company.

Most of us at one time in our lives must face the fact we will be alone at meal times — unless of course, you’re the lucky one who gets to die first. Even Jesus had a “Last Supper.”

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 15

Montpellier, France-August—After several months in the south of France, Emma regained most of her strength. Her clear emerald green eyes sparkled again which told Marta her spirit also healed. Emma walked to the town square every day and took on the household chores while Marta worked as a waitress at the corner cafe. Emma admitted the time they spent in the South of France gave her a chance to rest and find herself again, but her good health recaptured her innate desire to do something more meaningful than household chores. She wanted to work again. She needed excitement, and she yearned to go back to Paris.

Every evening after supper,  Marta and Emma listened to a small radio Marta bought from one of their workmates. The device received few channels, but one station they did receive originated from England. Radio Free Europe reported accurate information about the war, instead of biased German or Allied propaganda. As cool summer breeze floated through the window, an excited radio announcer proclaimed, “The Nazis are out of Paris! Allied soldiers overtook the city today. General de Gaulle, the leader of the Marquis, led the exiled troops back into the city. Everyone danced in the streets. Wine flowed freely while young girls kissed their liberators. ”

Emma jumped from her chair. Her eyes sparkled like they did when she first showed Paris to Marta.  “Do you realize what this means, Cherie?”

Marta smiled at Emma’s exuberance. “No, what does this mean?”

“We can go home! We can go home!”

“Back to Paris?” Marta paused and chose her words carefully. “Why would we leave here? I love this lovely town. The weather is moderate. We are close to the sea. Our apartment is comfortable. I thought you enjoyed being here. Why do you want to upset the peace we found?”

Emma’s face fell like Marta had let the air out of her balloon. “I agree this place has been wonderful. You nursed me back from oblivion and brought joy back into my life again. But do you not want to return to art, music, theater, movies and all the rest of the things this little town does not offer?”

“No. I’m sorry, Emma. The slower pace suits me. I like the people here. I made friends here. I got a chance to rediscover my love of painting here. I am not anxious to return to the bustle and rudeness of the city. And besides, to travel right now would be dangerous.”

Emma tried again with a note of pleading in her voice.  “Would you consider moving after the war is over?”

“I will think about it Emma.”

Emma’s voice soften like melting ice cream. “I love you, Cherie, You realize that, don’t you?”

“Of course. What a question.”

“I realize Pierre moved heaven and hell to free me from that German prison. I also am thankful he brought me here to you. Every day you proved your love for me in every touch and kindness. I do appreciate all you did for me. But this sleepy little town is,” she hesitated. “Too safe and too quiet. I need to be active again.  I need a purpose, so I can be your partner, not your burden.”

Marta raised one eyebrow as she stared at Emma. “First of all, you are not or ever were a burden. You can find work here.”

“Like what? Fishing?” Emma’s voice cut like a sharp knife. Instantly she wanted to take back her sarcastic words.

Marta replied. “Emma. I recognize you are a fighter, and I sense your restlessness. But the war made us both endure so many hardships. I rather like not thinking about terror every minute. This place freed me from the ugliness. Paris would bring all those horrid memories back.”

“Are you saying, ‘No’?”

Marta dropped her eyes and said in a soft tone. “I am saying I cannot endure another big change. Not now. I am happy here. Please try to understand.”

Emma sat down. She said nothing. It was clear Marta had traded her fire for adventure for complacency.

Chapter 16

Switzerland, July—Danny stayed with Heidi and her children for a couple of months. He didn’t want to go back to combat flying, but he also didn’t want to be labeled a deserter. His friendship with Heidi grew into flourishing love.

At the breakfast table Heidi confronted him. “Daniel, I am running out of projects for you. I appreciate all you do for me, but someday you need to leave and go back to the Americans.”

“I thought your “Honey Do” list would never be completed.” He said with a mischievous smile.

“Honey do? What is this?”

“At home husbands call a wife’s list of chores a “Honey Do List” . . . Like honey do this, and honey do that.”

Heidi laughed. “That is very funny, Daniel.”

He put his hand over Heidi’s hand which rested on the table. “Heidi, I don’t want to leave you.”

She searched his sincere eyes. “I do not want you to go either, Daniel. But it is selfish to keep you here. Everyone will miss you, but the Americans expect you to escape.”  Heidi’s eyes dropped to the floor.

Danny  stood and pulled her into his arms. “I realize I need to go back to my unit, but since coming here, I am torn. I want to stay and protect all of you.”

“You must realize I do not need protection.”

“I see you can take care of yourself, but I found something special here with you.”

“We are happy you are here, Danny.”

“Heidi, I am in love with you.”

Heidi’s eyes welled with tears. “I love you, too, Daniel.”

Danny said softly, “I want to kiss you.”

“So kiss me.” She raised her chin and he kissed her lips. Gently at first, but then his kisses grew with his passion.

She pulled away as her sense of self-preservation kicked in.  “Daniel,” she whispered. “We should not do this.”

“Why not?”

Her voice quivered. “Because you will go away, and I will be alone again. I cannot bear to lose you.

“Never. I want you to be my wife and go back to the states with me.”

“And the children?”

“Of course! I understand  you and the children are a package deal, right?”

“Yes.”

“Let’s get married and then I will go back to my unit.”

“It is too soon, Danny.”

“Too soon for what? Hasn’t this war proven life is too short to waste time? Say you’ll be my wife, Heidi.”

Heidi searched his honest face and pleading eyes. “Yes. I love you, Danny.” She kissed him long and deep.

He lifted her off the ground in his joy and squeezed her tightly. “Oh God, Heidi. I love you so!”

They laughed in each others arms.

He said, “Let’s get married tomorrow.”

“Yes.”

*****

Danny and Heidi married the next day in the local minister’s parlor. Heidi put on a white dress she wore when she graduated from secondary school. The dress didn’t fit well because she lost weight, but she didn’t possess anything else appropriate for the occasion. David picked a bouquet of wild flowers from the hills behind their house and presented them to his mother before they all walked to church.

Danny didn’t own a suit, so he wore the clothes he wore when he escaped from prison. He fashioned a ring from an old car part he hammered and polished. He vowed to buy Heidi a proper wedding ring as soon as he returned to the States.

The minister’s wife and a deacon served as witnesses. The children stood by as attendants, and Heidi thought her wedding to Danny was the most precious memory in her life. The ceremony was simple, but tender. As the couple stood in front of the minister and repeated their promises to each other, she thanked God for bringing him to her.

*****

Three days later, Danny said goodbye to Heidi and the children. The French resistance would help him return to the Americans, but leaving Heidi and the children felt like someone cut out his heart.

“I will write as often as I can.” He said with tears as he tried to say goodbye.

She whispered, “Please be careful.” She clung to him not wanting to let go. “Take care of yourself for me.” She forced a smile through her tears. Danny was the first boy she ever loved and now she needed to let him go.

Danny kissed her one last time. “We’ll be together soon. I promise.”

She gave him a brave smile. He opened the door and disappeared into the night.  Heidi closed the door and sobbed.

The sound of Heidi crying propelled David from his bed. He rushed downstairs and found her sitting on the floor. “Mutter, what is wrong?”

“Danny left to go back to the Americans.”

“He told me yesterday he would leave. I begged him not to go, but he said he must return because he stayed too long already; he did not want to go.”

She looked into his innocent face and nodded. “You are so wise for someone so young.” The two of them cried in each other’s arms fearing they might not see the man they loved again.

*****

Danny met the librarian at the edge of town. She drove him to the next leg of the journey where she introduced him to a man dressed as a pauper in the next town.  The man directed Danny to a house where two British soldiers waited. The Brits had escaped from a German work camp in Austria. They waited in darkness for a covered lorry which would take them to Geneva. They got off the truck and followed their guide to a wooded area. They walked about two miles before they got to a small stream.

The peasant guide said, “I must go now. Wait here quietly. I will bring the Marquis to take you back to the allied lines.”

The escapees waited in the darkness for hours before their guide returned. He searched for a shallow spot along the stream and motioned for the others to follow him across the icy water wearing their shoes. On the far shore, the guide turned them over to the Marquis—eight strong, grubby men, all armed with machine guns. Brief introductions were made before these tough looking men led Danny and the Brits to a ramshackle shack hidden in thick woods. Here they slept for a few hours waiting for daylight.

As soon as the sun rose, a Marquis member shook the escapees awake. In darkness Danny and the Brits couldn’t see these men who were to take them to the allies. Now, however, the rugged, battle-toughened men appeared more like grubby barbarians than saviors.

The group ate a light breakfast of fruit and hard cheese before the leader announced it was time to go. They walked for a couple of hours before getting to a steep hill. The Marquis flanked the escapees on both sides to protect them from any enemy soldiers who might still be in the area. Danny struggled to make the climb, breathing heavier as the altitude went higher. He prayed as he struggled to breathe. “Oh God, please keep Heidi and the children safe, and help me get up this damn mountain alive.”

The trek uphill brought them to an abandoned German barracks. After a supper of bread and thin potato soup, Danny sat outside on the porch with one of the rescuers. Danny offered him a cigarette. The man took it and smiled. “Merci.” He lit the cigarette and took a long drag relaxing his back against the building.

Danny smiled as he thought, “How surprising a cigarette is always an ice-breaker, even when the tobacco is so bad.”

*****

The group headed out in the early morning to a nearby town called Annecy due south of Geneva. On the south side of the town a crystal clear mountain lake and a large hotel appeared. In peace time the place served vacationers as a resort, but now the structure housed American military personnel who aided escaped prisoners get back to their units. Danny received new clothes and a new pair of boots. The Brits were transferred to another installation nearby. Danny was assigned a private room for the evening with the knowledge he would be debriefed in the morning after a good meal and a night’s sleep. Danny used the time to write to Heidi.

Heidi, my love–

I arrived safely at my destination. Now the danger we encounter are bedbug bites that itch like crazy.

I cannot predict when we will be together again, but I can’t wait to start our life in America. From the reports I am hearing, the war cannot last much longer. The Marquis told us the Russians are closing in from the east and the Allies keep pushing toward Berlin.

On our way here, we saw German prisoners harnessed to a heavy wagon. Earlier in the war SS troops confiscated all of the draft animals in the village, so the French thought hitching the POW’s up to the wagon was poetic justice.

From here, I’ll be transferred to England. I will keep you informed on what comes next. I miss you all so much already. We will be together soon. 

I’m sending all my love to you and the children,

Danny

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Table For One?

  1. I’ve dined alone for many years and do very much enjoy it. No one is looking at my plate and making a judgement. No one is complaining about the meal, the service or their day. Meals in our home were not happy. Even when I was married, my husband would scream at our daughter to eat. I like to go to lunch with some of my friends, not so much others The vegetarians are offended if you eat meat. Or have a drink or not. I’m so tired of judgement, I like being alone. I generally take a book and a notebook. I make observations while eating and can make quick note of them. Or I can read my kindle on my phone. I’m going to lunch today with a vegetarian friend. It’s always a challenge. I like her, just not eating with her. I ate alone a lot when I was married so it doesn’t feel that different. I guess it’s how you look at it.

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