It may seem odd that I try to be judicious about visiting a restaurant that has wonderful food and where I am welcomed as a member of the extended family. The restaurant owner, Tommaso, is a master chef and his kitchen creations are absolutely delicious.
This is a family business. Tommaso's son is also a chef in the kitchen and one of his grandsons is becoming a sous chef. Tommaso's son has been a trained chef for eighteen years and, in Tommaso's opinion, is learning well. There is tradition and family recipes in this restaurant. It shows in every bite of food.
I am judicious about visiting because I am not allowed to pay. Tommaso instructs his staff not to take my dollars. A member of the family does not pay. Therefore, I go to the restaurant as a treat and a visit. I do not want to take advantage of Tommaso's kindness and generosity. When I do eat there, I just leave dollars for the waitresses because I know that the bill will not be coming. There is no arguing with Tommaso. He will not have it any other way.
A couple of weeks ago, four friends who are engineers and I were working late on a project. Our time was extending well past the dinner hour and we thought we could work over dinner. We decided on dinner at Tommaso's restaurant.
It was well after 8 PM by the time we arrived at the restaurant and the place was absolutely packed. I placed my name on the waiting list and I said "hello" to the hostess, who was Tommaso's grand-daughter. We found seats in the bar section to wait for a table. Before we had placed an order for drinks, Tommaso appeared. He gave me a huge hug and asked why I had been away for so long. Before I could answer, he was telling me that I was far too thin. His conclusion was that I had been away from his good food too long. And before I could answer that comment, two bottles of wine appeared with five glasses. I told Tommaso that we were making this a working dinner. To this he replied that work would go well because he had ordered a couple of bottles of excellent wine for us.
By the time out table was ready, the restaurant was still full. There continued to be people coming into the bar to wait for a table. As soon as we were seated, Tommaso came out of the kitchen, carry two large plates. One plate had crab cakes and the other plate was piled high with shrimp cakes. His grand-daughter followed him with a huge bowl of salad and garlic bread sticks, fresh from the oven. Tommaso said that he already had a couple of pizzas in the oven; there was no need for us to order.
All the food was delicious.
As my friends were finishing the pizza, I went back to the kitchen. The flow of orders had slowed finally. Tommaso, his son and the kitchen help had started preparing for the next day. When Tommaso saw me in the kitchen, he went and rinsed his hands. He gave me a hug and asked if we liked the food. I assured him that it was spectaclar - absolutely delicious. He held my face in his large hands and said, "I am so happy when you are here". Tommaso is kind.
I asked him how Rosa was doing. Rosa is his wife and living in a nursing care facility. She has to be watched constantly. Rosa has Alzheimer's Disease.
Tommaso said that he thought Rosa was doing fine but the her memories are still gone. He visits her every day. He takes her some food, a sip of wine and some flowers. Tommaso asked if I would go with him on a visit. He thought there might be some suggestions that I could give him to make Rosa's day easier. I silently thought that there was little that I could suggest. Advancing Alzheimer's is simply cruel. I had seen Rosa once by myself when I had been in the area of the nursing facility. That had been months ago and I was glad to accompany Tommaso for a visit. We arranged to go together before my next string of long night shifts began.
When Tommaso picked me up, I didn't recognize his vehicle. He explained that he had bought a van and no longer had his sedan. The van made it easier to take Rosa for outings. It could hold a wheelchair for her easily, as well as coolers for food, drinks and cleaning supplies in case Rosa had any mishaps. The passenger seat could extend back so that Rosa could rest and nap, if necessary.
When we arrived, I was taken aback by Rosa. In the months since I had seen her, she had lost some weight. She looked frail and her features looked more sunken. Her clothing fits but just barely. In the heat of summer, she wore a sweater. For Rosa, the air conditioned facility was chilly. Of course, Rosa did not recognize me. She did not recognize Tommaso either.
Tommaso told Rosa that we were going into the outside courtyard for a bite to eat. He said to Rosa that he had brought veal piccata with wild rice. And dessert would be a surprise for her. He helped her remove her sweater and gently applied sunscreen to Rosa's arms and face. I was struck by Tommaso gentleness. While smoothing on the sunscreen lotion, Tommaso told Rosa of the family news. She nodded; it was an unspoken dance in which they engaged. I doubted if Rosa understood much of what was being said. He draped the sweater over Rosa's shoulder until we were outside.
In the courtyard, Rosa seemed to be enjoying the shade of the tree and being outdoors. She hummed and spoke in both English and Italian. I understood a bit of what Rosa was saying in Italian but her voice was weak. There was no point in asking her to repeat herself. She was enjoying her afternoon.
Tommaso was offering Rosa small bites of the veal which she seemed to be savouring. Every once in a while, he would offer her a spoonful of rice. Rosa continued to hum and have her afternoon snack. And then something absolutely remarkable happened. I was sitting beside Rosa and, with her right hand, she reached out and held my arm. And then she looked at me directly and said: "You must try the veal piccata. My husband makes the best veal I have ever had". Her voice was strong and vibrant. It was Rosa speaking.
Tommaso was sitting in front of her. He breathed her name. It was more from shock than volition. Rosa did not turn to him. She closed her eyes and chewed on the mouthful of veal. She began humming again. Just as suddenly, Rosa was gone again.
The rest of the visit with Rosa was uneventful. She had a good appetite that day and finished the veal and more than half the rice. When Tommaso asked if she wanted any dessert, she shook her head 'no'. The food had made her tired and she was ready for a rest. Possibly two visitors was too much stimulation for Rosa in such a short time. I gave Rosa a hug and Tommaso walked with her back into the building. I remained outside to give them a moment to themselves.
When Tommaso returned, he looked completely exhausted. The visit had been draining but he was happy. He thanked me again and again for visiting. Tommaso asked if I had time to sit for a few more minutes and I assured him that time was not a problem. I took his arm and we went back to the bench by the tree.
We sat there in silence for some time. I simply held his hand. Tommaso thanked me again and said: "I live for these moments when my Rosa is back. God smiled on us today". The tears in his eyes broke my heart.