When I was about eleven years old I went out on my first date. Now, calm down. I know. Eleven is entirely too young to be dating. Ridiculously young. But my first date was with my dad.
My parents always made a concerted effort when we were little to spend time with my brother and me one-on-one. First, I'm sure we were easier to manage by ourselves and second, spending time with just one parent we got their full attention, could blab and talk and basically run the show, no compromising or having to get along, and it was wonderful. I'm sure there were lots of times like this for both of us, but for me the time I remember the most vividly is when my dad took me on a fancy date out to dinner at EBT's.
EBT is a special occasion restaurant. It's expensive. It's beautiful. It was built with Victorian and Gilded Age splendor, utilizing the original 1890's columns and elevator cages that were a part of the Emery, Bird and Thayer department store that was a fixture in downtown Kansas City, and the origin of the name EBT. When the store was demolished in the 1970's, EBT, the restaurant, opened with many of the original 1890's decorative pieces. You can even eat dinner in one of the private elevator cars. The interior is a total contradiction to the dull gray 1970's bank building it's housed in, glamorously located right off the highway. But it's EBT. When I was eleven, EBT was the tip top of fancy. It was one of those buildings that I remember driving by a thousand times as a kid, asking my mom, why does that bank say "EBT" on it? My mom always explained that it was a very fancy restaurant that I could go to when I was older, much older, like married older, or maybe hold my retirement party there older.
But magically I didn't have to wait until I turned sixty-five. One of the mysteries of my childhood, somehow the parents decided that eleven was time for my first multiple forks, multiple course dinner. And why not make it at EBT? I was an old eleven, head in a book, though still playing with Barbie dolls, usually responsible and always highly worried about making mistakes. Not much different from today. Highly unlikely to cause a scene or disturb anyone taking their wife out to dinner, so Dad made a reservation. Mom started to help me figure out what to wear. And I started to get excited.
I remember careful wardrobe discussions on the day of my fancy dinner date. We chose my favorite cream drop-waist knit dress. The dress I would have worn everyday if someone would have let me and did wear every Sunday to church, until I tragically spilled hot wax all down the front of it at Christmas services. (Why do we let children hold hot drippy candles while singing Silent Night dressed in their finest garb? I nearly cried when it happened, ok, I did cry.) Mom helped me put my hair up in hot rollers, so it was all wavy and fluffy, then tights and patent leather black shoes with a very low heel and the look was complete, oops, can't forget the shiny Bonnie Bell lip gloss in strawberry, though totally clear, because Mom didn't allow colored lip gloss, until I was thirteen. You have to have rules about lip gloss.
And of course I had to bring my purse. It was a lovely little bag covered with multicolored hearts and carefully filled with a watermelon and a grape Jolly Rancher that I had earned earlier that day for getting a 98% on my spelling test, some crumpled Kleenex, a sheet of stickers, two quarters and my lip gloss, all any eleven year old girl really needs on a date. (I would sadly lose this purse sometime the next month while out Christmas shopping with my parents. I think I lost three purses before Mom had to put a moratorium on purse purchases until I could get my act together and not leave them everywhere, I was probably twenty before that truly happened. So much for being responsible.)
And then it was fancy date time. I was anxious and a little giddy. We drove to the restaurant in the snow. They took our coats to the coat check room when we arrived. The waiter pulled out my chair for me and even placed the napkin on my lap for me. Strange and kind of thrilling. And then the silverware. And the glasses. There were about a thousand of each, surrounding my plate like some kind of dining booby trap. I was certain that if I somehow chose the wrong fork at the beginning, then like Goonies, I would be ensnared in a series of increasing pitfalls for the rest of the evening, culminating in the entire restaurant laughing and pointing at me for spilling my water glass into my lap and using the seafood fork to comb my hair. The enormous glowing spotlight was over my head, while everyone watched and waited for the little kid to screw something up.
But I didn't. There was no spotlight. Dad helped me order dinner. He told me which forks to use. And most importantly he gave me one of his lasting pieces of advice. Sensing my nerves and my hesitation around all the new etiquette, he just said, "If you aren't sure what to do, just go slow." So I did. I took a deep breath. I slowly cut bites of my salad. I carefully laid my knife along the plate when I wasn't using it. When the scallops I ordered for dinner seemed to be coated in a thin layer of saucy shampoo, I just chewed slowly, did not throw up, promised myself I wouldn't throw up, and I even tried another bite. I didn't say "eeeewww," a common phrase in our house at dinner time, and a serious pet peeve of my father's to this day. I ate all of my scallops and I can still remember the soapy taste of that sauce. But I didn't say "eeewww." Though I might have mentioned that they tasted a little bit like Suave.
We had such fun. I felt special and fancy. I felt sophisticated and capable. I got to have dinner with just my dad, at EBT, like a super fancy adult lady. We talked about school and my mom and my brother, Mike. We talked about Christmas presents and what Mike and I might want from Santa, still keeping up the illusion for Mike since he was only 8. And Dad asked me questions and I got to ask him questions and just got to say whatever I wanted to.
And then there was dessert. Dad said we were ordering something special that they would make right in front of us. The waiter rolled a cart over to the side of our table. Right up next to our table, and he tinkered and mixed and poured things into a little saucepan. And then he lit it on fire! Right next to us!
He chopped some bananas and added them to the pan, and then quickly served it right onto our small dessert plates. And with one solitary fork left, I had no trouble deciding which one to use this time. We had decadent Bananas Foster. The warm caramelly brown sugary slightly adult tasting (I didn't know this then, but that would be rum) sauce blended perfectly over the cold vanilla ice cream and warm bananas. I can still taste it.
That dinner is one of my best childhood memories. The anticipation, Mom helping me get dressed, the kind, bow-tied waiters with their little crumb brushes that they swept the table with nearly every time they came over to refill my Coke. My dad and I still reminisce about it occasionally, and this week while my stepmother's parents are in town visiting, my dad planned to take us all out to EBT tonight for dinner, prompting my little post here. But of course, they're closed Monday. So we went to YaYa's instead, and it was fantastic. (For dessert we had this pear poached in cloves, cherries, cinnamon and white wine, then hollowed out and stuffed with white chocolate. Sweet lord, it was good.) But it really doesn't matter which restaurants we go to. It wouldn't have mattered which restaurant my dad took me to back in 1986, it didn't matter which restaurant we went to tonight, because we got to go together.
We got to have dinner together tonight. We shared a meal and laughed and talked and felt comfortable together. And I felt confident that I could choose the right fork and not spill water in my lap, because I feel like that anywhere, everyday. That fancy dress EBT dinner helped me know that I could fit in any place. It helped me feel confident and competent, comfortable at linen draped tables filled with china and crystal, or a dirty bar with old peanut shells on the floor. It made me feel valued and independent as a young woman. And most importantly, it made me feel loved, treasured really. So take your kids out more often. Show them how special they are, and take my dad's advice, "just go slow."