By Elizabeth McGinley
Married 23 years, my poor husband and I are terrible at capital-R Romance. The trouble started even before marriage, when having dated for 7 months, Rich and I talked about celebrating our first Valentine's Day together. "Let me make the plans," I suggested, "Where is written that the guy has to do all the planning?"
I felt like a modern woman, enlightened--and totally in the dark about where to start. Even though I lived in the suburbs at the time, most of our dates were spent in Center City. But wouldn't most downtown restaurants be awfully crowded--and clichéd-- on Valentine's Day? Hearing of my dilemma, an older co-worker dropped a flyer on my desk--a local country club was opening its doors to the public on February 14, offering a special menu in its fire-place lit dining room, with a strolling violinist. Perfect, I thought, Rich loves music,especially live performances. Some of our best dates had been to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Academy of Music.
The evening started well--Rich had greeted me with two dozen red roses. We arrived on time for our reservation, despite having missed the poorly-lit entrance to the country club four times. (We did hit each of the carefully-spaced speed bumps on the 100-yard driveway to the clubhouse.) But the dining-room was truly lovely; the stone fire-place was smoking only a little, and the white-linen tablecloths had a mere dusting of ash.
We ordered from the friendly, though slightly harried-looking waitress. Then, the violinist entered the room; somehow I couldn't quite recognize what he was playing. Slight, and sweating a lot--that fireplace was generating a lot of heat-- he looked like a high schooler who had borrowed his older, much bigger, brother's best suit. He stopped at our table, welcomed us, and asked if we had any requests. No, no, no, sorry; he didn't know our first three requests. Inspired, Rich suggested "Maria," a sly reference to my middle name, and I countered with "Danny Boy," a nod to his.
The sounds that followed were painful for all assaulted--the other diners, us, and perhaps even the red-faced violinist himself. Avoiding my eyes, Rich tugged at his collar, and murmured, "Remarkable." The young violinist smiled and moved on to other tables. But as the old joke goes, he never played "Far, Far Away" enough.
As we settled the bill, Rich whispered to the waitress, "So, quite the treat, having music for Valentine's Day." She rolled her eyes, and said, "Yeah, right, a real treat. You at least get to leave. I'm here for another three hours."
On the way out, Rich slipped a five into the "Musician's Tip Jar." From across the room, the violinist nodded, and called out, "Thanks, Danny. Goodnight, Maria."
That's when I realized that romance--or at least movie-style romance--just wasn't us.
Through the Valentine Days that followed this first one, we've consistently courted threats to romance--emergency room visits, teacher-parent conferences, ice storms, dead car batteries, and other far from rose-petal-scattering scenarios. (This year, my husband has eye surgery scheduled for early the next day.) Exasperated by the syrupy verse of most "To My Wife/Husband" Valentine Day cards, we've given each other a pass on Hallmark greetings. Chocolates are too caloric; flowers fade too fast. We are not "romcom" (romantic comedy) material; or, at least, we are more "com" than "rom."
So Rich may be surprised when this Valentine's Day I suggest dinner at another country club, our Northeast neighborhood Country Club Diner.
Despite the red and pink paper hearts dangling from its ceiling, the diner at first glance seems far from capital R-romantic. On most week nights, there are a few families with small kids (once that was us and our kids), one or two police officers, groups of people meeting after work, guys grabbing a bite before a game. But then there are the romantics: The elderly couples who shuffle in, two by two, some with his and her walkers. They sit, maybe talking, maybe not. None hold hands, but their movements and moods seem invincibly in sync.
If all goes well on this Tuesday night, Rich and I will enjoy our Valentine's Day dinner (chicken francaise for him, a veggie burger for me). We'll talk, a little, maybe a lot. Life in all its seasons --especially love in winter--will be our background music. Guess that will be remarkable--and romantic--enough for us.