Despite fireworks and festivities, the start of 2011 was bittersweet. Shortly after we rang in the New Year, Andy’s younger brother was deployed to Afghanistan with the Marines. Their family has a history of military service, but mine does not. This was my first experience worrying about a soldier overseas, and I quickly learned that when someone you care about is at risk, politics and philosophies go out the window. All you want is for them to come home safe.
For months we prepared care packages like it was our job, like our soldier’s life depended on it. Every other week we filled a Support Our Troops box with flavored sunflower seeds, white tube socks, lighthearted DVDs, and lots of deodorant. We wrote letters filled with the most inane details — about dogs and gardens and sports and celebrities — because we wanted to help him stay connected with “normal” life.
After half a year, we got the good news that our Marine was coming home. (“So please stop sending boxes, because by the time they get there, he’ll be gone!”) His first tour was over, and he arrived safely back in the States at the peak of an August heat. After spending months in the Afghani desert, marching for miles under the scorching sun, our soldier didn’t mind the “hot spell.” He barely even noticed it.
To celebrate his return, Andy took his brother, parents, and me to Chicago for Labor Day weekend. We visited Sue the T-Rex at the Field Museum. We shopped the Magnificent Mile. We laughed until we cried at the Second City comedy show.
But the highlight of our trip was a quiet dinner at Joe’s, the renowned seafood and steak house. After making reservations (several weeks in advance) Andy emailed to ask if they could do anything for his brother. He specified that we weren’t looking for freebies; we just wanted a special night. The manager replied that they could only give us their best server, an offer we happily accepted.
And our server was indeed fantastic. Attentive, friendly, knowledgeable, accommodating, and funny. We had a lovely evening, thanks to his witty banter and many excellent recommendations.
At the end of the meal, we decided to order a couple desserts to share. Our server got a twinkle in his eye and said he knew just the thing. A few minutes later, he wheeled out a tray of nearly a dozen desserts, which we figured were for the tables nearby. As it turns out, every single dish on that cart was for us. Andy’s brother was fairly embarrassed, but his mother and I both got tears in our eyes as our server and the manager came over to thank him for his service.
Although we were already full, the five of us ate as much of those cakes and pies as we could. Not because they were free, or too delicious to waste, but because they were all our fears put to rest, all our hopes confirmed, all our pride, gratitude, and good fortune baked into chocolate and iced with sugar. Those desserts were what our trip was all about. Celebration.
We savored every bite.