When I was visiting my relatives recently, my aunt and I would go out for most of our meals. For a change of scenery I pick restaurants overlooking the ocean. My aunt likes any place that serves fish and chips, however, she says, the best F&C place is in town. (not near the ocean - pretty sure it's another chain). Her fave place to go is Olive Garden cuz they have cute waiters and she is a flirt but doesn't want to admit it in an older lady auntie-type way.
One day for lunch we met a cousin at a place that my cousin has been the manager of for 17 years. I am not fond of this type of restaurant, the food they serve, or the style with which they serve the food. I call it the _____ Pig Trough. The blank space is for whichever town you happen to be troughing-in at that time.
Because my cousin is at the trough many days a week, assorted restaurant patrons recognize and stop by our table to greet us with pleasantries of the day. More often than not the patrons are not wealthy or this is an assumption I make based on my prejudice toward these types of restaurants, the food served, the amount of food patrons appear to enjoy eating. These pleasantries might not be real pleasantries as much as local discussion about who died or is dying, who they saw in church last Sunday or which model gun they recently purchased.
This elderly gentleman stopped by to greet both my cousin and my aunt as we were eating our lunch. He was speaking as he approached our table. Greeting us with a "nice to meet you" in my direction. He started speaking a bit louder telling us "it's been almost a year" and "since she was gone" and "the holidays are the hardest" then frosted that cake with "this is the first Christmas..." Alone, TV, no tree, no family. I knew it was his wife who had died. He seemed so lonely and saddened by having to endure these holidays for the very first time without his wife of 147 years. I instantly felt compassion and empathy. I have been where he is, and he's right, the holidays are really difficult after someone dies, and sad. That first year, those first holidays, I would not wish on most of my worst enemies.
In between bites of coconut-cream green-bean roast-beef casserole, we commiserated with him as best we could under the chaotic restaurant circumstances - screaming children, jello flopping off of plates onto linoleum, whip cream askew, a soft-serve ice cream machine going on the blink. Beep, Beep, Beep - an audible food alarm blaring across the large room when a silent alarm was all I could hear. All three of us sitting at the table had gone through similar grief as this man, all our spouses long deceased now. Stroke, colon-cancer, alcoholism.
My aunt in her mid-80s, pauses, leans over to this gentle, sad widower to give him the good word, some sage advice - a sweet moment he can reflect upon later that evening when he finds himself alone nibbling on a hotdog dipped in mayo along side his half glass of warm vodka. My aunt reaches out, tenderly touching his arm to reassure him in his time of grief, and says, "It doesn't get any better."