Friday, June 14, 2019

High Noon at the Crabcake Corral

I didn't drive an hour and a half to have lunch by myself, but that's the way the cookie crumbles.

Or so I thought. Back on my birthday, my aunt had suggested we meet for lunch to celebrate. Because she's got great genes (and by that I mean she plays doubles tennis three times a week, looks like she's in her early '60s and, oh, by the way, she's 75), the soonest we could schedule a lunch date was today. The when and where is a constant - noon at the Confident Rabbit, formerly Bistro Bethem, in Fredericksburg - so once we had the date, everything was set.

It's not like either of us feel the need to confirm with the other the day of because we're grown-ass women who can be relied upon to show up once we commit.

I had a brief moment driving up Route 301 under roiling clouds and occasional spitting rain when I wondered if I should have confirmed our plans, but then thought, nah. Except when I got to the restaurant promptly at noon, she wasn't there and she always beats me to our usual window table. Her drive from Warrenton is shorter than my drive from Richmond, so she's reliably in place ready to greet me when I roll in.

Except she wasn't today, so I had to settle for a big hello from a charming member of the rainbow army.

For the first ten minutes, I figured she was just running late. For the next ten, I beat myself up for not having confirmed our date before wasting the time driving to Fredericksburg for a solo lunch. Then I got a grip, ordered a glass of Cremant de Loire and a crabcake on brioche with a house salad and felt much better.

Since I'd screwed up, I might as well get a nice lunch out of it and make the best of it.

Moments after ordering, I spotted my aunt coming down the sidewalk, looking tall and impeccably dressed, her spiky white hair proclaiming that she wasn't your typical 75-year old. In a flash, I motioned to our server, telling him to keep my lunch in the kitchen until she'd ordered and hers was ready, too.

"Of course, love," he said, winking at our conspiracy.

My aunt arrived apologetic but an 18-wheeler had lost control and was laying across Route 17 East, her usual route to Fredericksburg, necessitating a U-turn and alternate route. All told, the delay took her an extra half an hour and she hadn't wanted to pull over and call the restaurant to alert me for fear of being even tardier.

Meanwhile, I'm explaining to her that I'd been beating myself up all this time, convinced that we'd changed the time and I'd screwed up. "No, no, it's always high noon!" she reminded me.

Once we'd finished playing the take-the-blame game, we got on to the pleasures of eating, drinking and dishing about the family. She's a great person for me to vent to about my sisters because she knows all the characters, even sharing opinions about them. "They resent you for making choices that made you happy when they didn't do the same," she posited.

Let's just say that the satisfaction of telling her some of my sister-trip stories from April brought about a (very satisfying) dropped jaw reaction similar to what I'd felt.

That alone made me glad I'd come.

But then, so did the flourless chocolate torte that our gregarious server delivered as we chatted away until every other table finished and left. We didn't intend to be the last of the ladies who lunched at the Rabbit today, but our delayed start made it that way. Not to mention a prolonged discussion with our talkative server who hopes to wind up living in Norway sooner rather than later ("No more Virginia summers!" he emoted dramatically).

When my aunt shared that the State Department, her long-time employer, had offered her a post in Oslo that she'd turned down for one in war-torn Beirut, he was agog. "No, I like cold weather!" he insisted, although with his freshly shaved bald head (and, yes, he offered to let us rub it), he'd be wearing hats almost all the time.

Now that I think about it, he probably would have loved that, all those stylish chapeaux.

Walking down Fredericksburg's refurbished restaurant row, my aunt pointed out how garish a new rooftop restaurant looked. When I explained that it was meant to appeal to Millennials, her response was, "Yea, well, all I can say is, Millennials better vote in 2020 or we're doomed!"

Is it any wonder I drive an hour and a half in the rain to have lunch with this woman?

It's the exact same drive (and, in fact, the same restaurant, albeit under a different name) I used to make when my friend L. lived in Maryland and we'd meet there for dinner once a month. So it was an unlikely coincidence when I got home to find an email from him with the subject line, "Is nothing scared?"

He'd included an article about the Fredericksburg City Council voting to remove the slave auction block that sits on the corner near the restaurant that I'd just come from. His message was succinct: "How will we know where to meet for lunch?"

Now, mind you, he's been living in Key West for close to a decade, but I understood his point. We'd walked by that historical auction block together countless times and now city council was removing it, despite its value in sparking important conversations and its educational role in reminding us of a painful period in history.

And lest we forget, despite its prominent place in our friendship's history.

Jeez Louis, I guess nothing is sacred.

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