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David Hassler: Spaghetti Dinners

Every Friday night the year my mother died, my father, my brother, and I ate dinner at Missimi’s Restaurant. We would step in off Main Street and be seated in the cool, dark dining room. On the walls hung wicker-wrapped bottles of wine and paintings of mountains and vineyards, gondolas and canals. My father would sip his Chianti while my brother and I slurped sweet Coke through a straw. We always had the same waitress. She was close to my mother’s age and always wore a white dress and a red apron. It must have been a uniform, though I never thought of it as such. I ordered “the usual”: a plate of spaghetti with a small sirloin steak on the side. Later she would return through the swinging kitchen doors and circle our table, holding warm plates of spaghetti above our heads.

I was always thankful for the break from the sauerkraut and wieners my father heated up in a pan, or the thawed tuna casserole wrapped in tinfoil from a neighbor. In Missimi’s dining room we could forget how we had fought during the week. We could forget for a moment that it was just the three of us at the table.

Twenty-two years after those Friday-night dinners, my girlfriend Lynn and I drive by Missimi’s. From the outside, the restaurant hasn’t changed, a red brick building attached to a wooden house: MISSIMI’S LOUNGE & RESTAURANT — ESTABLISHED 1948. The old RC Cola sign is still there. I tell Lynn the story of the place, the memories it holds for me. She says she’d like to go there some night for dinner. We’ve been dating for several years and have begun to talk about marriage. I don’t know how it happens, but we come to an understanding: if I ask her to have dinner with me at Missimi’s, I will propose to her. Missimi’s becomes our code for marriage.

It is a cold Friday night in February, and I am driving home from a weeklong poetry residency at Saint Albert School, where I lived in a guest room in the principal’s house. Though I have enjoyed the gracious company of the principal and her husband, I’m tired of feeling obliged to make engaging conversation at the dinner table. I happen to be the same age as their son, and the principal made me feel as if I were her son. I don’t want to be so easily adopted. I have a father. That’s enough.

I have been thinking about Lynn all week, and my mind is made up. I pull off the interstate, find a pay phone, call Lynn, and ask her if she will go to Missimi’s with me for dinner that night. After a brief pause, she agrees. We don’t say anything more. We both know what I’ve just asked her. When I arrive home, she’s waiting for me at my apartment.

We drive across town, past the car dealerships and their waving orange flags, and pull into Missimi’s gravel parking lot. Stoddard’s custard stand next door is boarded up for the winter. We step into the darkened dining room, and I see that nothing inside has changed, either. Only one other couple is here, finishing their meal in the far corner. There is no young waitress, only an old woman, who I assume is Mrs. Missimi. She walks slowly over to our table. I want to order “the usual,” but I know she won’t understand. And besides, I don’t want to taste that grief. Instead we order the spaghetti dinner for two and a carafe of Chianti.

Our waitress returns with our salad, served family style in a large bowl. I pour Lynn a glass of wine and make a toast: “To our future life together.” We stare into each other’s eyes and smile. Unable to wait any longer, I ask Lynn if she will marry me. She says yes, and I begin to cry. I am here, in this place, with a beautiful woman who loves me.

By now the couple at the other table has left. Lynn and I are the only customers. An old man — Mr. Missimi, I assume — comes out of the kitchen and sits down behind a beaded curtain with our waitress. Occasionally one of them glances at our table, careful not to let us see them staring. The old couple, the darkened dining room, the warm plates of spaghetti — it all feels like some kind of blessing. We linger over our meal, holding hands across the table. It is just the two of us, and no one is missing.

Copyright 2023 David Hassler. This essay was first published in The Sun.

David Hassler directs the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University. He is the author or editor of nine books of poetry and nonfiction, including Red Kimono, Yellow Barn; Growing Season: The Life of a Migrant Community; and Speak a Powerful Magic: Ten Years of the Traveling Stanzas Poetry Project.

Source: Family Food on the Table

10 comments on “David Hassler: Spaghetti Dinners

  1. Dinah Kudatsky
    February 13, 2023

    So sweet! This is the place we will go when we’ve already answered the question that no longer needs to be asked.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sextonart@aol.com
    February 13, 2023

    Lovely prose.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Barbara Huntington
    February 13, 2023

    What a perfect story! I taste it it so many ways. It stays with me as tomato and salt

    Liked by 1 person

  4. rknester
    February 13, 2023

    This is a lovely essay.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Rose Mary Boehm
    February 13, 2023

    Beautiful. That last para made me tear up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      February 13, 2023

      I love the unabashed sentiment of this narrative essay. This kind of sincerity is out of fashion in our cynical post-modern literary culture.

      Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on February 13, 2023 by in Health and Nutrition, Most Popular, Personal Essays and tagged , , , , .

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