On Becoming Mighty Women

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At heart I am a naive cockeyed optimist, a Pollyanna, someone who loves the world and it’s people and assumes that everyone else is the same way. I like and prefer being that kind of person. It actually feels good to be able to see the best in people. I’ve had to accept the fact that the favor is not always returned. Over the span of my lifetime I’ve been stabbed in the back, hated for no real reason and lied about. Nonetheless I still choose love over hatefulness, but I have learned to measure my trust a bit more carefully. I am not a fool. I just don’t allow someone else’s hangups to take me down. When someone proves to be a great deal less than honorable I find myself feeling a bit concerned about them, because surely something or someone has truly harmed a person who is unwilling to accept me just as I am.

I’ll admit to being a big ball of imperfections. I am humble in that regard, but I also submit that each and every person is flawed to a greater or lesser extent. It is the way of the world. We take on characteristics based on our genetic tendencies and the totality of our existences, so when we form relationships with new people we must always take into account that they will be different from us. That’s part of the fun of our journeys. If we keep an open mind we learn from those who do not share our same ways of behaving and thinking. It becomes an exciting adventure to enjoy the variety of humanity without self righteous judgements.

I grew up in a rather isolated community. Most of us had similar backgrounds and we rarely ventured from our tight knit neighborhood. I was one of the few kids who did not have a father. It made me feel a bit weird, and I’m certain that it colored the way I behave to this very day. My mother had to be a strong woman, and so as my role model she taught me to be very independent. As a result I have always seen myself as an equal to men. I did not have to be liberated, I already was. I suppose that I naturally gravitated to my husband because his mother was quite powerful and unafraid of the idea of being a thoroughly modern woman at a time when many females still demurred to their husband’s wishes. Thus it was almost a foregone conclusion that would marry a man accustomed to viewing women as equals and that I would raise my daughters to be mighty women who were unwilling to simply follow. I taught them to fight for their rightful places in society. Luckily they in turn found husbands confident enough to be proud of their independent natures.

It has not always been easy for any of us to feel so free to express ourselves and stand up for our ideals. We have often been misunderstood by those who still believe that women should lead more traditional roles. We anger those who do not believe that we should have so many questions and ideas. The “b” word has been hurled our way more than once without an understanding that this is the way we were encouraged to be. We are perfectly willing to love and respect those whose opinions and ways of living are unlike our own. In fact we applaud our differences, but we will not become automatons just to keep the peace. We will listen and consider alternatives, but we will not abandon our fundamental principles. It is the way we were brought up to be. It makes us quite sad that some think that we are difficult because we will not simply defer to a so called usual or preferred role for women.

We really do want to be open to everyone, but if they take advantage of our largess by pushing us into a corner or threatening those that we love, we tend to react like mama grizzly bears. We have learned that women do not have to call upon the men in their lives to take care of themselves. They have all of the tools that they need to be self sufficient. When we choose to share our lives with a man it has to be on equal terms. We will be part of a team, but never engage in a master and servant bond. Sometimes it surprises us how many people still operate under the assumption that a man will always be the head of a household, the boss, the one who makes the ultimate decisions. For decades the women in our family have been just as competent as the men, and respected for being so. We can’t turn back to bygone days. We have to be who we are.

Just as my husband accepted me as I was, and even felt a sense of pride that I was accomplished, so too have my sons-in-law been remarkable in honoring and respecting my daughters. It pleases me that neither of them have attempted to dominate the relationships. In turn my grandchildren, most of whom are male have grown up viewing the marriage contract as a partnership of equality. I suspect that they will continue the long family tradition of allowing the females with whom they may one day form a bond to be on an even footing with them. Once the idea of parity between the sexes becomes the status quo, there is no turning back.

Still we are not yet there as a society, and so as women who have come to expect acceptance it is always a jolt to learn that not everyone has yet reached that level of liberation. We are appalled whenever we are bullied by a man. We cringe when we witness another woman being mentally or physically abused, and refusing to leave her oppressor. We are especially astonished to hear of instances of sexual harassment or injury, and the frequency with which such situations are hidden out of fear. We cannot understand why our sisters would turn on us and call us vile names just to gain the attention and affection of a domineering male. We still weep for women who have not yet found the freedom that we so enjoy.

Do not misconstrue my comments. My mother, mother-in-law, daughters and I passionately love our husbands. We enjoy a deep relationship that transcends any ideas of subjugation or mindless devotion. Ours have been powerful unions based on mutual respect and trust. As such they are healthy and fulfilling in all regards. I believe this is how the marriage of two people was always intended to be.

I suspect that my husband and I have weathered forty nine years of wedded bliss because we have always supported each other one hundred percent. If I wanted an advanced degree, my spouse moved heaven and earth to encourage me. If he desired to risk changing to a more enjoyable but lower paying job, I found ways to tighten the budget to provide him with that opportunity. We constantly listen and discuss and compromise and decide together. We also make it a point to learn together as well. We open our minds and our hearts to the beautiful variety of thought that makes our world such an exciting place to be. We find it wonderful that as our family grows ever larger we are introduced to new people and new ways of thinking. It makes us all better, and it all began with our mothers who broke the mold of restrictions that once dictated how women were supposed to be.

I am as proud of my daughters as any mother has ever been. They have forged their own pathways. They are literally two of the best wives and moms that I have ever witnessed. They are good and faithful daughters, neighbors and friends. All the while they have not sacrificed their own identities. When they gaze in the mirror they are able to see their own convictions. They are even better than I taught them to be, and I’m certain that their grandmothers are congratulating each other in heaven as they happily realize that they were the role models who started it all, the trailblazers who ignored the negativity and became mighty women in their own right.

Satisfaction

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Last year my high school Class of 1966 had its fiftieth reunion. It was fun seeing people who had dropped out of my life for so long. Since then I’ve tried to stay in touch with many of them via Facebook and the occasional lunches and such that our class leaders schedule. I’ve attended a few funerals as well where I have encountered the most faithful among us. Mostly those sad occasions have been for the parents of my school pals, but now and again we gather for one of our own. I have written blogs about many of those people in an effort to honor their memories and to thank them for the impact they had on my life. It’s particularly sad to see peers losing battles with disease. It is a reminder that all of us are headed in one direction, so we need to be certain that we are getting the most out of life while we have the opportunity.

Last week we received notification that yet another among us is now gone. Harry Butler did not attend our reunion which was rather in keeping with his general personality, but I often thought of him even though I never saw him again after our graduation day. Harry was in the same honors class in which I was. Since the school chose to send us from class to class as a group we were rather constant companions for four years, but I still didn’t know him as well as some of the others. Nonetheless I was fascinated with Harry because he was one of those individuals who insisted on marching to his own drumbeat. There was always something quite interesting about him. I always believed that he would have an exciting life.

It did not take long for all of us to realize that Harry was a gifted writer with an imagination and wit that was intriguing. As someone who longed to be a journalist or a story teller I watched Harry with great interest because I believed that I would learn much from him. It became sadly apparent to me that I would never be able to equal his talent. He had a way with words that set him apart from those of us who labored away at composing. He was an artist who painted stunning pictures with his sentences and paragraphs. He was able to make us all howl with uncontrollable laughter with his essays and newspaper articles. When he created much of the script for our annual Junior/Senior banquet one year the whole class saw how remarkable he truly was.

Harry went to St. Thomas University in Houston, Texas after graduation form high school and majored in English. I lost track of him except through friends who would encounter him from time to time. I learned that he eventually went to Los Angeles to try his hand at screenwriting. I heard rumors that he had actually done well out there and I often found myself scanning film and television credits to see if his name popped up. I really did expect to see him at an awards ceremony one day because I felt that he was that good at his craft. Of course I never saw such a thing but I never really forgot about him. When I traveled to that part of the country I found myself wondering where he lived and how he was doing. I tried to imagine whether or not he had worked with famous people and what scripts he may have created.

I learned from his obituary that he had been sick since January of this year. He had developed an infection of unknown origin that caused an embolism in his brain. This is how he died and it made me so very sad because he possessed a truly remarkable brain. I hoped and prayed that his final days and weeks had not been too painful and that he had been able to read the books that he always enjoyed and listen to the music that enchanted him.

Harry’s father had been a record distributor when we were in high school. Because of that Harry always seemed to have advance knowledge of what new music would be coming our way. He enjoyed regaling us with his insider information and I delighted in being privy to it.. Harry was a character in every sense of the word and his musical insights only added to an air of mystery that always seemed to surround him.

Harry was an exceptional debater, another talent of which I was a tiny bit jealous because Lord knows that I tried so very hard to master that skill. No matter how hard I worked at it I was unable to come close to being as exceptional as he was. Harry was quite simply one of those people who thought on his feet and was able to come up with just the right retorts at just the right moments. He and his debate partner and friend had quite a run as superstars. I often thought that he might become a lawyer but I suspect that such a career was just a bit too tame for him. Harry was out of the ordinary and we all seemed to sense that.

I learned that Harry spent his work life in Los Angeles but returned to Texas after he retired. He chose to settle in Galveston where he loved reading and listening to music. He brought a former ballerina with them and the two of them enjoyed a quiet life near the sea. Even in his final days Harry managed to seem a bit exotic and to have done things on his own terms.

It’s amazing how we never quite forget the people with whom we spend our teenage years. I regret that I never really got to know Harry just a bit better or to tell him how much I admired him. I suspect that I was too much in awe of his remarkable talent in areas in which I so wanted to succeed in my own right. It was as though I saw myself as little more than a hack whenever I compared my abilities with his. Eventually I found the confidence that I had lacked back then and realized that Harry and I had very different styles. I became content to have watched him from afar and to know that maybe just maybe he had found some magic out in Hollywood. At least I certainly hope that is true. I’d like to believe that he lived the kind of life of which he had dreamed so long ago.

Harry’s death signals the passing of another extraordinary member of our class. I feel confident that he is now resting in peace with the angels and cracking them up with his razor sharp sense of humor just as he shared his gift with us so long ago. I remember a time when he proclaimed that the Rolling Stones were the best rock group ever. I argued with him at the time and lost of course, but I always thought of him over the years as that group became my favorite as well. Upon hearing of his death I heard the strains of Satisfaction in my brain and thought of his grin and sarcastic humor that always made us laugh. Thank you, Harry, for some really good times.

Glorious Lives

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The most remarkable people in history have always been those who based their lives on principles. In the pursuit of integrity, generosity, courage they often found themselves standing all alone, but in the end they found success not so much because they were honored by others, but because they honored the ideas that existed in their hearts. Men and women like Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and Mother Teresa were guided by the overwhelming belief that what they were doing was right and just. The focus of their lives was not easy or popular but they persisted in following the voice that whispered inside their souls.

It often appears difficult to find such imminent people in today’s world in which most people find comfort and shelter in joining a crowd. So many fear speaking out lest they lose their power or positions. They base their actions on polls and contests of purported admiration. They so want to be liked that they set aside the very essence of who they are for the fleeting elixir of feeling loved or appreciated. It’s difficult for us to teach our children of the dangers of such behavior when the messages and examples they see tell them that winning is more important than living for a set of values. How can we show them how to be moral when they see so much immorality being accepted in the name of seizing power? It is not so easy in a world that rewards winning and turns its back on those perceived as losers. Life becomes a constant game of striving to be number one, and unfortunately as adults we consciously or unconsciously tell our young again and again that there is no place for those who simply try.

I’m quite impressed by a young man who once played football for the University of Houston. Case Keenum was a good college quarterback but everyone seemed to agree that he was too small and that his skills were too average to make it in the heady world of professional football. Case was a nice guy, but it seemed unlikely that he would ever have much of a career in the NFL. Amazingly somebody forgot to send that message to Case. He was never willing to give up even when it appeared that he had reached the end of his dreams of making a career out of football. He worked for the Houston Texans for a time but once that team found a better substitute he was once again looking for a job. This year he is currently having a winning season with the Minnesota Vikings. I suspect that he is doing as well as he is because he was guided by a persistence that would not allow him to give up. and his willingness to make the team better has made him a good person to have around. Case is one of those people who has much to teach kids who are looking for an amazing role model.

As adults we need to be constantly on the lookout for individuals who have done things that will show our children how truly great individuals behave. Whether we agree with all of his political beliefs, everyone of us should be able to admit that John McCain is one of those people who has been guided by a moral compass founded on unbelievable courage. Whether as a prisoner of war or a leader he consistently does what he believes to be good for his country. He has often found himself being harassed either by Vietcong captors or his fellow lawmakers, but he has the fortitude to ignore the sound and fury and endure the pain all for the sake of doing what he believes is correct. We should all admire him even if we don’t agree with him. We should also use him as an example for our young who often face situations in which they must stand apart from the taunts of their peers.

When I was young I read a series of books that told the stories of individuals who faced defining moments and chose to take the high road rather than turning away from their own principles. I loved all of those profiles of remarkable people and I attempted to model my own life around their characteristics even though I understood that they were exceptional and I was a bit more ordinary. Whenever I faced difficult decisions I dod my best to truly stand for something rather than following the status quo. I learned to judge myself not so much on rewards or the opinions of others, but on how well I had adhered to my core beliefs.

Winning and being popular can be a fleeting thing. The very people who love someone one moment may turn on them the next. Opinions are fickle and when a life is based on them it can be as unsteady as shifting sands. Most of our big disappointments all too often come from the realization that someone whom we wanted to impress has moved on to the next big thing. If we are less concerned with how others rank us and more with how well we have followed our principles, we will feel personal success which is far more satisfying.

When we are working with our children it is important to help them to find the basic principles that are most important to them. Competition is not an inherently bad thing but it is far more powerful to compete with oneself than to constantly be worried about how one is doing vis a vis everyone else. Aim for a few more points on the next essay. Try to shave some time off of that one mile run. Determine to help someone in need on a given day. Remember to be honest and steadfast. Developing good habits is powerful and leads to becoming a better person bit by bit until the moral values become an integral part of our natures.

There are heroic acts happening all around us. Talk with your children about them. Help them to define what makes certain people seem so outstanding. They will soon realize that what differentiates J.J. Watt as an amazing person is his effort and his generosity of spirit. We love Mattress Mack because he has a kind heart which also happens to make him a very successful businessman. A favorite teacher is usually a person who has put forth a bit more inspiration and sensitivity than the average educator. That neighbor who always seems to be helping everyone else is special because he/she has taken the time to be so. Greatness doesn’t just happen. It takes hard work and a steadfast adherence to fundamental truths.

We owe it to our young to help them to be their very best. Winning prizes is glorious, but sometimes the real hero is the person who ran the race even though he was in pain. The person who refuses to give up is a rockstar win, lose or draw. Someone who faces the wrath of a group to adhere to truths is as mighty as the greatest heroes of all time. Teach your children these glorious ideas and theirs will be glorious lives.

Blink

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I’m a child running barefoot through the grass with beads of sweat running down my back. It never dawns on me that my idyllic life will one day change. I live in the moment and enjoy each new day. I blink, and I am a skinny little spit of a girl just starting high school and dreaming of teenage years with all of the good times portrayed in the movies that I so love. I find myself working hard to learn new things that challenge me in ways that are wonderful. I blink, and it is graduation day and I am heading to college little realizing that it will be many years before I see many of my classmates again. I blink, and I have met the man of my dreams. I fall deeply in love and marry long before I should. It’s war time and things are so uncertain. I know that I must grab the golden ring while I am able. I stand at the altar and pledge my undying love. I am filled with so many hopes and dreams.

I blink, and I am expecting my first child. Even though I am barely out of childhood myself I am so ecstatic about being a mother. I talk to my baby even before she is born. I am naive about how much responsibility my new role will entail. I just know that I already love her and I have not yet seen her face. I blink, and she is running barefoot through the grass. I chase after her laughing and feeling so glad that I have these moments with her. I blink, and another baby is on the way. I love that my family is growing and I can’t wait to see my new little girl. I blink, and we are moving into our first home with both of our daughters, a toddler and an infant. I immediately fall in love with my neighbors. Somehow I know that I will be friends with them forever even though forever seems so far away.

I blink, and my girls are heading off to school. I wonder where the time went and how they grew so quickly. They are sweet and bright and they make me proud but I miss them when the house becomes so quiet. I go back to school again and use my free time to study and earn a degree. I blink and my eldest is entering high school while I have been a teacher for many years. I love the times when we share weekends with the good friends that we have made from church and school and the neighborhood. There is never a dull moment. We are always buzzing about. It’s so much fun and it never occurs to me that it may one day change.

I blink, and daughter number one is heading to the University of Texas for college. I don’t quite yet realize that she will never again be a permanent resident of our home. I focus on the second girl and love having her friends practically living at our place. Life is good. Work is good. Family is fabulous. I blink, and my eldest is receiving her college degree while the youngest is graduating from high school. I can’t believe that they are grown. Where did the time go? Where are those precious little babies that I held in my arms? How I love the young women they have become. How I miss the infants that snuggled and cooed.

I blink, and my eldest is getting married and moving out of the city. My youngest is studying at Texas A&M University. The house is so quiet. I have my work. It sustains me. I decide to go back to school for an advanced degree. I need to fill the vacant hours. I am not yet accustomed to such a quiet house. I spend more time with my husband. We fall in love again and again.

I blink and I am a grandmother of a new baby boy. I fly to the faraway place where he and his parents live. He is an angel and I love him so. I like to sit for hours just holding him and watching him sleep in my arms. My youngest daughter is in love as well and will soon be engaged. How is it possible that I have reached a time when my girls will be so independent? I work and begin to enjoy my students even more than ever. They become my new children, my extended family.

I blink and I am at the wedding of my youngest. She is moving all the way to Chicago. I now have two grandchildren from my eldest. Both of them are beautiful little boys. They now live close enough that I get to visit them all of the time. Life is good. Work is good. I have so much fun with my friends. I take my good fortune for granted and then I blink.

My family grows and grows. A set of twin boys from my eldest daughter delight me. Another set of twins, a boy and girl, arrive to my youngest. Not long after a little boy rounds out the crew. I can’t even describe how much fun I am having. I am so happy that I want the world to stop spinning. I don’t want to blink, but I must.

Death comes to visit us. My mother-in-law dies so unexpectedly. Dear friends leave this earth. I turn to my work as a distraction. I spend time with my own mother and my grandchildren to protect me from the sadness that I am feeling. The cycle doesn’t want to stop. One after another I lose important people and then I blink, and my mother is gone as well. I look up and my grandchildren are all in school. They are not babies anymore. My daughters are fine women who help me in my grief. My husband remains my rock.

I blink, and I am a senior citizen, retired from my teaching days and spending time traveling and writing and enjoying hobbies. My grandchildren are in college, high school, and middle school. They won’t stop growing, but that is not so bad because I am so proud of each of them. I keep in touch with my former students who truly are like members of my extended family. I smile at the photos of their weddings and their children. I enjoy hearing about their jobs and knowing that they too are just fine. I get back together with long lost friends from high school. I am amazed at how easily we reconnect. They look the same to me even though their hair is sometimes grey and their faces wear the wrinkles of time. I know that if I blink there is no telling what changes will come, but I have learned that each phase of life has the power to be grand. My life is unfolding just as it was meant to be.

My husband is still my best friend. These days we are quietly in love. We share all of those moments that came in between our blinks. We know that even the hard times have had a way of making us stronger and bringing us closer together. We’ve learned to dream a bit less and just enjoy whatever is happening. We walk through the grass in our bare feet and are able to see all the way back to our own childhoods. We blink and the world is a wonderful place to be.

A Taste of Home

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Have you ever had a yearning for a particular something to eat only to have your hopes dashed because it wasn’t available? That happened to me and husband Mike last week. He’d visited one of his doctors and underwent a multitude of lab tests that required him to fast. He received positive news from his doctor regarding his progress in regaining his health, so we decided to celebrate by getting an omelet at The Union Kitchen on Bellaire Blvd., a favorite place to meet up with good friends for Sunday brunch. We were almost salivating as we contemplated the yumminess that was in store, and happily we got a nice table on the patio right away. The weather was quite lovely and it felt as though we were experiencing one of those picture perfect days in Houston, something for which we longed after being somewhat homebound for the past three months, not to mention having witnessed the horrors of hurricane Harvey. When we opened the menu and it became apparent that there was not an omelet to be found. A quick inquiry with the waiter revealed that breakfast items are part of the weekend brunch offerings but not the weekday fare. Mike’s disappointment was palatable.

I was willing to compromise by trying something else but Mike had his heart set on an omelet since he had missed having breakfast earlier in the day. Besides we had chosen this particular restaurant for a very specific reason. We had intended it to be yet another medical test on that day.  You see, from taking Plavix as a blood thinner after his stroke Mike had lost all sense of taste. His description of the sensation was that his tongue felt as though is was wrapped in plastic. Everything that he ate had the flavor of water crackers, blandness that had taken away all the joy of eating. He was able to discern textures but no flavors. Eating had become an exercise in getting proper nutrients but little more. When he reported this side effect to his neurologist the medication regimen was changed, but it had nonetheless taken quite a while for his tastebuds to become active again. Only days before had he begun to slowly enjoy the essences of food. Eating the omelet at The Union Kitchen was intended as a treat on many different levels because he had found that delicacy so enjoyable in the past when we had been there with very dear friends.

I suggested that we just leave since we had not yet ordered. I doubted that anyone would even notice our departure, but in that regard I was wrong. Mike was polite enough to inform the hostess that we had changed our minds and would not be staying. We had no sooner walked out the door than the manager, Rob Thomas, and the owner of the restaurant rushed outside to determine what might have happened to cause us to want to depart so suddenly. When I explained the situation they requested that we return to our table and insisted that it would be no problem whatsoever to prepare any kind of omelet that we desired. We smiled and sat down feeling rather special. We decided on a vegetarian omelet and waited with pleasant anticipation.

Mr. Thomas brought our food to us personally. He had included extras on the plate like freshly sliced avocado and roasted potatoes and peppers. The presentation of the meal was a work of art with a delightful color palate and an aroma that made us even more eager to eat. As expected the omelet was exceptional with the perfect pairing of onions, peppers, mushrooms, eggs and Swiss cheese. Best of all Mike was able to savor every lovely flavor because his tastebuds were as active as they had ever been. We relished the moment and marveled at the extraordinary service that Rob Thomas had insisted on providing us.

While we ate we watched Mr. Thomas visiting with the diners at every table, making unique orders become reality over and over again. Eventually he came to see if we had been satisfied with our meal, and we were able to tell him the entire story of Mike’s stroke and the journey that we had made in the ensuing weeks. We were no doubt a bit long winded and there were so many customers, but Mr. Thomas never once acted impatient to leave. He listened with great interest and sympathy even joking that as a restauranteur he would rather go blind than not be able to taste food. He also told us that because the Union Kitchen is a scratch kitchen he can alter most recipes and fulfill special requests with little or no problem. He noted that with several grocery stores in the area he would not be reluctant to run out to get whatever he needed in an emergency. Then he gave us his business card with his personal phone number, urging us to call him ahead of time if we wanted something unusual on one of our future visits. He even revealed that he has special pans in the kitchen marked with the names of customers with severe allergies. He uses them whenever they come so that the dishes he prepares for them will not be cross contaminated.

We laughed and joked and mentioned that we felt as though we were a bit like Jack Nicholson in the diner scene of Five Easy Pieces ordering dry toast. When we explained that classic bit of Hollywood brilliance he laughed and said that he was going to use it at his next meeting with the waiters. Then he began to wonder if Mike would also be able to taste something sweet and insisted that we choose from among the restaurant’s desserts for a treat that he was going to give us without cost. We’re suckers for bread pudding and the creme brûlée variety sounded particularly tempting, so we decided to forget the diet for a few minutes in the interest of experimenting. We were not disappointed in the least. Not only was Mike able to distinguish its delicate blend of sugars and spices, but it was also one of the best versions that we have ever eaten.

We left The Union Kitchen so full that we only ate raisin bran for dinner later that night. Most of our satisfaction though came from the superb customer service that Rob Thomas had provided. He had made us feel quite special on a day that was particularly important to us. We both agreed that we would make The Union Kitchen a regular outing. We still eschew salt and sugar and carbs at home, but even Mike’s doctor has told him that he doesn’t have to be a repentant monk all of the time. It really is okay to enjoy some remarkable tastiness now and again, and I can’t think of any place that I would rather go than The Union Kitchen, a place with wonderful food and even better friendliness. I’m so glad that Rob Thomas came after us. He managed to provide us with a brunch that we will probably never forget. He gave us a taste home and old fashioned service that is all too often missing in today’s hurried world. It was a five star experience. You should try it yourself sometimes. Just tell Rob that they guy who couldn’t taste sent you.