1. We have those four pesky kids
2. One of them is special needs
3. And mostly because the husband hates spending money. His idea of a decadently extravagant dinner is buying it all in the frozen-foods aisle at Trader Joe's. So, for him, going to a restaurant where you'll pay $100 for dinner for two is a BIG STINKIN DEAL and it damn well better be transcendent. And since it had been rated as one of the top 100 farm-to-table restaurants in the U.S. by Gourmet Magazine, he was primed for Heaven on a plate.
So, of course, it wasn't. I knew things were not going to go well when the husband, who can't drink, asked if they had anything like lemonade. All they had was booze and soda pop. When the food came it was in those stupid skinny stacks (seriously, who stacks their food?) on huge, mostly empty, white plates decorated with nouvelle cuisine dots and squiggles of sauce. Excuse me, but I do not like my food skinnier or prettier than me, and I like enough sauce so that I can mop it up with bread from the generous bread basket. Which there also wasn't. The final insult (for the husband, who is a crazed foodie) was that the meyer-lemon tart had a soggy (shudder) crust! It was a major case of hoping for lemonade and getting a big fat sour bunch of lemons. Seriously, the poor boy was devastated. He's sensitive that way.
So after our nouvelle désastre I suggested we go for a walk around beautiful (by which I mean impoverished and decaying) downtown Sharpsburg, PA, where said restaurant was situated. Now kids, small-town Western Pennsylvania is not a scenic wonderland but we had the babysitter so....
For a few blocks things went from bad to worse. We saw a mother pull over her speeding minivan, smack her screaming kid hard, then screech off with the poor kid wailing like a siren. And as we strolled along, the natives stared at us because, I assume, we didn't have tattoos and bleached-blond mullets (not a good look for me).
Then, just as we were about to trudge dejectedly home, I saw a glimmer of water. From a river. That you could walk to. Which is unusual here even though we are literally surrounded by rivers. Because of Pittsburgh's industrial past, the waterfront is mostly blocked off by (abandoned and decaying) industrial sites. It is almost impossible to actually walk to a river anywhere in town. But there was the river, and there was the path to it, and so we walked.
We went through a long dark tunnel and emerged into a magical place.
We strolled over and dabbled our fingers in the miraculously touchable river. Amazing. Then we sat by it and just breathed it all in. People were fishing, feeding the ducks, or just sitting, talking, being there, like us. It was a perfect mild evening. The sun was setting, and everyone around us exuded that special peace that you get near a body of water. There were all classes and races of people, all just so happy to be exactly where they were.
After a while I started chatting with people, as I do. The guy next to us, with the tattoos, the blond mullet and the Lynard Skynard bandana said he was catching small fish, mainly crappies (or maybe he meant that he was just catching small crappy fish!), but added that "I really just came here for the peace." The black woman next to us with the akita and the toy poodle offered me bread to feed the ducks with. As we watched the ducks squabble, a friend of hers told me about taking his granddaughter ice fishing in Minnesota. It was the nicest evening I've had in a long long time.
On the drive home, I thought about lemons and lemonade and how happy I was that my husband and I are generally able to take the lemons we have been given in our life together, some of them pretty seriously sour and, one way or another, made some pretty nice lemonade out of it all. And next time we go to Sharpsburg, we'll skip the fancy exclusive restaurant altogether and take our lemonade - literal and metaphorical - and some sandwiches right to the river and share it all, which, for me, makes everything so much sweeter.